Healthy Mind Matters: Staying Safe & Sane During Stressful Times

Mar 20, 2020, 9:43 PM | Updated: Mar 21, 2020, 2:14 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — For many Utahns, anxiety and stress are at all-time highs after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked the Wasatch Front and COVID-19 pandemic worries escalate.

In this Healthy Mind Matters report, KSL offers simple strategies anyone can do to stay safe and sane during these stressful times.

Finding peace can be difficult these days but it’s not impossible, said Heidi O’Donoghue, a mindfulness instructor who lives in Salt Lake City.

Focusing on your breathing is something you can do anytime, anywhere to stay centered, she said.

“We can’t breathe in the past and we can’t breathe in the future. We can only breathe in this moment right here,” O’Donoghue said. “And we always have the breath with us. So it’s a wonderful tool for us to use to focus our attention.”

Simple yoga movements and being aware of our sensations can help keep us grounded.

“Because most thoughts are either about the past or about the future. And when we can be right here in this moment, we tend to have less anxiety,” O’Donoghue said.

As we maintain social distancing to contain COVID-19, many teachers are offering guided meditations and yoga online.

There are also free mindfulness apps as well.

Therapist Susan Hansen Porter said creating predictability also helps lessen anxiety.

“That means getting up, making our bed, doing all of those things that kind of help us feel like we’re starting to be productive,” she said. “Identify three, 10-minute tasks in the first couple of hours that you’re up so that you kind of have a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Exercise, nutrition and adequate sleep are key, and so is taking time to unplug from screens and text messages.

“It’s not to say that we are sweeping the uncomfortable or the difficulty or the suffering under the rug, pretending it’s not there,” O’Donoghue said. “We can acknowledge that, but we can also look at this a different way.”

Reframing high anxiety days into something manageable.

With schools closed and most activities canceled, parents and children are facing new challenges. It’s hard dealing with disappointment, adjusting to home study and isolation from friends. Family time has taken on a whole new meaning.

“I’m a little sad that I can’t see my friends anymore or for a little while,” said Luke Hemingway, who is in eighth grade at Hillside Middle School.

Amy Hemingway, a mother of five who lives in Salt Lake City is working to keep spirits high at her house.

“Happy is the question,” she said. “I asked if they could read five books this week from our library because they have time, time is on our side.”

Annie Deming, a licensed psychologist with Primary Children’s Wasatch Canyons Behavioral Health, said it’s important to show children empathy along with finding productive things to do.

“It’s really important to acknowledge that disappointment and validate it. It is hard. It’s hard for everybody,” she said.

Next, encourage acceptance of how things are and make plans for something special for down the road. Use technology to help kids stay in touch with their peer group.

“There’s a lot of online games that kids like to play, and they can connect that way, and that’s very safe,” Deming said. “They’re not sharing germs in that environment but they’re still connecting with their friends.”

Experts said it’s important to stick to a schedule, even when you’re at home — that could include study time, quiet time and even recess.

“It’s almost as important for the parents as it is for the kids because we also need that downtime to look forward to, and so keeping bedtimes the same as on school nights, I think it’s really good,” Deming said.

When children or teenagers get discouraged, ask what they’d tell a friend and help them apply that advice to their own family — and look for the positives.

“It’s going to be fun to just get to know each other again. Because right now, our schedules are — there is nothing on our schedule. They are empty,” Hemingway said.

Kicking boredom to the curb by working through social isolation together.

For children who suffer from anxiety and depression, show extra empathy and help them rely on inner strength and coping skills they’ve learned in the past.

Here are some tips for staying safe and sane from the American Psychological Association.

Don’t Allow Your Anxiety To Overwhelm You

In order to protect yourself and others, act on reliable information that promotes your safety and health. Public health experts have advised us to focus on hygiene and limiting opportunities for infection. They have assured us that maintaining critical health habits such as handwashing, refraining from unnecessary physical contact and isolating ourselves when ill are the most effective strategies for limiting the spread of the illness. The media will use dramatic information to get your attention, so be sure to attend to important, less-shocking information such as the relative safety of people who are younger and in good health.

Help Others

Helping others eases our own anxiety. If you have a family member, friend or neighbor who is at risk, get groceries for them, offer to pick up their prescriptions, or call and chat with them. If you have a vulnerable child, find games for them to play, give them extra quality time, and listen for their fears so that you can offer support.

Engage In Basic Self-Care, Such As Keeping Up An Exercise Routine

You may not be able to go to the gym, but you can still take a walk with friends, get on your exercycle, or do Pilates. There are classes and instructors online who can take you through an age- and health-appropriate home workout. If your routine is usually more vigorous, get out and run, ski or hike. Just be sure to maintain social distancing.

Emotional Grounding Or Mindfulness Is Important Self-Care

Yoga or formal meditation is very effective and you can find an abundance of guided meditations, visualizations and relaxation exercises online. There are many helpful phone apps available.

Even when your place of worship is off-limits, spiritual or religious observance can greatly alleviate stress. The secular-minded have their own sources of spiritual comfort, such as music or other sensory esthetics. Go to the routines and things that usually bring you calm.

Get The Sleep You Need & Maintain Consistent Sleep And Waking Times

Socialize In Safe Ways

If you are in a high-risk group, that may mean using your phone or FaceTime. If you are not high risk, get together with family or friends. Social support had been shown to improve immunity, whereas loneliness makes us more susceptible to illness. Be vigilant about physical contact and hand-washing.

Enjoy Positive Activities At Home

Bring out the Monopoly game, or a set of playing cards. Take advantage of having time at home with positive activities like playing games or reading. For example, the game “charades” demands no touching. Read a good book or do that crafting you’ve been too busy to get to.

If politics are a distraction for you, watch the political TV shows and read your favorite editorialist. Keep in mind, however, that political messaging relies on inflammatory and

distorted rhetoric to hold your attention, and that over-focusing on our polarized political climate is unlikely to promote anyone’s emotional well-being.

Be Kind

Maintaining civility promotes the cooperative environment that will best serve both our individual and public welfare. Incivility breeds the sort of competition that can prove socially harmful and tends to restrict public access to limited resources. We will get through this gracefully only by seeing to each other.

For more information, visit the CDC’s guide on managing anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at

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Healthy Mind Matters: Staying Safe & Sane During Stressful Times