Adolescents, Teenagers, and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

In recent years the mental health community has become more aware of self-harm practices in the adolescent and young adult populations. Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) has been difficult for therapists and parents to fully understand due to its sensitive nature and the fear of suicidal ideation. Teenagers and young adults turn to this behavior to release emotional pain that they aren’t sure how to process and manage.

Although unhealthy and at times extremely dangerous, adolescents that practice NSSI are generally not suicidal and are using this practice to cope with painful experiences. As a result, therapist and parents are unsure how to act. Do we create a safety plan? Make sure the teenager is never left alone? Take them to the hospital?

In this article we’ll discuss the ins and outs of NSSI and how you can help your teenager navigate these rocky waters.

What is Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI)?

Non-suicidal self-injury, aka self-harm, is performed through avenues such as cutting, burning, hitting hard objects or self, pinching, scratching, and even interfering with healing wounds (Peterson et al., 2008). It is commonly assumed that NSSI is an attention seeking behavior and it certainly can be, but typically not as a means of hurting others or gaining sympathy. Rather, it tends to be used as a cry for help because of depression and/or anxiety.

Some people choose to engage in NSSI as a means of self-punishment, but most often the action is carried out simple to create a physical outlet to emotional pain. Oftentimes, parents of teens that engage in self-harm behavior don’t understand this explanation and tend to respond with statements of confusion trying to figure out why someone would cause intentional pain when they are already hurting.

Why Do People Engage in Non-Suicidal Self-Injury?

Studies have shown several possible reasons for this phenomenon, the most promising of which is the observation that the removal of physical pain brings emotional release. Therefore, it isn’t the pain that causes the relief but the way the person feels once the pain has stopped (Association for Psychological Science, 2017).

Other theories include the idea that the pain provides a distraction for the emotional pain and the release of hormones provides a sense of relief from negative thoughts causing the emotional distress. Whatever the reason someone chooses to engage in NSSI the fact remains that it is a potentially dangerous practice that can lead to long-term, negative effects on health.

Many treatment options are available to help individuals cope with painful emotional distress. If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm behaviors seek support from a local therapist or contact your local crisis line.

How to Help Your Teenager Overcome NSSI

While discovering that your teenager is engaging in self-harm practices is disturbing for you as parents, it’s important to remain calm. Whether your child has disclosed this information to you of their own accord, you were told by their therapist or friend, or you discover it on your own, it’s important to remember that regardless of the reasons behind the behavior your child is in severe emotional pain and they need your support more than ever.

Show Your Teenager Support

Be sure to let your child know that you aren’t angry with them but you are concerned about the self-harm behaviors. While you understand that this how they have been able to cope it’s important that they remain safe. Be sure to let them know that if they are having the urge to self-harm or have engaged in the behavior, they can come to you for help without fear of punishment.

Create a Safety Plan

Engage your child in the discussion and be sure to take their input as to what coping skills to use at each stage of distress.

My favorite safety plan is a simple 1-10 list describing thoughts, feelings and behaviors at each level (1 is the lowest distress and 10 is the highest) and what they can do to cope. For example, at a level 1 I feel relaxed and content with life and I may be looking forward to something. I would also be engaging with people around me and laughing and smiling. At this level I would cope by continuing my self-care routine and spending time with friends and family. At a level 5, I might feel irritated, stressed or overwhelmed. I might have racing thoughts that some effort to control and I may want to isolate and stay away from others. At this level I would probably cope by journaling to get my thoughts out, talking to a close friend or family member and maybe a warm bath.

Once this safety plan is completed you have easy way to communicate with your teenager about their level of distress and a clear plan of action.

Regulate Their Access to Self-Harm Tools

Talk to your teens about the objects used for self-harm and ask them to give you the items for safe keeping. Oftentimes it’s a razor or lighter that is used and while you don’t want to restrict their use of these items you do want them to let you know when they are using them so you can help keep them safe.

Your teens may not be ready to hand over their tools or may give them to you but keep some hidden or obtain more of them after giving them to you. Therefore, keeping the lines of communication open and not punishing your kids is so important.

Don’t always keep your eyes on them, don’t take their door off their wall, and don’t search their room. This will only enforce their fears of talking to you in the future and coming to you when they need support. With that said, be sure to let them know that your primary goal is keeping them safe because you love them so you’re going to be checking in on them often.

Seek Professional Help Immediately

Be sure to seek professional help immediately. Right now, therapists have a huge waiting list all over the country, but there are many support groups and resources available to help you get started in the meantime. Call as many clinics as possible and get on their waiting list being sure to mention that your child is engaging in self-harm. This can sometimes get you bumped to the top of the waiting list and many clinics can offer other resources while you wait for a therapist to become available. If your child is already seeing a therapist check in with them often to see how therapy is going and if there is anything else, you can do to support your teens.

Take Care of Yourself

As a bonus tip, I want to remind you as the parent to take care of yourself. Your child will need a lot of support during this time, but you can’t pour from an empty cup. Be sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking time to laugh and enjoy your hobbies. Model appropriate self-care for your children so they can learn how to take care of themselves.


  •  Peterson, J., Freedenthal, S., Sheldon, C., Andersen, R. (2008). Nonsuicidal Self Injury in Adolescents. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 5(11) 20-26.
  • Association For Psychological Science. (March 10,2017) Why Does Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Improve Mood?
Helping a Loved One in an Addiction, by Steven Eastmond

Helping a Loved One in an Addiction

Helping a Loved One in an Addiction, by Steven Eastmond

One of the hardest challenges one can experience is having a family member or loved one stuck in the throes of addiction. Rates of addiction in American society are extremely high. According to the American Addiction Centers, in 2017 38% of adults in the United States suffered from an addiction. The larger problem in that statistic is that this translates into 38% of American families struggling with how to handle a loved one who has an addiction.

