Stacy London went on a spending spree after a medical surgery left her clinically depressed. And many Americans also use shopping to mask sadness.
Shopping was a way to cope with sadness for this former reality star.
After Stacy London, 48, underwent spinal surgery last year, the “What Not To Wear” star spiraled into a deep depression. To fix it, she went on a spending spree that was so severe it left her broke, she writes in a new essay she wrote for Refinery29.
“The truth is, I didn’t understand the extent to which back surgery would cripple me — emotionally and physically,” London writes. “I would have thrown money at anything — material or procedural — to make the recovery process easier.”
And she did, in the form of food deliveries, toys for her dog, Dora, a housekeeper, full-time driver, personal trainer, shopping for a potential home to buy in Manhattan, and lots and lots of online shopping from vintage handbags bags to Zara coats. It was all a temporary escape from her sadness, she says.
“Shopping provided me with a very interesting version of magical thinking at this time. I imagined parties and places I’d go, the people I’d be with, and when I bought this one last dress, shoe, bag, or necklace, my image in these imaginary scenarios would somehow be complete…or whole,” she says. “I realize now it was just a fantasy future, to distract me from an agonizing present.”
London revealed she was diagnosed with clinical depression and had a difficult time finding a place of happiness or even content. She’s not alone in using shopping to try to boost her mood: Roughly half of Americans admit to emotional overspending, and a Stanford study found that about 6% of the population have compulsive buying disorder — “a condition marked by binge buying and subsequent financial hardship.”
Studies show that problem shoppers, like London, tend to buy things in an attempt to put themselves in a better mood, or get a quick high that will eventually wear off.
“Pleasurable activities like shopping release dopamine in the brain and so people with clinical depression oftentimes have a chemical imbalance,” Dr. Deborah Searcy, a professor specializing in behavioral psychology at Florida Atlantic University, says. “You can be clinically depressed and not be a compulsive shopper and vise versa. For some people, the attempt to feel good leads to risky behavior that can make you feel good temporarily, but can lead to some poor decisions and counterproductive behavior,” she adds.
In 2012, 16 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode, and women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men, according to Healthline.com. While there is no single cause of the disease, brain chemistry, hormones and genetics can all play a role while other risk factors like low self-esteems, family history, or chronic diseases can play a part too.
Compulsive shopping is similar to other addictive behaviors like substance abuse, gambling or sex addiction and may cause changes in brain activity. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Policy looked at the MRI brain images of 23 females with a shopping problem and 26 women who didn’t. They found that while both groups were shopping, the compulsive spenders had higher brain activity in regions of the brain that were responsible for making decisions. Compulsive shoppers can also be more inclined to suffer from disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders, depression and substance abuse.
Recognizing the compulsive behavior is the first step, says Searcy, then you must think before you act.
“Think about your future self. And by future self, I mean, one month from now, two months from now. Would you be happy that you spent that money on those items, or would you be sad that that money left your pocketbook? By taking that alternative view you can answer if you really do want that,” says Searcy. “The other thing I would say is sleep on it. Even if you want to keep shopping, sleep on it until tomorrow morning.”
After meeting with her accountant last December, London got the financial wake up call she says she needed that prompted her to start purging her house and closet for things to sell.
“It took that one meeting to wake me the f—k up. And, like a woman who might actually be going broke, I started purging my house and my closet of everything unnecessary,” she writes. “Today, though, there is a new year ahead of me. And I am very conscious of my mistakes and my need to rectify them, not just to stay afloat but to banish this serious knock to my own sense of self-esteem.”
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