Monthly Archives: January 2014

Retail therapy has health benefits, say researchers

Westfield Shepherd's Bush

A shopper’s paradise is only a short walk from where I work

Good news for me, not such good news for the English Husband. A study by researchers from the University of Michigan has found evidence to suggest that ‘retail therapy’, a common female practice used to perk up mood, is not all bad.

An excerpt from the 28-page study, published this month in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, says: ‘Shopping that is motivated by distress – “retail therapy” – is often lamented as ineffective, wasteful, and a “dark side” of consumer behavior. Popular press accounts of retail therapy typically paint an equally dismal picture.

‘We propose that retail therapy has been viewed too negatively. Shopping may be an effective way to minimize sadness that lingers (residual sadness) following a sadness-inducing event. We focus on shopping’s potential to reduce residual sadness in particular’.

The researchers found that shopping gave people a sense of control that countered feelings of sadness. Those who shopped were three times less sad compared to those who only browsed. ‘Our work suggests that making shopping choices can help to restore a sense of personal control over one’s environment and reduce sadness,’ they concluded.

Well, I have no idea how they judged this – you’d have to plough through the entire report – but I can vouch for the fact that shopping gives my mood an instant lift. Unfortunately, the lift is rather short-lived.

Feelings of guilt generally take over in the hours after I’ve been on a shopping spree, which then has the adverse effect of making me feel weak-willed. That’s when I start thinking I’m not a good person for using shopping as a crutch.

The only time feelings of guilt don’t take over is when I have plenty of money in the bank, money which I’ve earned and I feel I deserve. Unfortunately, I rarely have that much money in the bank – so my shopping does get me into debt from time to time.

This was the case only just this week. On my way to buy makeup from Clinique (it was bonus time after all) I was pretty much tackled by a salesman on London’s chic New Bond Street, who convinced me to try a beauty product from Orogold. Be warned if you are ever in the area – they tend to congregate together near New Bond Street and South Molton Street.

I’d not heard of Orogold before, but it’s an American premium skincare brand, which I’ve since discovered has a reputation for employing aggresive salespeople. I was absolutely determined not to buy anything at all, but the salesman – who was extremely convincing and persuasive – told me that he would throw in a ‘free’ facial at their salon if I bought a facial exfoliator worth £50. I was hooked.

I’ve not yet tried to book my facial, but I don’t have high hopes that it will be a stress-releasing experience, since I’ll probably be given another hard sell.

This purchase made me feel almost immediately guilty. I spent the rest of the day in a funk. So retail therapy is not always good when you feel like you’ve been ripped off. My gut feeling tells me that anything that needs to be sold aggresively is not worth the money. If only I’d been that rational when I was in the shopping moment.

 

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A high-intensity workout

Hiitgirl logoI’ve reached a time in my life where I fear I might be sagging in the wrong places. Is there ever the right places? All I know is that my skin is suddenly betraying me.

Gravity – and I don’t mean the blockbuster movie – has become my bitterest enemy. So I’ve decided to try to do something about it.

Since the age of 18 I have not stepped foot in a gym and have never done any form of cardio. But I fear that my once-a-week ballet class is no longer enough to keep me from being a flabby skinny person.

So I’ve embarked on a quest to get fit. This quest took me to a new studio called Hiitgirl. The name stands for high-intensity interval training. It’s like a form of endurance hell.

The basic idea is this (and it’s brilliant for people who hate the gym): you only need to work out for 30 minutes at a furious pace. The workout is done in intervals – you push really hard for 30 seconds and then have a 30-second rest, repeating this until the end of the session. Some intervals will vary. According to Hiitgirl’s website, this is equivalent to a normal two-hour workout and you will continue to burn calories after you’ve finished. So far, so good.

My first impressions are really positive. The studio, a short walk from my flat in Crouch End, is for women only. With a pleasant smell and lashings of pink, this doesn’t so much resemble a gym as a spa. I am lulled into a false sense of security by the sound of women laughing and chatting after a session.

This serenity lasts precisely five minutes. As soon as I get changed I sign a disclosure that makes me worry that I could drop dead after my workout. There are alarming questions about heart conditions and passing out. I don’t show my fear, but I’m starting to get a little anxious.