Understanding a loved one’s Addiction

Addiction is a crippling disease. On one hand, it creates chaos in the lives of the individuals imprisoned by it, slowly robbing them of their health, their employment, their dignity, and unfortunately and far too often, even their lives. But on the other hand, this illness also carries a painful stigma. Few men and women who struggle under the iron grip of addiction do so without the shame it inflicts. And the shame is not exclusive just to the individual who is addicted.

Families of a loved one in addiction typically grapple with it in ignorance and fear. So often their family member takes exorbitant efforts to acquire, use, and hide their habit, all while making promises to reform. The rift that results in the family from the ravages of addiction is deep and emotional.

Start by Seeking Support

The first and most important thing that you should do if you have a family member in addiction is to take care of yourself first. Seek counseling and support for yourself and other family members. In addition, a member of your local clergy in your church, a close and trusted friend or family member, or a medical doctor may be a good person to turn to. Simply having someone to talk with who would listen and be supportive can help.  Do not underestimate the value of being able to just openly talk. It may also be helpful to join a support group such as Al-anon or Alateen, which are groups that are free to the public and are structured specifically to help family members of alcoholics.

Here’s How You Can Help

How do you help your loved one who is trapped in their addiction? This question is the most prominent and poignant for every family who loves someone who is addicted. The answers to this question are varied and depend largely on the individual and their circumstances, but a few suggestions are merited.

Of course, if you can get the individual into a treatment center and/or a counselor with particular skills and training in treating addiction, that is ideal. This is not always possible, given that many addicted individuals are not highly motivated to seek treatment, or do not yet have insight into the need to get help.

Confronting Your Loved One About Their Addiction

If your loved one resists getting help or is in denial about having a problem, you will likely need to get some help to confront the addicted individual in some way, through what is often known as an intervention. Seek the help of a professional and do not attempt an intervention on your own.

A couple hugging in a field

When Should You Begin an Intervention?

It is ultimately best to carry out this intervention soon after a negative event has occurred related to the addict’s behaviors. While the concerns are fresh and clear in the minds of everyone involved, it is less likely the addicted individual can deny or minimize as effectively.

Confronting your loved one with their addiction can be difficult and emotions often are high in these situations.  It is important to be prepared for that. These emotions are another one of the reasons why having professional help is so important. Sometimes these interventions can backfire and should only be done as a last resort and with the assistance of someone trained and knowledgeable in addiction issues.

Get Professional Help

Ultimately, having a loved one in the throes of addiction is an incredibly taxing and exhausting experience. Seek professional help for yourself as soon as you can, not just for the individual struggling.

Steven Eastmond, LCSW

Family Transitions Counseling ( 

Steve is a Utah native and earned a master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, the top school of social work in the country. He owns and runs Family Transitions Counseling in Pleasant Grove, Utah and has other therapists working in this clinic as well. Steve is also an adjunct professor of social work at Utah Valley University. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Steps to Reduce the Challenges of Depression, by Kyle Bradford Jones

Steps to Reduce the Challenges of Depression

Steps to Reduce the Challenges of Depression

When it comes to reducing depression, focus on the small things you can control. One of my favorite anecdotes comes from the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. He is considered possibly the greatest collegiate coach of any sport in history. At the beginning of each year, the first thing he taught his players wasn’t something flashy or mysterious, but it was simple and profound. His first lesson? How to put on your shoes and socks to avoid blisters. They are the most important equipment associated with basketball, he said, and a simple blister can hobble and derail your season very quickly. It’s crucial to smooth out the socks over the little toe, the most likely spot to get a blister. Smooth it over the heel as well, and make sure that it remains smooth when you put on your shoes. This seemed like silly advice to some of the biggest basketball recruits in the world, but it was likely a small secret to Wooden’s ten national championships at UCLA.

It’s All About the Small Things

The small things are critical for addressing depression as well. I have a major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and am a physician who addresses these issues every day in my medical practice. I understand how everything that needs to be done appears so much bigger than usual when you are in the throes of these terrible illnesses. That’s why my best advice is to address life one small thing at a time and relish those small victories. While I am not suggesting that these are the only things that are needed to address the challenges of depression, they will absolutely compound into better overall functioning.

A woman jogs outdoors

Physical Ways to Reduce Depression

  • Drink more water. This may sound ridiculous, but poor hydration can worsen your mood, thinking, and a whole host of other physical issues. Drinking water specifically is crucial to mental and physical health. I recommend a minimum of 2 liters per day (~64 oz), but some people need more.
  • Get more sunshine. We all know that some people struggle more in the winter when the sun shines less, but this helps at any time of year. It’s more than vitamin D, but helps awaken many of the positive mood centers in our brain. If you live in a cold-weather climate, I would suggest investing in a special lamp to provide that needed light during the winter months.
  • Diet and exercise. The irony is that when you are depressed or anxious, you have no motivation. I didn’t exercise for years for this specific reason. But every little bit counts. Even if you can only go on a walk for 5 minutes, or do some jumping jacks at home, that can still be helpful to reduce depression. Same with your diet; it doesn’t have to be perfect to be helpful. Just do what you can and give yourself some positive reinforcement for what you did.
A couple snuggles while watching a sunset

Emotional Ways to Reduce Depression

  • Secure close relationships. As you probably know, mental illness can be just as hard on your loved ones and friends as it is on you. Make sure to communicate with them. Let them know what they should or should not do to help you, but don’t isolate from them. During periods where I am struggling, my wife will often ask me “Where are you today?” It’s important for everyone to stay on the same page.
  • Allow yourself some grace. This has become my mantra. It’s certainly easier said than done, but it has helped me. It’s okay that you’re not perfect. You are allowed to forgive yourself for an illness that isn’t your fault, but for which you feel extremely guilty.

