As the president and congress turn their attention to problem elements of our health care system-notably, skyrocketing costs and inequities in access-it's a particularly good time to remind overshoppers about their own health care. And they need reminding: research has shown that compulsive buyers are often woefully deficient in managing their health care, and in other kinds of self-care as well. Yet self-care is central. It's what keeps you going, physically, emotionally, even financially. Self-care is not selfishness, a fixation on self to the exclusion of others. It's a proper attention to personal needs so that the self can flourish, not in isolation but extending outward.

Do you procrastinate about making doctor's appointments, forgo regular checkups, avoid diagnostic tests, or fail to get prescription medications because the money for these has gone to things you've bought obsessively? Have you allowed your shopping addiction to so damage your supportive human web of family and friends that it feels as if there's no one to help you with your recovery or turn to in an emergency? Does the sheer amount of clutter in your home prevent you from having people over-or perhaps even present a serious risk to your health and safety?

Self-care differs from self-kindness in that you don't always experience its benefits immediately. Brushing your teeth may not feel as kind to yourself as taking a hot bath scented with fine oil; but while you're brushing them, if you imagine a future with strong teeth, healthy gums, and a broad, relaxed smile-free of pain and dental bills-you can actually experience some of the good you're bestowing on yourself. Part of recognizing and celebrating your worth as a human being is seeing that your teeth are properly attended to, your meals are nutritious, your home is safe, and your future is provided for. Self-care is as central to stopping overshopping as self-kindness. It prevents bad things from happening to you-your car being stolen, your house getting broken into, you being mugged or getting sick. Self-care means never incurring outrageous late fees for missed deadlines, not because you didn't have the money but because you didn't open your mail in time.

So how can you begin to take better care of yourself? The trick is to give up the habit of reacting to your needs. Instead, each day act as your own loving caregiver. Anticipate your needs. (You don't wait to buy Band-Aids until your child cuts himself.) Doing this preventive self-care may not give you the instant gratification that shopping does, but you'll be in control of your life rather than at constant risk of being caught short-and that feeling of control will buoy you, giving you confidence in the present and excitement about the future.

The change from neglect to self-care is less daunting than it at first appears. On any given day, the time you'd otherwise spend overshopping can provide you with a quieter but far healthier gratification: clean and folded laundry, or a living room you want to sit in rather than close off, or timely renewal of your car registration, or a closet or cabinet organized and arranged so that you can see what's in it, or a delicious meal that you've cooked rather than bought.

In the next posting, we'll put some flesh on these bones. First, we'll look at an expanded list of acts of self-care; then we'll add our own items to the list.

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About the Author

April Lane Benson, Ph.D.

April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. She specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder.

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