An over-abundance of toilet paper. Stacks of water bottles in your garage. Canned goods piled high in your pantry. Have we become hoarders during the COVID-19 pandemic? Your own personal supply might tell you yes.
Amid the global health crisis, Americans have been panic-buying these items and many more:
- Toilet paper
- Face masks
- Hand sanitizer
- Flour and yeast
- Cleaning supplies
- Canned food
- Spray bottles
- Diapers and formula
So why is it that you can find other items on the shelves with no problem but the shelves for the above items are empty? There is a part of the brain that is responsible for involuntary behaviors. It gives us an adrenaline rush when we fear danger.
“The fight, flight, or freeze mentality takes over, and rational thinking goes offline. Their brain may say, ‘do whatever it takes,” said Sacramento therapist Darlene Davis, MA, LMFT, LPCC. Davis said when people are fearful that their basic needs will not be met, they go into crisis mode and behave in ways they might not normally behave.
Despite authorities assuring the public that stockpiling is not necessary, fear can be contagious. When people start emptying shelves, others start to engage in the same behavior in fear they might run out of basic needs too. “Humans can become a part of the “mob mentality. The belief may be that everyone else is going to buy up all the toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc., ‘so I better get it first,” said Davis.
But toilet paper? It’s certainly not something you can eat or drink. While toilet paper manufacturers continue to work overtime, it’s much more noticeable when the big, bulky items disappear from the shelves adding to the fear contagion. “It’s based more on what our emotional brain is telling us,” said Davis. When shoppers see other shoppers desperately filling up their carts with TP, the natural reaction is to join the crowd. “This can make us feel part of something and not so isolated,” said Davis.
You could ask yourself the same question about flour and yeast. Why? This one has nothing to do with panic, but mind-soothing instead. People are just downright bored and are constantly looking at the internet flooded with baking ideas and ways to make your own bread. As a result, only flour dust—not flour packages—is left on the shelves. According to Davis, this human reaction can be a double-edged sword. “It can bring comfort to people as they find the time to bake. The downside is comfort food usually contributes to weight gain or empty calorie intake,” Davis said.
There’s also a difference between stockpiling and a hoarding disorder. Hoarding is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If items in a person’s house are getting in the way of normal daily function, it might be time to contact a therapist. “Therapists utilize cognitive therapy and other modalities to change people’s way of thinking and therefore improve functioning, increase supports, and build healthy relationships,” said Davis. “I think the majority of the stockpiling we are seeing does not meet the criteria of a hoarding disorder.”
If you wish to seek therapy from a mental health provider, find out more from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences at https://www.bbs.ca.gov/ or the California Board of Psychology at https://www.psychology.ca.gov/; to check a provider’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov/.