When it comes to reducing depression, these are just a few small things to focus on that you can control. Above all, just remember that you are worth all of the efforts to get better.

Kyle Bradford Jones, MD, FAAFP

The Doctor Jones Dialogue – The Doctor Jones Dialogue (

Kyle is an Associate (Clinical) Professor in Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He has worked at the Neurobehavior HOME Program, a clinical program for individuals with a developmental disability. Kyle is also the author of the best-selling and award-winning book Fallible: A Memoir of a Young Physician’s Struggle with Mental Illness.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Symptoms and Treatments of PTSD

Symptoms and Treatment of PTSD, by Curtis Duty

Post-traumatic stress disorder is among the most well-known mental health conditions in modern society. Our collective understanding of PTSD and its treatment has developed since the post-WWI era when military veterans returned home suffering from ‘shell shock’ and the enlightened public of today has achieved at least a certain awareness of the toll that the trauma of warfare can have on physiological wellness. The debilitating effects of warfare-induced PTSD are numerous and serious. As such, support and awareness for military veterans are increasing, as they should. What is often lost in the modern conception of PTSD is that the effects or symptoms of the illness are far more widespread than often portrayed in cinema and the media, and many, many sufferers live undiagnosed and perhaps unaware that the non-combat related trauma they have experienced is causing them suffering.

Non-Military Can Suffer from PTSD Too

Combat-related PTSD is so correlated with the illness that a quick google search of ‘NON-combat PTSD’ will return a list of resources for military veterans to prove that their trauma unrelated to warfare should qualify for VA disability status. I do not make this point as any statement about the VA and what should and should not be covered, but to say that non-military folks suffering from PTSD are far from the forefront of public awareness on mental health (even the APA website barely makes page 3 of a google search on the topic).

Understanding Symptoms and Treatments of PTSD

It is important that we understand the causes and symptoms of PTSD for all sufferers. The truth behind mental health usually requires some investment to understand, and PTSD is no exception. A formal PTSD diagnosis usually requires extended and severe symptoms (not everyone who experiences trauma will experience PTSD), though experiencing some degree of the disease is not a pass/fail test, it is a spectrum that can be caused by an event, series of events, relationship, situation, or any other stimulus that results in any degree of trauma. It is also closely related to other anxiety disorders such as acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, and reactive attachment disorder. The effects of PTSD vary from mild annoyance to crippling debilitation. 

A sad woman covering her face with her hands

PTSD Symptoms

  • Intrusion: Have you ever been lying in bed becoming sleepy when all of a sudden, once again, your brain involuntarily recalls to your mind a very specific, very embarrassing moment from junior high school? That is a symptom of PTSD called intrusion. For those of us who have not experienced serious trauma these may be easily dismissed, fleeting thoughts. However, for individuals who have experienced serious or repeated trauma, these thoughts are not simple to disregard and can even result in waking visions of past scenes of intense pain.
  • Avoidance: Have you ever skipped past a song on the radio because of its association with a former partner, or because it was played on repeat at the fry shack where you worked 3 summers ago? This is another symptom of PTSD called avoidance. More serious examples include refusing to go to certain places, see certain people, or participate in certain activities because of their association with traumatic events. When I was young I had a teacher in a middle-aged man, a genius whom I respected very much. Years later I learned that this man had not driven on the interstate for the last 20 years to avoid driving on the road where his spouse had been killed in an auto accident. The possibilities for avoidance following trauma are endless.
  • Changes in Mood and Cognition: Most of us have, at one time or another, snapped undeservedly at a friend or family member after a long day. That’s because stress affects our mood. For those of us with a normal amount of stress and a lack of trauma, a few moments of relaxation or a good meal is enough to restore our usual temperament to equilibrium and we move on. For those still suffering from past trauma, that relief does not come. After an extended period without relief, the mood change seems permanent. This another symptom of PTSD. The inability to remove the stress from past trauma removes the joy from activities the sufferer once enjoyed.
  • Sensitivity to Environment or Surroundings: Have you ever been driving to a place you’ve never been, and as you struggle to concentrate on navigating, you find yourself turning down your radio? This is an example of how stress reduces cognition. Turning down your radio will not allow you to see the road better, but sound can be a form of stress, and by removing the stimulus of your radio, you can think better and your cognition improves. Now imagine that same scenario, except your radio is at full volume as you search for a location in your car, and you are not capable of turning the music down. This is similar to the loss of cognition a PTSD victim can experience as they are engulfed by the aftershocks of their traumatic experiences.  
  • Changes in Arousal and Reactivity: One of the most severe symptoms of PTSD, angry outbursts, and extreme irritability with seeming little provocation can occur. These episodes are the result of a PTSD sufferer running out of options. To continue our car radio example: If you were driving to an unfamiliar place and couldn’t turn your radio down to help focus, one option, an extreme option, might be to destroy the radio. Without any other option, this decision could seem rational. However, a passenger in the same car who was not feeling the stress would view the action of destroying the radio as completely rash and totally irrational. This is the same reaction many people in our society, without the context of a PTSD diagnosis, view mental health episodes associated with PTSD.

PTSD Treatments

“Time heals” is an adage that can be true for PTSD treatment. It is not uncommon for the lasting effects of trauma to fade with time and without the help of other treatments. A support structure can also be helpful. When the sufferer has a network of family and friends willing to provide latitude for recovery the odds of said recovery are increased.