There is little warm-up, you just dive straight in. A clock counts down how long you have to do each exercise, accompanied to thumping music. There are squats, lunges, sprints, press-ups, planks, jumps, bicycles and something horrible called a burpee.

I try my best, panting through each exercise. I feel like a small animal in the wild, trying to keep pace with his parents or face certain death. I am starring in a cutthroat natural history documentary. The voice of David Attenborough narrates my story: ‘And the human valiantly struggles but it’s no good. She won’t survive the winter.’

I do survive the class but feel like my legs are wobbling underneath me; I have trouble putting on my shoes. By the next day, moving has become a painful process and I feel bruised. I wince with every step. I live in London and walk more than I realized. Getting on and off buses is an ordeal that requires clutching the door for support. Steps fill me with dread and there are lots of them to be negotiated; they make my legs shake.   

The irony is that I feel ancient, suddenly about 80 years old. Instead of feeling like I am bursting with unspent energy, I am hobbling. Even my armpits hurt. I won’t elaborate the ordeal that is the toilet.

Maybe I’m a masochist but I’ve signed up for 8 more sessions. For the privilege of feeling like my body has been hit by a heavyweight boxer, I’ve paid £99 (minus 20% for my first month). I might be ready to do another class in about a week, so I figure I might actually be fit by this time next year.

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Why I don’t love my smartphone

Samsung Galaxy

Not my new best friend

This week Ariana Huffington, she of great money and with a vast media empire, declared that we are too reliant on technology, with smartphones ‘blocking our path to wisdom’.

In a post for the Guardian, a national newspaper in the UK, she adds that ‘ours is a generation bloated with information and starved of wisdom’.

I find myself agreeing, although part of me also wonders how wise she is to make this argument. Isn’t her whole business founded on pedalling a hell of a lot of trivial information on whatever device people will devour it?

A short trawl of Huffington Post on any given day will confirm that the large majority of stuff on there won’t be making you very wise at all, but will actually make you despair at the utter shallowness of humanity.

However, I readily believe that people are increasingly fixated on screens – cell phone screens, TV screens, computer screens. I’m not immune to this evolution. In the evenings I find myself watching the television with a computer on my lap.

If I look over at the English Husband, he’s inevitably contemplating his next move on Scrabble via his iPhone.

On my daily commute today, there were no fewer than four people standing or sitting right next to me, all plugged into devices and staring at screens.

But I have caved in, as I always do, and have finally joined the ranks of people with a smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 is the newest thing in my life this year.

I resisted this push towards a bright, beeping phone bursting with information for a long time. I thought I was doing fine with my little Nokia that made texts and phone calls. It was starting to feel almost quaint.

But the relentless march of technology means that if I don’t get a smartphone eventually, I will feel like I’ve been left behind. And I happen to work in an industry (guess which one), where I’m positively an ancient, grumpy dinosaur because I refuse to join Facebook and have an aversion to social media.

My new smartphone, I don’t mind admitting, baffles me. Oh, it has lots of pretty pictures and, so I’ve been assured, does lots of remarkable things, but I can’t figure out half of them. The English Husband tells me that I will get used to it. Part of me resists this, though.

I don’t want to rely on it too much. I don’t want the phone to be an extension of my arm. I don’t want to learn that I can’t get out the door without first consulting with it. I don’t want to find that I check the phone before I brush my teeth.

This is not the person I want to become – but I also know that constant communication is addictive.

When I hear the beep of a new message, I have an overwhelming urge to check who it is from. I just can’t help myself. If I leave the phone on silent I worry that I might miss a message about one of my children.

I can’t seem to win.

I do occasionally hark back to the era before the mobile phone. For me, I only need to go as far back as 2006.

Because I held out for so long and clung to ancient technology, I had to arrange to meet people at a designated place and time and be prompt. Imagine that.

But when BT phone boxes started disappearing off the street and appeared instead on a revamped version of Doctor Who, I got my first cell phone.

My life feels no richer for it, but it is more convenient. This seems to encapsulate modern life: convenient but crowded with stuff.

I can, however, now take a picture and send it to my family in the United States in only a minute – and I guess that’s something to celebrate.

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