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Can’t stop online shopping during lockdown? Your hormones are to blame for the addiction

Body+Soul investigates why we can’t get enough of online shopping during lockdown.

After eight weeks of lockdown, Sydneysiders are feeling the brunt of the Delta strain (and it’s just getting worse). With Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory also in lockdown and other states dealing with increased restrictions – we’ve all been spending a lot more time at home.

During this time, we’ve been encouraged to shop online, and by golly have we taken that advice to heart.

It’s hard to tally the number of times we run to the door each week with joy when our online order is delivered – but why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

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Psychiatrist and director of 2OP Health, Dr Frank Chow, says it has to do with the chemical reaction occurring in our brains.

“Pleasurable behaviours tend to induce the increased production of dopamine and it creates pleasant feelings. Therefore it can create a biological and behavioural feedback loop,” he says.

Dopamine, sometimes called ‘Dr. Feel Good’ is a neurotransmitter that drives your brain’s reward system and pleasure seeking behaviour. We get a hit of dopamine when we do things like, eating a delicious meal and ticking something off your to-do list.

However, it can also create ‘pleasure loops’ where people repeat behaviour over and over again to trigger another dopamine hit. This is one of the reasons people get addicted to drugs.

Shopping is no exception.

“Once the behaviour and reward system is in play long enough, it will create craving and dependency. It’s a vicious cycle…creating the euphoric feeling,” Dr Chow explains.

“Any behaviour that produces increased dopamine and a temporary euphoric state can lead to addiction.”

But, if that’s the explanation wouldn’t we be buying like crazy all the time? What is it about lockdown that makes us more likely to shop?

According to Dr Chow, it’s due to boredom and excess time on our hands.

“Extra free time or having nothing to do, mixed with excessive screen time in front of computer/smartphones during lockdown could be to blame. It is so easy to access that instant euphoric hit,” he says.

If you keep maxing out your cards and are thinking about writing a new version of Confessions of a Shopaholic, don’t worry.

Dr Chow recommends that, as a first course of action, you aim to stay away from gadgets and devices in order to develop other, more positive habits.

There are many things that can give you that same euphoric state, but Dr Chow recommends exercise and hobbies that bring you joy. (Say hello to lockdown painting and embroidery).

Of course, if you notice your spending going haywire even after taking this action, and it’s impacting your life, it might be time to seek professional help.

Dr. Frank Chow is the Director and Psychiatrist at 2OP Health, a specialist Organisational and Occupational psychiatric service, specialising in workplace related mental health care. With years of experience, Dr. Chow is passionate about advocating early intervention, education, and rehabilitation for all individuals so they can get back on track with improved clarity, motivation and fulfillment at work.

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