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COVID-19 'Panic Buying' Triggered My Eating Disorder Hoarding Thoughts

As we all know, the new-to-humans coronavirus (COVID-19) — which affects your lungs and respiratory system — has been all over the news. When I was doing my weekly grocery store run, I gasped at the rows of empty shelves where I normally picked up my pasta.

Naturally, it stirred a little bit of worry within me. Do I need to panic buy? I thought. Should I save and stock up on things?

However, I had to stop my spiraling thoughts… as I realized I experienced similar thoughts before. They were the same hoarding thoughts I experienced when in the grips of an eating disorder.

At a very low point in my life, I struggled to fight anorexia. At this time my brain was in a constant state of food shortage. When I would go to a supermarket at that time, I would have a very stressful experience. I developed so many fears of food that I couldn’t touch or eat, so despite a fully stocked store, almost every shelf of food looked like the empty shelves in the present day.

During my eating disorder struggles, my own mind created its own food shortage, and my body believed it. Thus, I would panic buy. I would hoard foods I found safe, or food I was given for free, or reduced. It felt like safety to have it in my possession. Not to eat… but simply to buy and to know it was there. The worst part was that I knew some of it would go to waste. I knew at the time I was wrapped up in disordered eating and would struggle to eat most of the food I had in my cupboards… Yet, I still wanted all of it.

It wasn’t just food either. It was anything! Money, toilet paper, towels, shampoo… Because my body was in panic mode, my own brain somehow believed there was a famine, or that the environment I was in was simply not a safe place! To protect me, my brain thought it had to protect my body at all costs. I couldn’t care for anyone else, or anything. I just needed to hoard and store things… anything it felt it could use.

My brain also started to disregard things I previously thought of as important. Caring for others, hobbies and leisure all seemed so unimportant… This is the brain’s response to thinking it is under threat.

In the current pandemic of the COVID 19, I have seen similar reactions towards shopping. Hoarding necessities, buying something in bulk without thinking of others who may need it, and panic buying.

It feels like a necessity to do, and I understand that because I have been there. However, because of that experience, I know now is not the time to give in to these responses. We can only do our best in this situation by being kind, caring and aware. Prepared not panicked.

After I spent years working in therapy ( fighting disordered thoughts and reducing my fear and hoarding response) I remember a very special moment within my recovery. It was when I was able to share my food with someone else.

Being able to share something with another person… was a moment where I felt truly human.

I urge everyone, including myself, to stop, take a breath and think about how to prepare and look after ourselves without panicking and putting others at risk.

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GettyImages photo via Cunaplus_M.Faba