A sad woman looking down while another woman looks at her with arms folded

In some cases though, further treatment is necessary for PTSD recovery. As a result, several types of therapy, researched and proven, have been developed:

  • Cognitive processing therapy: This form of therapy helps sufferers work through mood and cognition changes by addressing negative emotions and beliefs stemming from the trauma. For example, the victim of a crime suffering PTSD may develop the belief: “a person hurt me, so all people might hurt me.” As a treatment of PTSD, Cognitive processing therapy helps to walk that belief back, and thus undo the psychological damage caused by the trauma.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: This commonsense form of therapy helps victims directly address the trauma causing their symptoms. To reference my friend who would not drive on the freeway after he lost his wife to an auto accident: Under prolonged exposure therapy he may have utilized a driving simulator for longer and longer durations until the act of driving on the freeway in a controlled and safe environment removed the stress from the activity.
  • Stress Inoculation: This form of therapy focuses on coping mechanisms. Earlier, I mentioned skipping a song that reminds me of an unpleasant time of my life.  Stress inoculation teaches ways to avoid many more types of stress triggers.
  • Medication: For those suffering from the most serious symptoms of PTSD, medication may be necessary to allow the sufferer to heal and return to a normal condition. Some antidepressants such as SSRIs and SNRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are commonly used as a treatment for the core symptoms of PTSD. They are used either alone or in combination with psychotherapy or other treatments. These decisions should always be made by professional and licensed mental health professionals.

Overcoming the Effects of PTSD

If any of the symptoms mentioned in this article resonate with you, consider taking steps to fortify your mental health. If you see these symptoms in others, I recommend advocating for anyone who may be suffering in the shadow of the trauma they have endured. Whether Henry David Thoreau’s statement “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” is true or not, I have found that treating everyone you meet as if they are in need of help is the best practice.

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

How to Get Enough Sleep: Proper Sleep Management, by Curtis Duty

How to Get Enough Sleep: Proper Sleep Management

How to Get Enough Sleep: Proper Sleep Management, by Curtis Duty

We frequently observe that humans spend roughly a third of their lives sleeping. In my twenties, I found that idea repulsive, as if sleep was absorbing my maximum capacity for living. A bi-product of this sentiment is an entire industry constructed to help keep us awake and limit the hours we sleep.

My Experience

I was in 7th grade the first time I took a caffeine pill (it had been marketed to truck drivers). I remember being tired before a baseball game and thought the pill would help me focus. Instead, I began to visibly shake and I missed several ground balls for which I in part blamed the caffeine and not my lack of athletic skill.

It was almost 10 years later when the “energy drink” gained popularity and I quickly formed a habit of consuming them if I felt sleepy before I was prepared to turn in for the evening. I knew this was a bad habit, but considered myself lucky I didn’t head down a worse rabbit hole. I was in college when the drug Adderall began to be commonly used on campus, and it seemed very normal (almost praiseworthy) to be burning the candle at both ends.

This approach to living is all wrong. An older and wiser me has discovered that proper sleep management is one of many levers we can use to maximize our capacity to live well.

It is true that the importance of sleep has been largely misunderstood throughout human history, and until recently scientists could not even answer the question of why it is required for mammals to sleep. In modern times, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN has published research out of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center that provides these conclusions as to what happens to the brain during sleep:

Tired man lying on bed rubbing his eyes

The brain puts the body to sleep in a series of 5 stages

  • Stage 1: Your heart rate and body temperature drop. Your eyes transition from naturally open to naturally closed
  • Stage 2: Two groups of cells in your brain switch on (the hypothalamus and parafacial zone) causing unconsciousness and paralyzing the muscles
  • Stages 3 and 4: You are asleep. Your blood pressure drops, your muscles relax, and your breathing is slow. This is the most restorative phase of sleep
  • Stage 5 (AKA REM sleep): You experience rapid eye movement (REM) and brain cells become very active. This is the dream phase
  • This pattern repeats every 90-110 minutes.
  • During sleep the brain sends out growth hormones, consolidates memories, and forms connections

How to Get Enough Sleep

The arguments for getting enough sleep are not met with much criticism, as it is easy to feel the negative effects of too little sleep on the brain. How then can we maximize the usefulness of our sleep, and awake feeling well-rested and prepared for the tasks of the day?

It is a difficult question to answer, as brain chemistry varies widely from person to person, but here are some general guidelines that will lead the way to a good nights’ rest, and an easy path out of bed in the morning:

Be thoughtful about the use of sleep aids:

Though sleep aids are an option if you struggle to get to sleep, The Mayo Clinic warns that such remedies are not a magic cure. The choices consist of the following drugs under various brand names: Diphenhydramine, doxylamine succinate, melatonin, and valerian. The first two are sedating antihistamines and have similar negative side effects. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and though it shortens the time to fall asleep, it can also cause daytime drowsiness. Valerian is a plant that is manufactured into supplements and studies find little to no evidence of the substance being useful in any regard.

The best advice around the use of these substances is that their use should be temporary. Long-term use results in the body developing a tolerance to these drugs, removing them as an effective option. As well, they become dangerous when mixed with other substances, particularly alcohol. Consult a doctor before considering any of these options and use them as a last resort if lifestyle changes and holistic approaches fail, and even then, only temporarily.

Sleepy woman resting on couch using her phone

Avoid screen time after dark:

Light and sound are both stimulants that affect the hormones produced in your brain; particularly melatonin production. Light and sound inhibit melatonin products because they confuse your body into believing you should still be awake. You will sleep better if you ban screen time in your bedroom.

