The Department of Psychology at HELP University, Malaysia, brings you our ‘5 Keys Series’ providing five practical tips on five topics to help you stay mentally, emotionally and physically strong. Drawing on evidence-based psychology, you can be sure of getting 5-star quality insight and guidance from HELP University: the university of achievers.

The first of our ‘5 Keys Series’ is called “The 5 Keys to Good Mental Health during COVID-19”. Be sure to watch this space to get regular insights into the psychology of everyday living.


We have all seen the pictures and viral videos of shoppers fighting over toilet paper. With such images, we often wonder why people act in such reactive and aggressive ways. Unfortunately, we humans are not as rational as we would like to think. As research has shown, we are more affected by our emotions than we realise, particularly anxiety, fear and stress.

Under conditions of uncertainty, we feel fear and anxiety. These emotions can be beneficial to us. You can think of fear and anxiety as our inbuilt alarm system — we respond to them very quickly because they help us survive and avoid danger. Our emotions are essentially telling us that it is better to be safe than sorry. However, these instincts are not always helpful. When the alarm system (our amygdala) trips, it prevents us from being the rational and kind humans we all aspire to be.

So how do we manage the urge to ‘panic buy’ when we’re at the Supermarket?

Check in with yourself When we are fearful, our ‘fast’ brain kicks in. It overrides executive functions related to thinking clearly, making good decisions, and it interferes with our rational assessment skills. To slow down the fast brain, let’s breathe. Ask yourself: 1) Am I OK? 2) Am I taking precautions (practicing social distancing, hand-washing with soap for 20 seconds, or using hand sanitiser)? Breathe in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 4 -repeat 5 times) and reassess. YES I am OK! 4) Let’s check my shopping list and see what I really need! Action that list. Tell yourself: “I got this!” Try out these 3 positive exercises for free.

Be mindful & stay focused on the present Our worries are either future-oriented or focused on the past. If we focus on the here-and-now, we can see that some of the information we are being bombarded with is not truthful. Put on that critical thinking hat and ask yourself “What do I really need to know?” Limit media access! Limit your screen time online. Avoid the 24/7 news cycles, and stay informed occasionally through trusted news sources (the WHO, the Guardian, BBC, etc.) Watch only once per day. Ask yourself “Do I need to listen to this?” Take that time to opt for a meditation or yoga routine with your family or partner instead. Focus on the here & now!

Be a smart, savvy shopper My mother was very clear in the need to have a list. If you have lived in a rural community and been self-sufficient for up to 2–4 weeks between trips to the Supermarket, these times are really no different. Here’s my mum’s hot tips: Make a list and check it twice!

  1. Write a list of groceries needed 
  2. Add wish list at the bottom with some treats if available and budget allows
  3. Check your cupboards, fridge and freezer and take stock of what is already there! (Do you need another can of sardines when you already have five? Do you really need that extra bag of flour/pasta/rice?)
  4. Focus on good healthy, homemade food and double-check recipes to see if you need a special herb, spice or sauce — it’ll save you having to go out again.
  5. Avoid waste and extra trips — and be thrifty. “Every penny saved is a penny earned.” Check out these online grocery list templates and ideas: 6 tips on grocery shopping during the Covid-19 MCO14 Tips On How To Be A Smart Shopper

Be generous and kind to ourselves and others Let’s take steps to keep each other accountable. Be gracious and check in before we go to the checkout. Buy online to escape the hoards and anxiety-inducing crowds. But…be aware that buying online is the same as buying in a store. Buy ONLY what you need and don’t be influenced by marketing ploys. A recent survey by Choice Australia found that, of the people surveyed (self-report), 82% have been unable to buy the things they need; 53% have had an event cancelled or postponed; 34% have experienced price gouging; and 26% have witnessed inappropriate promotions or ‘panic marketing’. Remember, you only really need to have two weeks of supplies on hand. Try to relax. We got this! Remember, your list. See above!

Keep calm and carry on While the world is in a whirl, we can only stop and slow ourselves within the confines of our own homes. Ensure you are keeping a routine and resting, sleeping, relaxing, connecting, and eating healthy soul-nourishing foods. This helps to reduce our ‘fast’ reactive brain and turn down the worry. We need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Breathe, sleep, stay safe, stay sane and when all else fails, breathe again!

Let’s stay sane and keep calm while at the checkout…

Please comment, respond and send your tips and tricks in. We want to connect so don’t hesitate to comment on what worked and didn’t work from the above. Let’s add to this and build a TOP 10 from a KEY 5! And please feel free to contact me if you’re interested in academic articles on hoarding!

Professor Dr. Lianne Britten is a peer reviewed, published academic author and global presenter, clinician, lecturer and curriculum developer. She has expertise in the fields of complex trauma, narrative and indigenous psychology, crisis response (including suicide). She also has decades of experience in the field of educational psychology and anxiety with a specialization in autism spectrum disorder. Professor Dr. Lianne looks forward to using her expertise in crises to help bring compassion, and peace in times of distress and chaos. Questions? Reach out to Lianne at: