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Psychiatrist explains why people may rush to stock up before a storm

Doctor shares insight on the panic to stock up.

ATLANTA — It’s something people have done for a long time before a storm, whether it be rain, sleet, snow, or ice -- stocking up with essentials at grocery stores, especially as the shelves start to seem bare.

It doesn’t seem to be a habit people break easily.

Currently, there’s no anticipation that Sunday's potential for a winter storm would knock out power and resources for weeks on end. But, with the possibility of snow and ice headed to North Georgia and Atlanta, it may be good to answer the question why do we panic buy?

Psychiatrist Dr. Suvrat Bhargave gave some very important distinctions. 

One, it’s perfectly OK to be prepared. Two, it’s not considered hoarding to go to the store and buy several items as hoarding is a clinical condition. Three, stockpiling says more about our anxiety levels than it does about the upcoming threat.

“You might actually be buying more for your emotional needs. Anxiety by definition is an irrational fear,” said Bhargave. “In terms of why we do it, one of it is good old FOMO (fear of missing out). This idea that somehow, I'm going to miss out on what other people have. We all want to do right by ourselves, we want to do right by our families. And when you see kind of a mob mentality of buying, it makes you think, ‘what do they know that I don't know?’”

Another reason for panic buying before a storm could be the sense of a lack of control.  

“We don't really have any control over a storm. I can, though, control going out and buying. So, the more out of control you feel, the more you have to be careful to not overbuy as a way of compensating for having a lack of control.”

Finally, Bhargave said there’s past trauma that can lend people to buy more than what they need.

“There's a degree of witnessing the worst-case scenario," he said. "In the past, you may have experienced a trauma, and then it's appropriate to try your best not to experience that trauma again. But in this age of internet and cell phones and social media, we secondarily experienced a lot of trauma. And then we work hard to try to avoid experiencing that trauma firsthand. So, if we've watched other people go through tough times where they may not have had electricity for days, we almost react to an impending threat with the same degree of intensity.”

RELATED: 'It's the scariest feeling' | Atlanta parents unable to find formula to feed their babies

So how does it start? Think of the game of telephone. 

A co-worker overhears another mentioning the store was out of bread when they went. Then, that story gets told to a family member, who tells a friend and so on, making more people wonder if their stores are empty. Social media doesn’t help, as a single picture of an empty shelf at one store can spread at lightning speed.

“It suddenly makes you think that ‘gosh, maybe I need to think about my needs too and what I need to get.’ I do think that there is an additive effect to being anxious and to being panicked,” said Bhargave.

There are a few things people can do to calm down their anxiety during those moments, according to the psychiatrist.

One option is to take an inventory of what one already has and buy what you need. 

Another option is to check with reliable sources to see what the long-lasting impact will be. Will the storm last for a few hours or a few days? 

Lastly, remember you’re not alone.

“If you need something, there's a really good chance that your friend or your neighbor, someone might be able to help you out. And in reminding yourself that you're not alone, you also remind yourself that we're all going through this as a collective.”

It's understandable that people want to be prepared. So, when going to the stores, it’s best to remember what you’re preparing for

RELATED: 6 tips to prepare your home ahead of Georgia's potential winter storm

Buying four gallons of milk may not work if there’s anticipation the power would go out. Non-perishable items work best. Also consider a non-electric can opener, batteries and water.

A Georgia Power spokesperson said to make sure cell phones and computers are fully charged before the winter storm hits. They add pet owners should also have at least a couple of days of food and treats for their animals too.

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