How can we protect our mental health during this time?

It has not been easy during the last 1 year.

With travelling and home arrangement plans dashed, I struggled with the uncertainty and observed anxiety creeping in.

How are you adapting?

I took months to accept that I will not be able to see most of my loved ones or be able to go anywhere unless I am willing to be quarantined.

At times, I caught myself in a state of denial.

The suppressed desires and fears often expressed themselves in my dreams. Once I woke up with a horrible fear of a loved one dying and experienced with a strong sense of guilt that I am not there.

I bought a hula hoop, a new yoga mat, weights, noise cancelling headphone, art supplies, home scents, and accepted frozen food as a weekly norm.

Yes, most of us by now have developed new routines such as exercising indoor, working online, and cooking more at home.

I have chosen a picturesque seaside town to tide over this pandemic. Being close to nature is an important factor that I consider. There are reputable hospitals and imported groceries within 30 km. Plus there are lots of outdoor sports that I can engage myself in.

So, what does the latest research shown to be helpful in dealing with life during this pandemic time?

What other lifestyle adjustments are useful during this time?

Recent research on large samples of university students have highlighted these protective factors for mental health during this pandemic. These protective factors are not surprising.

Firstly, Mindfulness has been listed an important protective factor in buffering stress. Neuroscientists have found evidence in seeing significant fMRI improvements in our brains from practicing regular meditation.

An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. A wandering, restless mind skipping from thought to thought, ruminating the past or worrying about the future would increase discontentment.

Mindfulness does not mean sitting hours to meditate like a spiritual practitioner. It can be as simple as taking a minute to sit and smell the mug of tea in your hand, observe a leaf on a tree, listen to the sound of a bird, or look at the flame of a candle.

Secondly, Perceived Social Support is also an important protective factor. It simply means:

“Whom can you turn to if you need help?”

“Is there anyone who would keep a look out for you when you can’t get out of bed?”

“Is there a common interest group (art, sports, and cooking) that I can join to meet weekly?”

“What are the support groups (self-help) or community groups (volunteering) that I can join in my vicinity or online?”

To reduce social isolation and alienation, making small talks with your favourite grocer, hair stylist, baker, waitress, chef, café owner in the vicinity neighbourhood can go a long way. At the same time, video chats with friends, families, and relatives, are also highly effective to enhance connectivity.

The third protective factor is Spending at Least Two Hours Outside of your house. This might be the hardest during the pandemic. (We have been encouraged to stay indoors as much as possible.) Indeed, it boils down to sunshine which gives us vitamin D, and movement which stimulates the production of our feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins.

“Where is the nearest natural park, beach side, hike, a pleasant neighbourhood that you can have access to for walking?”

“Is there a driving or biking route that you can take regularly?”

Lastly, Limit Screen Time on electronics – laptops, TV, handphones, tablets to less than 8 hours daily. What I have found most helpful for this is scheduling break times between my online activities, and obtaining a noise cancelling headphone which allows me to listen to podcast, YouTube, playlists when I multi-task and thereby reducing the amount of blue light exposure.

What else have you found useful in buffering this pandemic stress? (Leave in the comments below.)


Browning MHEM, Larson LR, Sharaievska I, Rigolon A, McAnirlin O, et al. (2021) Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students: Risk factors across seven states in the United States. PLOS ONE 16(1): e0245327.

Sun, S., Goldberg, S.B., Lin, D. et al. Psychiatric symptoms, risk, and protective factors among university students in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic in China. Global Health 17, 15 (2021).