Health Watch: Shopping Stress

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Holiday shopping can wreak havoc on our bank accounts and credit cards.
And it turns out that studies show the little piece of plastic we carry around could be changing the way our brains process our spending.
Rhiannon Walker takes a deeper look in this week's Health Watch.

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many of us are ready to make some purchases with credit cards in hand, but before we start swiping away, Doctor Scott Bea, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, explains the nature behind why our brains can struggle to fully grasp the concept of credit.

Scott Bea; Psychologist at Cleveland Clinic>>"We make these exchanges with credit cards now with, you know, an illusion. It's not like we're giving anything away at all, now somewhere our brain knows we have to pay for it, but it gets harder to actually pay for something once we've consumed it."

Doctor Bea goes on to explain that the reason why it is hard for many people to be responsible with credit is "sense processing" - in other words, the ability of the human brain to make 'sense' of things using the five senses.
He says that historically, it was used in trades and barters where we had a very real sense of what we were trading for, but today those lines can be more easily blurred.
Doctor Bea says that the more we become removed from real symbols of money, the easier it is for us to part with something without a second thought, and when we swipe a card or click a button on a mouse to make a purchase, our brain struggles to calculate the true cost because we are not physically handing something away.
Then when the bill comes in the mail, we are so far removed from the actual activity that it doesn't register in our brains.
Doctor Bea says that if we can be more conscious of what is really going on - that there really is an exchange - the better off we are going to be.

Scott Bea; Psychologist at Cleveland Clinic>>"It would be a good idea to have a habit, like anytime we pay for something to take a moment, right then and there, and note that in some ledger, or do something physical about it. Any kind of physical act that would stimulate our sense."

Doctor Bea admits that it is not easy to start keeping a record of purchases, because it involves creating a new habit, which can take up to sixty-three days for it to stick, but once the habit is created, it can help us make better judgments about how we use credit.
For this week's Health Watch, I'm Rhiannon Walker.