Life Wellbeing The psychology behind COVID lockdown panic-buying, and what to do instead
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The psychology behind COVID lockdown panic-buying, and what to do instead

Shoppers stock up on toilet paper
Panic-buying toilet paper won't cure COVID anxiety. Try these tips instead. Photo: AAP
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Australia’s major supermarkets have slapped purchase limits on toilet paper as Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown triggers panic-buying.

On Friday, Coles announced it had implemented a “temporary” two-pack limit on toilet paper for shoppers in Victoria in a bid to stem stockpiling.

“We have plenty of stock in our supply chain, and this temporary measure will help us to manage demand so that we can return our stores to a fully stocked position as quickly as possible,” a Coles spokesman said.

Woolworths also announced a two-pack limit for Victorian shoppers.

Panic-buying no cure for COVID anxiety

Flinders University psychology lecturer Dan Fassnacht has studied COVID-19 lockdown panic-buying and found that while it may yield results in the short term, it is not a long-term solution for coping with coronavirus-related anxiety.

“Often, those who have high levels of intolerance of uncertainty are prone to panic-buying,” Dr Fassnacht said.

“While excessive or panic-buying may lead to short-term feelings of being in control, reducing anxiety and feelings of uncertainty, this usually does not last.”

Panic-buying can also be contagious to some degree.

“Another psychological characteristic which can lead to panic-buying is the fear of missing out (FOMO),” Dr Fassnacht said.

“Seeing empty shelves and long queues outside supermarkets on social media increases angst that one might miss out. We then see herd behaviour – people are guided irrationally by the actions of others: if others are buying, I should do it as well.”

Pandemic panic-buying in Australia

When the pandemic first hit in Australia in March in 2020, frantic shoppers stripped supermarket shelves.

At the time, there were only 33 cases of COVID-19 in the country, but Australians were struggling to get a hold of not just bog roll, but canned goods, pasta, rice and flour.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had to publicly state that Australia was in no danger of a toilet paper shortage, reassuring the nation that there was just a delay in replenishing supermarket supplies.

Supermarkets brought in their own restrictions on how much food, hand sanitiser, loo paper and other essentials people could buy.

Tips to get through coronavirus lockdown

Melbourne-based psychologist Dervla Loughnane shared her top tips to get through coronavirus lockdowns with TND.

Dr Loughnane said it was understandable for people to be upset every time they go back into lockdown.

“It’s very much like being told: ‘Start running a race and I’ll tell you when to stop, you have to keep going until then’,” she said.

“There’s a distrust. People question if it will really only be five days, because that’s not what happened last time.”

But instead of reaching for the toilet roll, people should get outside and exercise, Dr Loughnane said.

To help each other and bolster their own mental health, those in lockdown need to eat well, sleep well, and get out for their two hours of exercise.

“Remain connected with people through phone or Zoom – it’s about doing those basic things that we all know help,” Dr Loughnane said.

Last year Australians hit the bottle with gusto during the pandemic, drinking 26.7 per cent more booze than the year before.

Dr Loughnane said it was important to avoid turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

It’s easier to reach for something alcoholic in the fridge than it is your running shoes,” she said.

Look after yourself, stay away from the booze, and remember how resilient you are, Dr Loughnane said.

“Victorians are very resilient,” she said.

“Through everything they went through, they hung on. They had no idea where the goalposts were, and they got through it.”

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