Consider your sleeping situation:

Making some investment in your sleeping situation is worth the cost. Increased relaxation results in better sleep and more productive waking hours. Consider purchasing blackout curtains to eliminate light, a white noise option to drown out noise pollution, and a decent mattress and bedding. If you happen to share sleeping space with a partner, consider using separate bedding to avoid waking when your partner stirs in the night.

Consider different means of waking:

Despite the quality or duration of your sleep, the act of getting out of bed in the morning can still be difficult, particularly if you use an alarm clock that goes “ANCK! ANCK! ANCK!” in the wee hours of the morning. If this describes you, consider purchasing an alarm clock that simulates the rising sun. Any number of models are available that will allow you to awake gradually with slowly increasing levels of light and sound. If you have a particularly difficult struggle with this aspect of sleep management, I recommend positioning your alarm clock across your bedroom, requiring you to get out of bed in order to hit the snooze button.

Is your physical health a barrier to sleep?

Among common sleep disorders include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), insomnia, and narcolepsy. Each of these is a diagnosable illness and treatment is available from medical professionals. It is worthwhile to seek treatment if you feel your difficulty sleeping may be clinical.

Caffeine consumption is a physical factor affecting sleep as well. Not only is caffeine an addictive substance that robs your body of bone density and calcium economy, but it also greatly increases sleep onset (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep). If you are battling sleeplessness, avoid caffeine.

Woman sleeping in her bed with a cat

Is your mental health a barrier to sleep?

Stress and sleep exist in what can become a terrible cycle. It is no wonder that sleep deprivation has been used as a means of both psychological warfare and outright torture throughout history. Stress lowers the quality of sleep, and lack of sleep impairs brain function that often causes stress. There is no silver bullet to end stress, and a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and sometimes medication under the care of a professional can alleviate this hindrance to a good night’s rest.

Like most disciplines within health and wellness, a focused, multi-faceted approach using common sense and good judgment can help increase your quality of sleep, and as a result, your quality of life.

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

5 Steps You Can Take Today to Ease Financial Stress, by Curtis Duty

5 Steps You Can Take Today to Ease Financial Stress

5 Steps You Can Take Today to Ease Financial Stress, by Curtis Duty

Financial stress has far-reaching negative effects even in prosperous times, and much more so in times of turmoil. It is well known that financial difficulties are the number one cause of divorce in the U.S. and the negative effects of debt, which the majority of Americans carry, are much farther reaching. In 2017 (during a time of prosperity and economic growth) the American Psychological Association reported that 62% of Americans indicated money troubles as their main source of anxiety and depression. The burden of anxiety on our mental health is one of the most common effects of financial stress, and as the two are ever entwined, our physical health can take a toll as a result.

Delayed healthcare is also an effect of dealing with financial stress: folks struggling to pay their rent are less likely to see their doctor at the warning signs of a medical problem. The long-lasting effects of this disparity are indicated by a study in The Journal of Gerontology showing that wealthy men at age fifty are likely to have 31 more healthy years, where 50-year-old men in poor countries will enjoy only 22 more healthy years. With this being so, how much more important is it to address financial questions during a global pandemic?

A man lying down with his arms resting on his chest

The weight of financial burden can be crushing, and for many, the problem feels like it has no solution. So it is easy to see that improving your finances improves your overall well-being. By taking steps towards addressing financial difficulties, anxieties can be eased and mental and physical health improved. Here are a number of steps anyone can take to ease financial stress in their lives:

1. Check your daily routine to guarantee you are using best practices in every avenue of mental and physical health

This is easier said than done, but mental, physical, and financial health are symbiotic, and correcting negative habits in one area will influence the health of another. Begin by following the advice of everyone’s favorite accountant, “The Office’s” Oscar Martinez, and eliminate “things that no one ever, ever needs, like multiple magic sets and professional bass fishing equipment.” You probably are not as bad off as Michael Scott, but most of us are guilty of some level of unnecessary spending. Next, consider ending discretionary spending for items that are also bad for your body and mind: Consider avoiding eating out, and think about your choices in alcohol consumption. Take a leap and eliminate tobacco products, cut back on entertainment spending, etc. The list of small routine changes can be endless, and through intentional practice, your mental/physical/financial health can begin improving in a few short weeks.

2. “Assess the damage” and complete a 360-degree review of your finances

The author C.S. Lewis is quoted: “If there is a wasp in the room, I’d like to be able to see it.” So it goes when dealing with finances. You cannot take control of your situation until you get into the weeds and know from whence you may be stung. If this task is overwhelming, begin by writing down what your take-home pay is each month. Next, make a list of all your monthly bills. Include everything that is owed each month, as well as your own discretionary spending. Looking at the money you have coming in versus the money going out will give you the best status report of your finances, and will hopefully spark some ideas of where to make changes.

For those of us suffering from financial stress, this exercise will no doubt be difficult. I promise you that the short-term anxiety you experience from completing a comprehensive review of your spending will lead you to greater peace as you respond to the challenge of taking control of your fiscal well-being.

3. Make a Plan to Deal with Your Financial Stress

Renowned shame researcher and TED talk presenter Brene Brown shared the following anecdote from her live session “The Power of Vulnerability:”

“I remember going to Diana (my therapist) and saying: ‘I am like a turtle with no shell in a briar patch. (…) I can’t be a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. I need a shell. What kind of shell – get some meds – what do you have for me? Give me a shell. Give me like a therapist-sanctified-you-know-whatever shell. Give me a shell!

She’s like: ‘Well… I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you get out of the briar patch?!…’

Why don’t you stop living the way you are living? Why don’t you get out the briar patch? And then you’ll be super happy without your shell. You’ll be comfortable, lightweight, move around, nimble…. You are getting poked and hurt all the time, not because you don’t have a shell, but because you’re living in a briar patch.’ ”

In the world of personal finance, we often find ourselves like the turtle in a briar patch of expenses; asking, hoping, praying, and working to obtain a shell in the form of a greater income to cover those expenses. We often neglect the option to remove ourselves from the briar patch by eliminating the lifestyle that has led us to mental breakdown brought on by financial stress.

