Panic-Buying Erupts at Coles And Woolworths In Brisbane: Here's The Psychology Behind It And How To Avoid It

While the impulse to stockpile may seem a reasonable reaction to the situation, experts say it’s important to know panic-buying can “ultimately exacerbate the situation”.

Hundreds of shoppers flocked to local supermarkets on Friday morning after Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced Brisbane would be plunged into a three-day lockdown after the more infectious UK strain of COVID-19 was linked to hotel quarantine.

The stay-at-home order will start 6pm Friday with Brisbane residents allowed to leave their homes for four reasons including essential work, exercising in your neighbourhood, shopping for essential items and providing care.

While panic-buying has repeatedly occurred across Australia and the world during the pandemic and the impulse to stockpile may seem a reasonable reaction to the situation, retail and mental health experts say it’s important to know panic-buying can “ultimately exacerbate the situation”.

People stand in line outside a Woolworths at a southern suburb of Brisbane on January 08, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. 
People stand in line outside a Woolworths at a southern suburb of Brisbane on January 08, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. 
People stand in line outside a Woolworths at a southern suburb of Brisbane on January 08, 2021.
People stand in line outside a Woolworths at a southern suburb of Brisbane on January 08, 2021.

Queensland retail expert: ‘No need to panic’

“While the lockdown is for three days, unfortunately when the public read comments like ‘mutant strain’, ‘highly contagious’ and ‘hard lockdown’, naturally, they become anxious and panic,” Queensland University of Technology retail expert Professor Gary Mortimer told HuffPost Australia on Friday.

“Herd mentality kicks in – simply, ‘safety in numbers’. We watch footage and see images on social media, empty shelves and lines. We respond by doing exactly what everyone else is doing and ultimately exasperate the situation.”

Brisbane locals rush to supermarkets ahead of 3-day lockdown

On Friday Queensland recorded nine new COVID-19 cases in hotel quarantine and the government announced new restrictions in a bid to get ahead of the outbreak.

Soon after the March-style lockdown announcement, images surfaced on social media of long queues outside supermarkets as locals frantically rushed to Coles and Woolworths for household essentials ahead of the weekend.

While Queensland Health urged residents “these is no reason to panic buy” and that “groceries and essentials will still be available throughout the Greater Brisbane lockdown”, people are still stockpiling.

Why does panic-buying make things worse?

Psychotherapist Nick Blackburn told HuffPost UK that people are trying to “solve” their anxiety by buying supplies, but when they get to the shops, they are likely to experience more anxiety because items are running low.

Then there’s the added anxiety of being criticised or hearing snarky comments by others for doing it – in the supermarket or all over social media. “That’s not the way to make fearful people feel better,” Blackburn pointed out.

If panic-buying isn’t the answer, what is?

We need to cope with the outbreak with other strategies, suggested Blackburn. The first is very simply too inform yourself with good quality information you can trust. Try the World Health Organisation, and in this case, also Queensland’s government website for the latest COVID-19 information.

Secondly, try to limit your exposure to group anxiety. “People talking about how worried they are is not information or news,” he said. It’s likely to fuel your own anxiety even more. That said, it’s important to stay connected with friends or family members to share how you feel and check they are okay, too.

“A lot of people just want to talk about the fact they’re frightened and that will lessen [the anxiety],” he added.

With files from Natasha Hinde (HuffPost UK).

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