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What Drives People To Hoard Toilet Paper And Hand Sanitizer

Shelves stand emptied by customers at a local retail store in New York. (Yuki Iwamura/AP)
Shelves stand emptied by customers at a local retail store in New York. (Yuki Iwamura/AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.

The coronavirus pandemic is driving people to grocery stores in droves to stock up on supplies.

Shelves are empty and lines to get into big superstores like Costco are long. There’s even been an increase in demand for weapons. In fact, since the COVID-19 outbreak, gun sales have surged in states such as California, Washington and Oregon.

Anxiety and fear are no doubt driving our need to hoard, which is normal behavior in a time of crisis, says Dr. Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters.

“Public health messages that have been sent out have recommended that people ensure they have adequate supplies of things they need to take care of their families and to take steps to be prepared. In this case, being prepared means having two weeks of food, not 20 weeks,” he says. “But a clear and consistent public health messaging helps people make the most informed choices about how to take care of their families.”

As for buying guns, Morganstein says that’s an example of people trying to regain control when they feel their safety is threatened. But he also warns that it’s important not to make rash decisions that could put yourself or others at risk.

“New events that provoke feelings of being threatened can remind us of old experiences of being threatened and lead us to take additional measures that we feel like are necessary to protect ourself to address the concerns that we're having,” he explains.

Interview Highlights

On how to enhance social connections in a time of social distancing

“One thing that is important for people to know is that when we say this thing about social distancing, where all of us are now being asked to physically distance ourselves from other people more and to limit being in gathering areas, what we really mean, again, is physical distancing while maintaining or even enhancing our social connections. One of those ways would be technology, but it's not the only way. Simply going out for a walk and saying hi to neighbors allows people to stay connected, exchange problem-solving ideas, be reminded that we're all in this together. And we know from research that strong communities are very protective during times of crisis.

“I think that right now is a good time for people to be finding, sharing and exchanging creative solutions for managing this and this disruption to routines and this new normal, at least temporarily while this situation passes and it will pass.

“I would encourage people to do anything that is helpful and caretaking of themselves and their loved ones. That's also important to keep in mind that individuals and the country as a whole has faced significant challenges and adversities in the past. And to the degree that we can call upon our collective strength, reminders about our ability to navigate and manage adversities, we can emerge from this stronger as a community.”

On ways to ensure that fear of the unknown won’t overtake us

“Fear is often focused on issues around what's going to happen in the future, and we can reduce concerns about the future, often with practical problem solving, asking others how they're handling challenges and sharing our approaches with them, and reminding ourselves there are things that we can control for our health and safety of our families is helpful, reminding our family and our kids that we're doing this to help take care of our communities, our families and our friends.

“And there's also important self-care behaviors along the way. These are things that are easily overlooked when we're feeling so distracted by the energy that is naturally required to focus on and deal with issues in a crisis. But those self-care measures will become critical during this period of time. Developing routines and ensuring that we are getting adequate sleep, that we're eating regular meals and staying hydrated, having plenty of water. These keep our body and our mind in the best position and those can become compromised when we're not taking care of basic needs. Other things like reestablishing new routines will be particularly helpful for children, but it will help all of us. Finding some sense of creating a new normal right now. All of these things can help people understand they are able to influence the course of events and certain things within their own home and in their own communities. All of those things can help decrease our sense of fear, adlong with this issue of staying socially connected to one another, even during a time of physical distance.”

Cristina Kim produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on March 19, 2020.

Tonya Mosley Correspondent, Here & Now
Tonya Mosley was the LA-based co-host of Here & Now.



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