Ease Financial Stress by Changing Your Lifestyle

Making a plan to reduce spending is the hard part of dealing with financial stress, and it requires discipline and sacrifice. By re-considering our lifestyle choices, many of us are able to downgrade some of our spending habits in order to gain the freedom of financial well-being. Costly items like late-model vehicles, spacious homes, recreation options, and exotic vacations are fun to have and experience, but you will find they are not worth the cost when you are up late worried about your overdue credit card bills and find yourself resenting your closet filled with expensive and outdated clothing.

We can remove ourselves from the briar patch of debt by weighing our purchases against the financial obligation that comes with them. Some of us may find the cost of a larger home worth the consideration it takes to foot the bill. Others may find it best to settle for a modest home and the security of a growing savings account. Only you can decide how much financial stress you should tolerate, though I would caution against debt of any kind. You may feel confident that you can handle a large car payment while you are standing on a dealerships’ showroom floor, but you may not feel that way in 6 months when the newer model is released and your shiny new car is only worth half what you paid.

Focus on the Essentials

For those in particularly dire straits, financial coach and radio host Dave Ramsey recommends that your financial plan focuses on what he calls ‘the four walls’ of Food, shelter and utilities, clothing, and transportation. Often, we forget that these are really the only necessities of life, and other purchases are non-essential. If you can feed, clothe, and shelter your family then you have what is required to sustain life. Taking comfort that you are not going to die from your financial situation is a great mindset for tackling debt and making decisions that will allow you to enjoy relief from money worries.

A woman moving a large box

If you feel that you have cut every luxury from your spending and still feel you are struggling, now is the time to consider ways to increase your income to help create some relief. If you are not working full-time and have the capacity to do so, begin seeking full-time employment. Job opportunities available, and though the open positions may not be the most desirable, it will be difficult to meet your needs without full-time employment. If you are fully employed and still struggle, consider working a “side hustle.” In the new “gig economy” there are many ways to earn money in the evenings or during weekends. Some examples include: Delivering food or packages, driving for rideshare companies, teaching courses online, completing odd jobs, etc.

4. Revisit your plan and communicate

As you take on the challenge of gaining and maintaining a healthy relationship with money, you need to enlist your family and loved ones to help you along the way. In particular, you need to communicate regularly with your spouse or significant other. No plan for greater financial health will be successful unless everyone on the boat is rowing together. Be thoughtful when talking money with your loved ones and remember that they are likely also concerned about money and might be dealing with financial stress too. Try to avoid accusations, and focus on how your household can achieve greater harmony.

Do not forget to communicate with your financial institutions during this time. As you walk through your expenses and guarantee that your “four walls” expenses are paid, you may find that some of your other bills cannot be paid on time. If you reach the end of the month and cannot make credit card or other payments please do not avoid them. These creditors will often make arrangements so you can make smaller payments until a time when you can cover what you owe. Avoiding these tough conversations can lead to huge surcharges and further debt, and even destroy your credit which may prohibit you from renting a home in the future, or financing a vehicle.

Track your budget and celebrate your victories. Working from a budget does not mean that you must feel guilt every time you pass through a drive-through window or sneak out to a movie after work. What it does allow you to do is work towards goals and feel a sense of relief and accomplishment as you hit benchmarks on your road to financial sustainability. How often and to what degree you scrutinize your personal cash flow sheet is up to you, but what is most important is that you are tracking it and that you focus on your goals. As Peter Drucker put it: “What gets measured gets managed.”

5. Take a continued interest in your fiscal well-being

Aside from dealing with the dollars and cents of your budget and spending, utilize any of the following good mental health practices:

Express gratitude for the resources you do have and find ways to give back. For those of us struggling to make the ends meet, it is easy to get into a selfish rhythm as we labor to pay our bills. It is important to still recognize the good in our lives as we work through our trials, and daily expressions of gratitude will improve your outlook as you strive to accomplish hard tasks. As well, donating time or funds to others will help you to know that you ARE going to make it!

Seek support people. Finding support people is helpful in any endeavor, but particularly so in the realm of financial well-being and self-reliance. Find people in your life who will encourage you to make and hit financial goals and provide you with advice along the way. Seek out information on financial wellness and consume as much of that material as possible. Some resources will be listed below that you can use to increase your knowledge and motivation to put your fiscal demons to bed.

Remain decisive: Jane McGrath of HowStuffWorks Inc writes:

“When you’re late on the rent and can’t keep the utilities on, the idea of opening a savings account may seem as far-fetched as a picnic on the moon; but the truth is that all of us, even the poorest, have financial choices. Finding those choices may feel impossible: the second you get ahead, you’re defeated by relatives needing loans, kids wanting designer sneakers, downsizing, layoffs, unexpected medical expenses, and a myriad of other obstacles.

The trick to ditching your defeatist attitude is finding a way to believe that somehow, even in the most untenable of circumstances, there is hope. Organizations like America Saves exist to help you find that hope. Simple things like making a gratitude list or visualizing yourself free of financial stress can also help you feel more hopeful.”

A man standing between bookcases while reading a book

Believe in Your Ability to Reduce Your Financial Stress

Setting and working towards financial goals is difficult, but it is the fastest way to lower your anxiety about your finances. If you feel that your mental health is keeping you from starting on the path to financial health, please enlist the help of a mental health professional to discuss ways to progress forward. The speed with which you make strides toward a better relationship with money and debt should depend on your unique situation, and you should exercise moderation in personal finance decisions. As you take control of your financial future, remember these words from New York Times columnist David Brooks: “Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: The future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so.”


