Not just sex chat, even the most innocuous activity like shoe-shopping or music could get alarmingly addictive. Priya Pathiyan helps you find out if you are obsessively hooked
THERE are some new obsessions, collectively called ‘lifestyle addictions’, which may soon hold us in their grasp and spin our lives out of control. While the individuals may not even realise it, they’re experiencing a new phenomenon, something that’s been escalating in the last few years.
As we grow accustomed to partaking of the good life, we slowly forget the difference between ‘enjoying’ something and ‘craving’ it.
Lifestyle addictions are as varied as people’s interests. Checking your BlackBerry every three minutes to see if you’ve missed a call or message, bidding all day on online auction sites, chatting or blogging online, continuously buying and selling stocks, attending cultural programmes, serial dating, feeling compelled to party EVERY Saturday night, watching a particular programme on TV… these are all innocuous activities that are potential addictions. So whether it’s brunches or crunches, playing games or buying gadgets, watching movies or scaling mountains… there’s no stopping the lifestyle addict, who just has to go from one to another to another to another. It’s what makes Amitabh Bachchan buy yet another gizmo or clutter his already full-of-pens study at Mumbai’s Jalsa with yet another writing instrument. It’s what keeps Milind Soman running that extra mile or craving yet another Sprüngli chocolate. It’s what makes Shilpa Shetty buy hundreds of black tees or John Abraham ride his bike faster. Aloke Bajpai, CEO of a nature travel group called The Explorers, encounters this lifestyle addiction quite often in his line of work. “When people are taken to the great outdoors, their dependency on various gadgets and connectivity to the world is very evident. Cell phones and music-spewing headphones are things that cut them off from natural sounds like birds or the wind in the trees. To a large extent, people can’t do without these and we have to show them how to live in the moment,” he says.
- Jasper Levi, 30-year-old graphic designer from Delhi, listens to music 24/7. He admits that he wouldn’t work in a place that outlawed music and wouldn’t be with a girl who didn’t share his passion!
- Mehernaz Wadia, 36-year-old accountant from Bangalore, spends almost Rs 50,000 a month on clothes she doesn’t really need! She shops to de-stress, but chucks bills and price tags before reaching home, fearing her husband’s disapproval.
- A party perennial (not wishing to be named) admits that if he doesn’t get at least two great invites a day, he feels anxious that his popularity is slipping. If he spends more than three nights at home in a row, he starts getting restless and irritable.
According to psychiatrist Dr Minnu Bhonsle, “We are hounded by a lot of attractive offers by the media. Plus, many of these things come under the category of ‘being the cool thing to do’ as endorsed by what we see on TV channels. So whether it’s a husband and wife ‘rewarding’ themselves after a hard day’s work by unwinding over dinner at a restaurant or youngsters chilling at a café like in the Friends sitcom, everyone’s doing things that are trendy.” According to her, this dependency on lifestyle activities also stems from society’s dire need for instant gratification. “As we are getting used to getting everything fast – fast food, SMSing, easy money from stocks and BPOs or ‘enjoy now, pay later’ schemes, faster Internet access – our tolerance is going down and the frustration threshold is becoming very low,” she says. Dr Bhonsle explains how the seed of addiction takes root, “If we don’t get things quickly we get irritated and need to do something that helps us forget that frustration. It soon becomes a pattern. Thus we create an addiction where there is none to begin with and get dependent on it.”
What’s wrong with indulging or even over-indulging in any of these things, you ask. After all, renting a DVD daily or buying a nice pair of shoes can hardly compare with a ‘serious’ addiction like alcohol, drugs or smoking. Well, all of us maybe obsessive compulsive about something in a way, and often, these addictions even have a positive effect. Like Levi, the audiophile, puts it, “Music helps change my mood and defines me, as there is an influence of it in everything I do… Besides, it helps me make friends. For example, I was travelling alone in Australia and made friends with a stranger on a train by playing him some of my stuff…”
But the other side of this sweet obsession can sometimes be a trifle bitter. In fact, experts the world over are realising the perils when conspicuous consumption turns to compulsive consumption. According to the Canada-based Warren Shepell Research Group, as people become more involved in the compulsive behaviour of their choice, they often experience a greater sense of isolation, diminished social interaction, reduced attention to personal hygiene, legal and financial difficulties, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, increased irritability and reluctance to change the compulsive behaviour, despite clear negative impacts on their lives and those of their loved ones. And apparently, such addictions spawn from similar motives. A report observes that ‘shopaholics’ or compulsive spenders are similar to people with eating disorders, in that they are more likely to have anxiety disorders and low self-esteem than so-called ‘normal’ shoppers. They are also more impulsive than average and tend to be perfectionists. For binge spenders, shopping appears to boost self-esteem and offer an ‘anxiety reduction’ benefit, like ‘comfort food’ to a binge eater.
While first-of-their-kind treatment centres for ‘new addictions’ such as the Internet, gambling and ecstasy have opened in Switzerland and China, in India such behaviour is not yet recognised by society as an addiction. Says Dr Bhonsle, “It’s only acknowledged when one is confronted with an extreme problem that stems from this behaviour. Like, if the wife of a man addicted to masturbating to online sex chat threatens to walk out of the sexless marriage. Or if someone who eats out all the time is diagnosed with a life-changing disease as a result of obesity. Suddenly, their world is shaken and they approach a counsellor. And yes, although you can be cured, the path of recovery is a long and arduous one.”
Lifestyle addiction can happen to anyone. The best of us can find ourselves tipping over the edge. Like Shekhar Suman’s wife Alka, otherwise a strong woman, who was diagnosed with shopaholism by doctors a few years ago. To prevent yourself from reaching that point, choose something you really enjoy and spend a lot of time on and check how irritated you get if you don’t get to indulge in that activity. Take an objective look at whether it’s affecting your professional and personal life in an adverse way. If there are high levels of stress and frustration attached to not getting to do this activity, you’re reaching a point of dysfunctionality and need to balance your life.