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Why is everyone Panic Buying toilet paper?

This excerpt from an article in may help explain why our anxiety is becoming panic with out of control behaviour.


Anxious Australians are buying toilet paper to deal with their worries about Corona Virus (COVID-19) but they should be considering other ways to relieve their stress.

While other countries have run low on toilet paper, Australians are stockpiling despite there being no threat of running out as 60 per cent of the country’s toilet paper is manufactured locally.

Vision of Aussies scrambling over each other to panic-buy multi-packs of toilet paper has been beamed across the world, leaving many puzzled.

So why are Australians panicking?

“Research shows that in capitalist cultures like Australia, you deal with problems by buying things,  Through times of trouble we are encouraged to spend our way out of it.” explains Dr Paul Harrison, a human behaviour expert at Deakin University.   He says in general humans are drawn to “simple answers” in times of crisis i.e. “Coronavirus is an abstract problem, with an unclear effect and it’s unfolding minute-by-minute,  Humans struggle with nuance and unclear outcomes and research shows that when people feel like they have lost control, they tend to be drawn to small things that they can control.  In Australia we are constantly told that we can solve problems by buying things, and research shows that buying utilitarian items such as toilet paper and cleaning products can rebalance that sense of lack of control.”

Corona Virus loo paper

He went on to say that Australia's call for a stimulus package enables Australians to throw money at something to solve a problem and that "... makes it seem like the simple solution is to buy stuff.

He explains a secondary “herd effect” happens because people can see shortages happening and they don’t want to be the one left without toilet paper.

There is also a cultural aspect to the panic buying related to Australia’s individualistic attitude.

“Australians as a culture tend to think predominantly as individuals and we value things around assertiveness and independence,” Dr Harrison said.

People who have individualistic tendencies tend not to feel supported by the community when things fall apart.

“So in this kind of person with individualistic tendencies, amid stress and when the world feels chaotic, they fend for themselves and their family.”

Australians have shown they can pull together as a community in times of crisis like this year’s bushfire emergency but Dr Harrison said coronavirus was different.

“It is quite isolating, if you get it, you will metaphorically and quite literally be isolated,” he said. “So if you get it, people feel they need to look after themselves and their family.”

It’s every man and woman for themselves when it comes to toilet paper. 


Dr Harrison also said that trust in politicians and institutions was at an all-time low and this exacerbated the feeling that people were on their own.

“Something like 80 per cent of people don’t trust our institutions, which is not a great thing,” he said.  If a leader or (institutions like) the banks are not there in a time of need, it does erode your trust in them.”

He went on to say that the usefulness of buying toilet paper helps people who are vulnerable, feeling unsettled and wanting to take action.

“Two things need to be satisfied: they need to be able to perform that action and for it to lead to an end state of feeling in control, and buying toilet paper satisfies both these,  If you think about it rationally it doesn’t make sense but most behaviour is not rational, it’s emotional.”

Our cognitive brain provides a rational basis for those emotional decisions.


All of these factors came together to explain Australia’s obsession with stocking up on toilet paper.

“Buying toilet paper doesn’t make sense but it does,” Dr Harrison said. “It’s something people do buy weekly and you do need toilet paper, you just don’t need 100 rolls.”

For people who want to ease their anxiety about Corona Virus but want an alterative to buying toilet rolls, Dr Harrison suggested thinking about other people.

“One way of reducing anxiety is to do things for other people,” he said. “Thinking about what things you can do for others also provides that sense of reward.”

What is Panic Buying?

Defined in the Cambridge Dictionary, Panic Buying is "a situation in which many people suddenly buy as much food, fuel, etc. as they can because they are worried about something bad that may happen"

Panic buying is quite different from a panic attack ... Panic buying is an attempt by individuals to control their world in an attempt to ensure survival of themselves and their families.  It's a real response from the primitive part of our brain, the Amygdala, commonly known as Flight, Fight and Freeze.

Panic attack signs/symptoms

  • Intense feelings of being swamped or overwhelmed

  • Galloping heart rate

  • Extreme perspiration

  • Constricted or tight chest

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Uncontrollable shaking or trembling

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Tightness in the stomach or nausea

  • Strong feelings of fear

  • Feeling distant or detached.


The attack can last from a few minutes to half an hour, with the peak intensity usually occurring within ten minutes before subsiding.

How do panic attack symptoms differ from anxiety?

Although they are closely related and feel quite similar, there are a few differences between the symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. 


Anxiety usually has a shorter duration and tends to have a specific ‘trigger scenario’ (such as a job interview), so often fades away when the situation passes. 


Panic attacks seem to happen suddenly, often without the presence of a specific reason or cause, which can make them all the more frightening.  Of course everyone experiences these things differently, but in general panic attacks are usually much more all-encompassing and overwhelming than feeling anxious.

How can I tell if someone has anxiety?

If you notice any behavioural changes that last for a period of two weeks or more in close family or friends, it is possible that the person has an unrecognised anxiety disorder.

Common behaviours associated with anxiety include:

  • Increased worrying about common problems like finances, work or family relationships;

  • Unwilling to go out and socialise;

  • Not being able to go to sleep;

  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs, particularly in social situations;

  • Avoiding crowded places like the cinema, shopping centre on taking public transport;

  • Unable to finish school or work projects; and,

  • Increased irritability and sensitivity to criticism.

How we can help you:

  • For someone who is anxious, stressed and panic buying, often these behaviours are not easy to live with and cause great distress to close family or friends. As a consequence family and friends often withdraw their support or simply stop trying to help.

  • Most people with anxiety and stress resulting in panic buying actually need someone else to help them get the assistance they require.

  • People in the workplace will often feel that it is not their place to comment on someone’s personal problems. Therefore, it is important for employees / employers to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety and stress manifesting as panic buying and feel confident to respond appropriately.


  • If someone you know is experiencing Anxiety or Stress which manifests as Panic Buying, please don’t hesitate to contact us to reserve an appointment today.  

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