Facing the coronavirus and uncertainty: Why do some of us shrug it off, while others hoard toilet paper?

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MANY people seem to be dealing with the recent coronavirus outbreak in one of two ways: by panicking or shrugging. There is a great degree of uncertainty around how bad the covid-19 pandemic will get, which means it is easy to over or underreact and make the wrong choices. …

When we face uncertainty about the future, events can feel like they are out of our control. This often triggers negative emotions, such as fear and anger – emotions that we are motivated to try to reduce.

However, when it comes to the coronavirus crisis, the actions we take to regain a sense of control tend to be the least effective for controlling the virus. Panic buying large quantities of food and cleaning products is an example of this. Not only may this do more harm than good by creating a shortage in the supermarkets, as is happening with toilet roll, it distracts from more effective steps people could take.

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So what to do? Boosting messages from public health organizations that provide clear and appropriate guidance is important. …. Minimizing uncertainty by making sure people hear information that is timely and relevant to their specific circumstances is also likely to help reduce short-term panic.

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