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Hoarding Toilet Paper? Shrinks Say It's Anxiety and Vulnerability

Psychologists say fear of empty grocery shelves becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you believe shelves will become empty, they will. (Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay)
Psychologists say fear of empty grocery shelves becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - if you believe shelves will become empty, they will. (Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay)
March 20, 2020

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - When a blizzard or hurricane is in the forecast, you expect people to stock up on food and other supplies - but what's behind the panic-buying of toilet paper in the new coronavirus pandemic?

Major grocery and big-box stores can't seem to keep paper products in stock, with shoppers hoarding more TP than they can use in a year.

Psychologist Baruch Fischhoff, a professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, says an absence of early communication about COVID-19 left some people without confidence that the supply chain would remain intact.

He adds in this type of situation, some of us are more vulnerable than others.

"For whatever reason, given what has happened to them," says Fischhoff, "given their health, their physical, their psychological health, where they are in the moment - many people are just more prone to stress at particular situations."

In addition to toilet paper, warehouses in Nevada have reported shortages of bottled water, flour, sugar and rice.

Ninety-two percent of goods in Nevada are delivered by highway, and the head of the Nevada Trucking Association has said delivery drivers are dedicated to keeping the retail shelves stocked.

Fischhoff says when people feel uncertain, and know they don't have control over a situation, anxiety can set in. He adds that panic-buying has likely been exacerbated because there's no knowing when the directive to self-isolate will end.

And nobody wants to run out of toilet paper.

"You go to the store to buy the essentials that you will need, and if you don't find the food that you usually like, there is other food that you can buy," says Fischhoff. "But there really is no substitute for toilet paper."

To get through the current crisis, Fischhoff recommends limiting how much television you watch about the coronavirus - checking for updates only two to three times a day - and avoiding certain social media sites that might promote conspiracy theories.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NV