Advice on how to save money on purchases and handling creditors:

Advice on budgeting and wealth-building:

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Addiction: Coping in Healthy Ways During the Isolation, by Steven Eastmond

Addiction: Coping in Healthy Ways During the Isolation

Addiction: Coping in Healthy Ways During the Isolation, by Steven Eastmond

Addictive behaviors are unfortunately common across our nation for a variety of reasons. Anywhere from entertainment all the way to heavily stuck in substance use and unable to escape, these behaviors have been prevalent for a number of years across the United States and throughout the globe. According to American Addiction Centers, in 2017 over one-third of adult Americans (38%) struggled with addiction. Even more people struggle with addiction as a way of coping during this recent period of social isolation.

People tend to expend exorbitant amounts of energy fighting off anything that is painful, be that emotional or physical. We avoid, hide, run, medicate, or numb whatever might cause us to hurt. And doing so makes sense. Not many people enjoy pain.

How Isolation Leads to Coping Through Addiction

When the entire nation is in isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, mental health concerns are mounting. The inability to communicate or connect face to face with friends, coworkers, or family; lost employment and/or income; and especially the contraction of this illness by oneself or a close family member are just a few of the increased painful stressors that Americans are grappling with currently. And as a result, many will resort to substance abuse as a way to cope.

A man passed out on a desk while holding a glass of alcohol

It is not uncommon for therapists to hear that this isolation has influenced an increase in drinking or drug use in a client. One client told me that the coping mechanisms they found most effective were talking to people and socializing and drinking. So naturally, during this period of prolonged isolation, he has turned to drinking to cope with painful things in his life.

Coping Alternatives to Addiction

May I suggest a couple of alternatives to drinking or drug abuse that can be used as you or a loved one struggles to cope with isolation? First of all (don’t quit reading after this), physical exercise. Physical exercise has been shown in repeated studies to be just as effective in combatting feelings of depression as a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Granted, exercise won’t teach the tools that therapy would teach, but the outcomes in terms of what one feels from both are very similar. Many during this time have found it difficult to exercise because they were accustomed to going to a public gym, but several things can be done quite effectively in the privacy of one’s own home, or through outdoor exercise. All you need to do is a small bit of research and effort and an effective home exercise plan can be mapped out.

Spending Time with Family

Secondly, although social distancing regulations have kept most of us at bay from typical social gatherings and communications that normally would fill our buckets, many have reported to me in therapy sessions how much they have grown to appreciate and cherish the additional time with their family members. They have learned to adapt to not being able to do other things, be distracted by outside activities, or engage in a myriad of other “important,” albeit not family-centered engagements. Throw yourself into your family relationships, assuming you have some reasonably emotionally healthy relatives, and work to discover some bonds that could provide you with extensive support for you in the future for many years to come.


Third, many of my clients have found that journaling is a very healthy outlet for many of their painful and persistent emotional concerns. Many ask, “How is it helpful to talk about or write about what’s bothering me? It isn’t a solution.” The example I give them is that our issues in life, when allowed to build up and fester without an outlet, feel much like taking ten superballs into a racquetball court and throwing them all at once against the wall. It will feel like several dozen superballs are bouncing around in various directions when in reality it is only ten.

Talking about problems or writing them in a journal is similar in effect to taking all of those superballs and setting them quietly down on the floor where they can be accounted for much more easily. Writing and talking help a person to organize thoughts and feelings and assists in alleviating stress and the buildup of emotions.

A woman sitting alone on the corner of a dock

Virtual Therapy

Finally, consider arranging an appointment via telehealth with a licensed therapist or life coach. These individuals are trained to listen and provide appropriate ideas, tools, and/or advice and counsel on ways to improve your life and plan an effective future for yourself and your family. Given the fact that therapists can provide these services online securely, it is safe and easy to and is a good opportunity to work through some private concerns and painful issues that might otherwise provoke an individual into substance use. Counsel from a trained professional can be tailored to your individual needs and can set you on a straight and helpful path of recovery, healthy coping skills, and healing.

Use These Coping Suggestions to Build a Healthier Life During Isolation

During this time of isolation, consider alternatives to the unhealthy coping of addiction or addictive substances. Try some other means for coping with pain and, again, consider contacting a professional to help you in getting things more organized in your life. While the restrictions persist, perhaps it is the perfect opportunity to work on oneself and one’s ineffective coping mechanisms. We wish you the best of luck in facing these difficulties and accessing the help you need.

Steven Eastmond, LCSW

Family Transitions Counseling (

Steve is a Utah native and earned a master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, the top school of social work in the country. He owns and runs Family Transitions Counseling in Pleasant Grove, Utah, and has other therapists working in this clinic as well. Steve is also an adjunct professor of social work at Utah Valley University.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

6 Ways to Handle Your Mental Health Crisis, by Zachary Duty

6 Ways to Handle Your Mental Health Crisis

6 Ways to Handle Your Mental Health Crisis, by Zachary Duty

Taking care of yourself during a mental health crisis is just as important as taking care of your physical health.

When I was 7 my brothers and I built a rope swing. We took a couple of test runs and our childhood handiwork seemed to be functional. I was a little nervous to try it out so my older brother decided to give me a tutorial. He showed me where to put my hands so I could hang on, and then he took a swing to show me how safe it was. Well… the swing broke and my brother fell off, breaking his arm.

