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Why Christmas Shopping Is Good For You, If Not Your Bank Account

By Maureen Wanderi with Dr Catherine Atnas and Sociologist Tracey Collett for Doctify

Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year! A time for giving, spending time with family and friends, and Christmas shopping. But crowded streets, long queues, and the cold weather, Christmas shopping can be a very stressful affair.

Take heart though, here’s why Christmas shopping is actually good for you.

Is there such a thing as ‘good’ stress?

Indecision about what to buy, the large crowds of people with sharpened elbows ready for combat over the enticing Black Friday deals and long queues at checkout. Believe it or not, these moderate amounts of stress can be good for you.

Research by Daniella Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkeley, has revealed that moderate amounts of short lived stress can be beneficial for the human brain, as it stimulates stem cell growth. This results in increased alertness, performance, learning and memory.

Tracey Collett, a sociologist and senior lecturer at Peninsula Medical School, explains that “most life challenges we experience involve some stress” and agrees that “moderate stress levels are good because they help us keep our eyes on the task at hand”.

So, think of your shopping trip as a brain boosting exercise – it might even help you get all your other Christmas tasks completed in time.

Why does spending make us happy?

They say money can’t buy happiness – but is there ever an exception to the rule? This is a question that intrigues and divides psychologists. Where Christmas is concerned, can spending money on presents buy happiness? The answer is yes.

Research led by Lara Aknin from Harvard Business School has shown that prosocial spending (using financial resources to benefit others) leads to happiness in all age groups, regardless of cultural context. Christmas shopping also allows us to think about our loved ones. “When we give to others or think about others, this also helps us to connect more with other people,” says Dr Catherine Atnas, a clinical psychologist from The Chelsea Psychology Clinic in London.

“Social connection and having meaningful relationships with people is associated with improved mental and physical health. Conversely, difficulties such as depression and anxiety are characterised by self-focused preoccupation. Focusing our attention away from ourselves and onto others may help to reduce this. Thinking of others may also help us to gain a different perspective on our own situation”.

What goes around comes around

Although Christmas is a time of giving, we can also expect to receive gifts from family and friends. It’s all part of the Christmas feeling! This is known as reciprocal altruism, defined as behaviour where ‘an individual does something that benefits another individual in the hope that the other individual will act in the same way at a later date’.

So, going out Christmas shopping for gifts means you are more likely to receive meaningful gifts back. Sociologist Tracey Collet explains that “ironically, giving is not a selfless act but it has a positive impact on self. The more open you are to the needs of others the more frequently you will receive back”.

Dr Atnas agrees. “Kindness begets kindness and as such giving to others may motivate others to give too. This could mean we, as the giver, are likely to also receive. In addition, having meaningful connections with others will help to support our own physical and mental health, which is probably the best gift of all”.

It encourages us to exercise

We all tend to over indulge over the festive season. The British Dietician Association reports that the average person will put on 1 to 5 pounds (up to 2.5kg) over the festive season. Fortunately, Christmas shopping is a great way to burn calories.

According to Purdue University, we take an average of 70 steps a minute when we shop, meaning a mere hour of shopping equates to approximately 4200 steps.

Add this on to the average amount of steps we take a day (3000 to 4000 steps), and you are only 2000 steps short of achieving the infamous 10,000 step challenge.

This means you are exercising and burning an extra 400 calories, according to the NHS – that’s enough for a minced pie and a glass of mulled wine.



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