‘Worst case scenario’ thinking causes people to rush to supermarkets

Some people start thinking ‘But what if all the groceries run out next week?’

MALAYSIA has gone through 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic without any food shortages. So people need not rush to stock up on groceries each time a lockdown or extension of the movement control order is announced.

Former Malaysian Psychology Association president Dr Goh Chee Leong says one reason why many still rush to supermarkets is because people in general tend to plan and act based on worst case scenarios.

“This may explain why many still flock to the supermarkets in spite of all evidence showing there is ample access to essential items during the lockdown.

“It is ‘but what if’ thinking. For example, such thoughts could be along the lines of ‘But what if all the groceries run out next week?’ ‘But what if there’s no more toilet paper supply in the supermarkets?’” he illustrates.

When there’s any sense of insecurity or uncertainty, people tend to move into “survival” mode, which is to quickly get what we need to survive first, Dr Goh says.

In these situations, he advises the public to remain calm.

“We’ve never run out of food or essential supplies at any time during the pandemic. So keep safe and don’t rush, ” he urges.

It was reported that despite the government’s assurance that essential items will be available during the two-week MCO from June 1 to 14, Malaysians nationwide were seen stocking up on supplies in droves.

Dr Goh says the fear and anxiety now among the general public is greater than last year, because the number of Covid-19 cases and the mortality rate is far higher this year.

But fear is not a bad thing, Dr Goh says, as it is part of an evolutionary instinct that keeps us alive.

“If more Malaysians had a healthy fear of Covid-19, we probably would not be in our current state of crisis, ” he says.

An important part of staying mentally healthy during times of crisis is connecting regularly with our network of social support, whether they be family members or friends or colleagues.

“Another key to keeping our sanity during this difficult period is to embrace the fact that we cannot control every-thing. We cannot win every battle and we should not feel that we have to carry the burden for every bad thing that is happening in our families, our organisations and our world, ” he says.

Dr Goh assures that it’s human to feel helpless and powerless sometimes, or to feel at the mercy of circumstances.

“So it’s all right to give ourselves a moment of vulnerability and rest before we need to gather our strength again to continue the battle, ” he says.

Malaysian Mental Health Association president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says one reason people irrationally stockpile essential items is because humans have a strong propensity to follow the decisions of others.

“We follow others because we believe there is a good reason for their actions, ” he says, citing an example of when we choose to eat in a crowded restaurant because we assume that others know that it is a good place to eat in.

Similarly, people tend to go into an irrational stockpiling mode because others are doing it, assuming that what they are doing has some basis in rationality.

“Government agencies may need to step up their public education measures to mitigate irrational stockpiling. Studying consumer food purchasing behaviours and the resulting market stress is imperative to prepare for potential market disruptions, ” Dr Mohanraj says.

On the public’s overall mental health, he says this pandemic is undoubtedly a traumatic event.

“The challenges faced by big and small businesses are also real. While businesses are likely to adopt cost cutting measures to remain afloat, I would also urge them to be kinder, compassionate and generous with their staff, ” he says.

Dr Mohanraj stresses that mental health needs should be addressed as an integral part of the Covid-19 response, with special attention paid to improving social and psychological support levels to increase public resilience.

“Experiencing negative emotions during this difficult time is to be expected.

“It is important to acknowledge these experiences and work towards positive coping mechanisms without blaming oneself for the situation, ” he advises.

He urges the public to stay in contact with supportive family and friends, invest time in physical health by eating healthy meals, exercising and refraining from abusing alcohol or nicotine.

Those needing psychological support may contact the Malaysian Mental Health Association hotline at 03-2780 6803 during office hours.

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