An Australian family's funny misstep serves as a reminder that as coronavirus fears soar, it's better to be pragmatic and prepared than panicked.

By Maressa Brown
March 10, 2020
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As the world stresses over perpetually rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, a couple in Australia has at least one thing to giggle about: a mountain of toilet paper that Haidee Janetzki bought accidentally. Haidee meant to grab 48 rolls but, instead, put in an order for 48 boxes. It wasn't until 2,304 rolls of toilet paper showed up at the Janetzkis' home that she realized the mistake. Her husband, Chris, posted a video about the incident to Facebook, remarking that while people around the globe are duking it out over household essentials at big box stores, their family is "sitting pretty" on a literal throne made of toilet paper boxes.

Chris tells Parents.com, "We were both in disbelief at the size of the mistake that was made. We quickly checked the credit card to see what we were charged and were amazed that Haidee made such a big mistake when she was updating our subscription and when it was being shipped."

What happened to the Janetzkis serves as a wake-up call for the whole world, as fears over illness inspire people to panic as opposed to prepare for extreme social distancing measures or a possible quarantine.

It's true that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advises Americans to keep at least two weeks' worth of food, toiletries, and medical supplies on hand in case of a pandemic. But in many cases, pragmatic preparation has morphed into full-scale panic. Videos on social media show people lining up to clean out shelves at their local Costco or Walmart.

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The panic on display in these scenarios is actually contagious. Psychologist Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics and a professor at the University of British Columbia told CNN, "When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn’t seem proportionate to the threat."

If people believe an item is or will become scarce, they naturally begin to panic-buy, and then seeing photos on social media can fuel that panic further, he notes.

In other words, panic begets panic. And being thoroughly freaked out isn't doing anyone any favors when it comes to keeping the virus at bay. Stress causes stores of the hormone cortisol to spike, boosting inflammation in the body and negatively impacting the production of white blood cells that fight infection.

That said, it's best to channel anxiety into preparation versus panic. In a news release, UC San Francisco psychologist Elissa Epel, Ph.D., who studies stress, explains, "While some anxiety helps us cope, extreme anxiety can become coronavirus panic. When we are in a panic state, we suffer, we stress out our children, we are more likely to make mistakes and engage in irrational decisions and behavior."

Epel said people shouldn't feel silly or embarrassed about taking reasonable precautions, such as following the safety advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes frequent hand-washing, staying home if you don’t feel well, getting enough sleep, and taking good care of your immune system.

"Preparing a plan for the future, such as minimizing exposure to large crowds, makes sense and can help reduce anxiety," says Epel. "During this uncertain time, it’s important to keep up your self-care routine, or even add something to it, to reduce your somatic anxiety, the anxiety we store up in our bodies." That could look like connecting with friends or walking in nature.

Sure, having certain essentials on hand might offer a sense of security. But it's heartening to know that there are ways to address coronavirus fears that don't require going to bat for a few rolls of toilet paper.

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