Covid-19 and Panic from an Emotions as Tools Perspective

Note: In my last post, I published part 1 of a 4 part series on anger.  I was going to publish part 2 today but decided to give you some perspective on the Corona Virus and the panic behavior you are seeing.

I’ll get back to part 2 of the series in my next post.


There are many issues involving the virus that could be explored.

This post looks at the panic buying we are seeing and explores this phenomenon from an Emotions as Tools perspective.

First, as the virus is spreading, many people are panicking.  The store shelves are, in many cases, empty of product.  People are lining up, sometimes in the rain and hours before opening, at big box stores to stock up on toilet paper, water and hand sanitizers.  People are acting as-if there is a major shortage of these items while the facts are that if there was no panic, there would be no shortages.

Let’s look at two commodities

Toilet paper.

The shelves at Costco have been decimated.  According to estimates, published in a recent LA Times article, Americans use less than one roll per week on average.  So, if your household has 15 people in it, you would rip through a 30 pack of Kirkland Signature two-ply over the 14 day quarantine period.  If you are a couple, the one Costco pack of toilet paper would last you four months.

Hand Sanitizers

The experts tell us that properly washing hands for 20 secs is both more effective and better for you than hand sanitizers.  So, if you wash when you can and only use the sanitizer when water is not available, how many bottles of hand sanitizer do you need?

I am not saying that people should not buy what they need. They do and should.  But, to panic and stockpile to the detriment of everyone who needs these commodities is both unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Hoarding, however, is an emotional issue with real world implications such as the shortage of respirator masks which can impact the ability of first responders to have access to the safety they need to protect themselves and the people they are attempting to save.

The Emotional Issue

Panic can be viewed as an extreme form of anxiety.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there and that threat MAY kill me.

When deployed as a strategic tool, anxiety (as eustress),  is a motivator which leads us to take effective action to deal with the perceived threat.

So, being worried about needing supplies in a disaster should act as a motivator to go out and get what you need before the possible event occurs.

This is what should have already happened in many states. Indeed, being anxious about earthquakes, wild fires, or natural disasters,  should have been enough to encourage most of us to stock up for when the “disaster” arose.

And, it would lead to people buying needed supplies now.

However, what we are seeing in many instances is NOT anxiety as eustress.

What we are witnessing is anxiety, as distress and its extreme cousin, panic.

You may experienced anxiety as distress when you were asked to give a speech at work, or you needed to “confront” someone, and you took no action  (immobility)  because the anxiety level was so high.

In other words, you froze (choked).

Anxiety as distress is very common and probably familiar to most of us.

Anxiety, as distress can also lead to extreme overreacting.

Panic and many phobias are examples of extreme overreacting .


Panic, as an emotion and the action that this emotion elicits, happens because of two psychological processes.

By the way… please notice that I said above that the emotion of panic ELICITS or leads to an action.  The emotion does not CAUSE the action to occur.

The first psychological process involves acting as if the threat is  certain and imminent.  In other words, it will happen and it will happen soon.

The second psychological process involves catastrophising.

Catastrophising involves..

  • projecting yourself into the future
  • focusing your energy only on the worst case scenario and
  • acting as if the worst case scenario is the only possible outcome.

This is what we are seeing in the stores.

People are acting..

  • as if there is a massive shortage (there is),
  • that the shortage is real (it is a result of our actions)and
  • that they will be suffer horribly because of the shortage (if we act mindfully, there will be no suffering)

The unexplored and (largely) incorrect reasoning here is..

  • the municipal water supply will become impaired,
  • Proctor and Gamble and Georgia Pacific will no longer be producing toilet paper and people will have to perform their personal hygiene any (primitive) way they can and
  • the lack of hand sanitizer will leave them extremely exposed and vulnerable to the virus.

While all of these are possibly true, none of them, as of this writing, have occurred.

  • The water supply has not been impacted.
  • Stores are restocking shelves.
  • Toilet paper is being produced.
  • Washing hands is just as effective as hand sanitizer and formulas for creating sanitizing wipes at home have been published.
  • The virus is real.

The bottom line is that we do not have a supply chain catastrophe.

What we have is a pandemic and need to act accordingly.

The ANTIDOTE to anxiety as distress.

The prescription for avoiding anxiety as distress (and panic) is mindfulness.

A lot has been written about mindfulness as you will see if you google it.

In its most basic and useable form, mindfulness simply means to be in the moment.  It has been associated with meditation but you can be mindful and present in the moment without meditating.

The reason that mindfulness counteracts anxiety as distress and panic is that when you are in the moment, you attempt to assess what is actually happening choose the most effective response to help you both manage the present and plan for the future.

When you are present in the moment, you recognize any attempt by your mind to catastrophize because you are aware that your focus is only on a worst case scenario occurring at some future time.

You also recognize that we are, in fact, experiencing a pandemic and need to change our behavior.  Acknowledging this reality, we can plan and execute the actions recommended for dealing with the pandemic including self-distancing and how we buy what we need.

The bottom line is that…

  • We all need to be mindful and present in the moment.  This curtails panic.
  • We need to take the recommended actions to keep ourselves and others safe.

When you get a chance, click on over to and read an article I wrote on looking at the virus as a relationship issue.  The link is below.

And, then, come back and join me for my next post in two weeks.

Dealing with the corona virus as a relationship issue