Some of us are hoarding, but why?

Fear of the coronavirus has led people to stock up on hand sanitizer and other products, leaving store shelves empty and online retailers with sky-high prices set by those trying to profit on the rush. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, file)
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(KWTX) Psychologists and behaviorists agree hoarding of the type Americans are experiencing today is a natural response in uncertain times, but all say what people are doing in response to COVID-19 is unnecessary and can be hurtful.

Store shelves are bare and some items barely available.

People are lining up outside stores to try to be first in the door for things like bread, paper products, eggs, milk and meat.

And grocers, realizing some groups have more issues than do others, have set aside special hours for senior citizens and other specialized groups of customers.

Some shoppers can be seen pushing grocery carts packed full of things like hand sanitizer or other health needs, but it's all unnecessary, the retailers and experts agree, because "this, too, will pass."

Waco psychologist Dr. William Lee Carter says he doesn't classify what shoppers are doing today as hoarding, but rather as panic buying.

"People hear things that frighten them or see things and they respond by panicking, and that happens in the grocery store, too," he said.

"Some will see someone else stocking up on goods or items and fear that things will get so bad there won't be anything left, so they over buy, too, and that leaves others without.

"They just want to make sure if things really do get really bad, they can get by."

Local economist and researcher Dr., Ray Perryman, of the Perryman Group, said it comes down to being human.

"Hoarding is a natural response for many people when uncertainty is as high as it currently is.

"Having basic essentials can make things feel more under control, and the tendency to hoard has its roots in psychology," he said, recalling similar times after Y2K, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and other uncertain periods.

Hoarding is recognized by psychologists as a disorder.

Hoarding Disorder is classified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as the condition associated with hoarding, and it can become worse with time.

"It most often affects adults, though teenagers may show hoarding tendencies as well," the health website Healthwise.com, says.

And it becomes self-perpetuating, Perryman suggested.

"Once images of empty shelves make headlines, many people will respond by over-purchasing if they do see a supply of certain items, perpetuating the shortages."

While manufacturers are pushing to catch up with demand and retailers are looking for new suppliers to fill their shelves, the situation isn't likely to change very soon.

"From an economic perspective, shortages are likely to persist until the worst of the uncertainty is past us," Perryman said.

"When a situation like the one we are currently in arises and people are purchasing far more than they normally do, it can strain the supply chain."

Manufacturing operations and supply chains have become increasingly efficient over the past several decades, with output and deliveries geared precisely to predicted needs, Perryman said, but the recent past wasn't predicted or predictable.

"The situation will work itself out, particularly as retailers and delivery companies step up with efforts to ensure people can get what they really needed when they need it (which is already starting to happen),” he said.

"The problems we are seeing are a natural outcome of fear and uncertainty. When Americans once again feel confident that they'll be able to get the things they need, the issues should subside," he said.