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Five Unexpected Reasons Holiday Shopping is Bad for Your Health

Holiday shopping, holiday season, safe shopping

‘Tis the season! After last week’s successful Black Friday, stores are now in full swing for holiday shopping from now through the month of December. But beware – shopping, particularly during the holiday season – can have adverse effects on your body, say the physicians who host the popular television show “The Doctors.”

Mall Migraines
The National Headache Foundation estimates that 28 million Americans suffer from migraines. Women tend to suffer more often, with a quarter of female patients experiencing four or more attacks a month. Everyone has different triggers that set off migraine symptoms, but during the holiday season, shopping can have an increased effect on initiating an attack.

Have you noticed that there are a lot more “smells” in the mall during the month of December? Pine boughs and Christmas trees set up in stores, perfume counters with extra “spritzers” to persuade you to buy their brand, and food sample stations set up to encourage you to purchase a kitchen appliance or a food item sending cooking odors into the air are all prevalent this time of year. These, in susceptible people can trigger a migraine, as can bright lights, twinkling or strobe lights, cigarette smoke, and loud music.

During intense holiday shopping sessions, other migraine triggers are certain foods you might eat in haste at the food court (chocolate, salty and processed food), stress from wondering what on Earth you are going to buy for that hard-to-buy-for relative this year, physical exertion (up and down stairs, carrying heavy loads), and changes in the weather (including the difference in temperature from inside the mall to outside).

Avoidance of known triggers is obvious – if processed food is your trigger, eat before going shopping. If physical activity triggers a headache, try to shop throughout the month in short bursts instead of taking one long, extended shopping trip which can wear you out (or consider shopping online). Wear tinted lenses inside the mall to help reduce the effects of bright lights. The Doctors also suggest omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, which in a small study has been found to reduce the frequency, duration and severity of headaches.

Inadequate Sleep, Altered Sleep Patterns
Black Friday comes earlier and earlier each year. This year, “Black Friday” actually came late at night on “Thanksgiving Thursday” with some stores opening at 9 or 10 pm with “Doorbuster Sales.” Many people spent all night shopping for deals. According to Market Watch, foot traffic in malls was up from last year and the National Retail Federation considers the overall shopping weekend very successful.

Hopefully, shoppers planned a bit in advance for their shopping sprees and took a Turkey tryptophan-induced nap Thursday afternoon before hitting the stores. However, this night of shopping probably set the stage for a weekend of altered sleep patterns – coming home Black Friday morning and sleeping until noon and sleeping in on Saturday. Monday morning may have felt like it came earlier than usual because of your lack of energy from missing out on sleep.

The rest of the shopping season shouldn’t interrupt sleep as much, although stores will likely be open later than usual to accommodate the increased number of shoppers throughout December. Be sure to set a time when you will be home and in bed after a night of deal-hunting so you get in the recommended hours of sleep each night. Do not stay up all night cyber-shopping. If you find that mulling over your finances or stressing about a gift is keeping you up, you may need some stress management techniques to help you fall asleep.

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Shopping Bag Bursitis
Shopping can be a pain. No, really - Heavy shopping bags can take a toll on your shoulders, causing bursitis, pain and swelling of the bursa that protects your joints, says Clint Soppe MD, an orthopedic surgeon and shoulder specialist. Carrying uneven loads (more weight on one side than the other) can have a detrimental effect on your spine as you tend to lean to balance the weight.

For physical health reasons, and for safety reasons, it is recommended that you frequently take purchases out to your car to avoid carrying around too many bags full of weighty items. Remember to store them out of site, such as in a trunk, as to not attract someone who may break in to your car. Avoidance of shopping bag pain is another reason to break down your holiday shopping into several small visits, versus “shopping ‘til you drop.”

Shopping Cart Safety
Obviously, having a cart can help you avoid carrying around heavy loads through big stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, but these have dangers as well, especially if you have young children. Each year, 32000 kids are treated in emergency rooms due to shopping-related injuries. Most of these are bumps and bruises, but a fall from 4 feet can be life-threatening if a head or neck injury is involved.

Most injuries occur when children aren’t strapped in and fall while standing in carts. Putting a child in the basket of the cart can cause a shift in the cart’s center of gravity, causing it to tip. Never leave a child unattended in a cart and stop them from trying to stand up or reach for something.

You may also want to carry some portable hand wipes or hand sanitizer with you as well. A study last year from the University of Arizona found that 72% of shopping carts tested had markers for fecal bacteria. Fifty percent were contaminated with E. Coli. Thankfully, many stores recognize this (Target and Wal-Mart being two) and offer shopping cart wipes at the entrance.

The Overwhelming Holiday Season
As a woman, I can certainly say I’ve participated in my share of “retail therapy” – using shopping as a method lift my mood during a particularly stressful time. However, during the month of December, crowded malls can set off an anxiety attack rather than easing your mind. This is especially true of a month already filled with so many stressors and high expectations. It is true that finding a great deal can set off a psychological “boost” to your ego, but that is often quite short-lived.

Another very interesting study found that those heavy shopping bags not only weigh down your body but may also weigh down your mind. Apparently, say researchers who published in the Journal of Consumer Behavior, carrying a heavy load can lead our thoughts toward “weighty subjects.” We are more likely to become saddened over current events and daily happenings than usual.

This holiday season, be sure to take care of your physical and mental health by prioritizing your time, maintaining something close to a normal schedule, eating a healthy diet, and asking for help if you need it. Set realistic expectations for the holiday – so what if that hard-to-buy for relative doesn’t like your gift. Just keep the receipt and they can exchange it! It truly is the thought that counts.

Primary Source:
The Doctors, www.thedoctorstv.com

Additional Sources:
Market Watch
CBS News
NBC News