How to keep a healthy mind at the time of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant changes worldwide, affecting the way we live, interact and work. Compounded by the ever-changing rules and restrictions, these sudden onsets of changes can adversely affect your overall emotional and mental state of mind.  Plus, an overwhelming sense of loss of control and anxiety.

As the nation battled a raging COVID pandemic in 2020, The Samaritans of Singapore noted a 30% increase in calls to its suicide prevention hotline during the Circuit Breaker1.

Acknowledging that pandemic may not go away anytime sooner, the good news is that it is possible to live normally with COVID-19 in our midst. We ask Prof Kua Ee Heok, psychiatrist, for tips on keeping your mental health in check and being more resilient during this time.

How does your mental health get affected during COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a toll on Singaporeans mental well-being. They are highly stressed and anxious in general, especially among the physically vulnerable. It also added to their fear of being infected and affecting their health.

In April 2021, a Straits Times survey conducted one year after the Circuit Breaker found that people are interacting less, and their social circles have shrunk. Their overall mental well-being has taken a hit2.

For others, there is a sense of a ‘new normal’ and of adjusting to present circumstances. Of course, as the situation evolves, anxiety levels may change. However, it may be challenging for some to accept how their lifestyle has changed ever since the pandemic kicked in. 

The common problem faced by people during the pandemic is not knowing what is going to happen next. While unsettling feelings are expected, too much of them can start to cause harm. Feeling stressed and fearful every day takes a toll on health and well-being very quickly.

Ways to achieve a healthy mind during the pandemic

Being mindful about your mental health is essential, and self-care strategies are beneficial for mental and physical health.

  1. Practicing Mindfulness

COVID pandemic created peak levels of uncertainty concerning our future, socially, financially, and to some degree politically, evident by the border restrictions.  

Mindfulness helps you accept any less than ideal situation without the strong emotions to carry you away and a centered calm. Only then can you see more clearly what you have control over and what you do not have. Dr. Kua also shared the benefits of mindful walking to learn about botany and therapeutic gardens. A study involving a group of elderly people aged 60 years old in the “Therapeutic Rainforest Programme” showed an improved anxiety level and immune system six months after the program.    

  1. 7 Habits to Combat Stress

In addition, Prof Kua also recommended the following habits to help you maintain a better mental and physical state.

  • Acknowledge Stress – It is important to recognize that you are stressed before it spirals out of control because it can affect your mental and emotional health negatively. Plus, create poor interpersonal and relationship issues. However, if you can identify the causes, you can begin to find ways to manage your stressors successfully.
  • Avoid fake news – Many rely on social media as their primary source of news. However, they fail to realize that some information sources may not be reliable. Therefore, it is essential to visit credible sources for information.
  • Exercise – Any form of exercise or movement can increase your fitness level while decreasing your stress. Exercise produces endorphins that improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
  • Diet – Eating a balanced and healthy diet is key to helping our bodies to manage the physiological changes caused by stress. In addition, a healthy diet will counter stress by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure.
  • Mindfulness Practice – Mindfulness helps you create space around your worries so they don’t consume you. When you begin to understand the underlying causes of your apprehension, freedom and a sense of spaciousness naturally emerge.
  • Recreational Activities – Participating in recreational activities gives you a break from reality. It does not have to be something tedious. Going for a stroll or engaging yourself in some activities that kick starts your brain will aid you in managing your stress.
  • Social Capital – Having your family and friends around will distract you from your thoughts and worries. Our relationships with them play a massive role in our mental well-being, particularly when managing mental health issues like stress, depression, or anxiety.

History has proven that every pandemic will run its course, and science and medical research will eventually prevail. To this point, Prof Kua advised all to embrace the present while keeping a good balance between physical and mental health.

 

[1] Elangovan, “SOS Hotline Receives 30% More Calls during Circuit Breaker Period”, Today, September 15, 2020, accessed November 13, 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/sos-hotline-receives-30-more-calls-during-circuit-breaker-period.

[2] Goh, “One Year after Circuit Breaker, People in Singapore Socialising Less, Working More; Mental Wellbeing Has Declined”, The Straits Times, April 7, 2021, accessed November 12, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/sporeans-socialising-and-dining-out-less-mental-well-being-has-declined-covid-19

[3] Rathi Mahendran and Kua Ee Heok. In: Handbook of pandemic management – the case of covid-19. Editors: Emily Marr, Alice Jin, Joycelyn Soo. Published 2021

 

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This Article Was Reviewed By:

Professor Kua Ee Heok is the Tan Geok Yin Professor in Psychiatry and Neuroscience at National University of Singapore (NUS), Emeritus Consultant at National University Hospital and Consultant Psychiatrist at Mind Care Clinic, Farrer Park Medical Centre.

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