We sounded the parental alarm and adults were soon at his side. They whisked him away to the hospital where his arm was set by an experienced physician. A week later he went back and the doctors put on a hard cast, which he wore for 6 weeks until his arm was healed. Even after the removal of his hard cast, he was advised to “take it easy,” working back towards normal full use. He fully recovered from the injury and has had no lasting effects of a broken arm.

The system we, as a society, have in place for physical health is fully operational. Anyone who suffers a physical injury knows they can go to a doctor and get the help they need. There is no shaming or stigma attached to visiting a doctor when you are experiencing some form of ailment. So why then are we so hesitant to visit a mental health professional?

Start by Acknowledging Your Mental Health Crisis

I have personally experienced trauma, addiction, and chemical imbalances that have caused real emotional suffering. Yet, for years I was hesitant to visit a therapist. My justification was that I was strong enough to handle my struggles on my own. After finally meeting with a therapist I came to the conclusion that it took more strength to ask for help.

Sad woman with person's arms on her shoulders

Like physical health, your mental health can be attacked from many different angles. You may get sick with a virus, appearing pale, sweaty, and vomiting. You may break your arm, walking around in a bright-colored cast. You may suffer a concussion, dilated pupils, blurred vision, vomiting, etc. Mental health is similar in variety, but the attacks are less apparent, at least on the surface. Most people won’t know you are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. You may not even realize the extent of your own ailment. You may simply feel alone and afraid because everyone else seems to be enjoying life with ease while you are fighting for every moment. Without any knowledge of how to handle the pain, you may be looking for a way out.

Get Help with Your Mental Health Crisis

So how do you handle an imbalance of your mental health? When the path isn’t clear and you are suffering, options can seem very limited. Perhaps you feel like you can’t share your struggle because of what others may think about you. Just like you would go see a doctor if you broke your arm, you can visit a therapist for your mental health needs. A good therapist will listen judgment-free and provide you with some guidance on how to proceed.

There are people out there right now who are suffering silently. You may be one of them. You may be in need of something you can do right now to get through this mental health crisis. You may be looking for a way out. First off, if you or a loved one is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255). They are well trained and can provide you with local resources. They may even discuss some of these steps with you.

These are some things you can do right now and moving forward to work through this difficult moment:


Stay present in this moment. Is anything hurting you at this moment? Look around you. Notice your feet on the ground, feel your toes in your shoes, notice the wind on your face or the humming of an appliance in the background. These are things constantly going on around us that we may not notice if we aren’t being present. An exercise like this can ground you to the moment. You may experience intrusive thoughts, those are not part of the moment, watch them go by like leaves floating down a stream. Only focus on what is right here and right now. The past is over and the future hasn’t arrived. All there is, is right now.

A man meditates in a field

Take some deep breaths, grounding has a calming effect that will help you think more clearly.

Anchor Points

There are people who care about you and/or people who need you. Your work isn’t finished and the effect you will have on the world is extraordinary. What do you love? What would you say is your passion? If you can’t answer that, take some time to ponder and try to land on something you absolutely love to do. Who are the people in your life that love you? Don’t say no one. Instead, dig deep and be truthful. When was a time that you didn’t feel like this? Focus on that time and ask yourself what was different. If you are trying to support a loved one, ask lots of open-ended questions. The goal here is to open awareness that there is more in your life than this mental health crisis or pain and things can be different.

Building the Future

Look forward. The future has the potential to be a blank slate. What do you want to do with it? The painful thoughts you are experiencing can go away if you let them, and the future can be completely different. You may feel like nothing is in your control, but that isn’t true. You always have choices. And, depending on how you decide to make those choices, your world could open up to a wonderful variety of choices.

What do you want?

Are you reaching out? Is this a cry for help and support? Do you want/need to make some major life changes because your current life is not manageable? Is your mental health crisis plaguing you and keeping you from seeing the light in the world? What is it you truly want, and is your current course of action getting you what you want? So often our desires don’t match our actions. We may want someone to love, yet we constantly argue and fight against the people around us, who are likely trying to love us. So ask yourself what your deepest desire is and check to make sure your actions are building towards that desire.

Safety Plan

Make a list of things that work and help towards a more balanced and healthy future. Then make a list of things that are not helpful. You could come up with a specific plan, like calling someone specific when you are feeling down. Safety plans are as good as you make them and only work if you’re willing to follow them.

Access to Lethal Means

I always say that avoidance is the lowest level of overcoming a problem, but in many ways, it can also be a good first step. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, it’s probably a good idea to empty the liquor cabinet down the sink and skip the after-work trip to the bar. If you don’t want to end your life in an unstable moment, it is a good idea to get rid of lethal means from your house. Also, if you or a loved one have thought about a specific plan and has the means to carry it out please reach out immediately.

A man sitting on a bed with alcohol bottles on the floor

What to Do Post-Mental Health Crisis

Once you’re out of the crisis, you can work towards getting the help you need to stabilize and balance your mental health. This can be done through therapy and medication management. It is difficult, if not impossible to find that balance when you are in crisis. This can be done on your own but works even better with the support of a loved one and mental health professional.

We are working towards shining a more positive light on the very serious need for regular mental health care. Hopefully, it will become a familiar process like setting a broken arm. Unfortunately, a broken arm can’t be set if you never go to the hospital. So, please reach out

By the way, I never ended up taking my turn on that rope swing.

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Managing Your Mental Health During a Pandemic, by Carey Larson

Managing Your Mental Health during a Pandemic

Managing Your Mental Health During a Pandemic, by Carey Larson

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to maintain good mental health? If you are, you are not alone. It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry after any kind of uncertainty. During this unique time, it can be especially important to take care of your emotional and mental health. Taking care of your mental health will help you to think and respond appropriately to the situation and help your long-term healing.

Improve Your Mental Health During the Pandemic by Using the Three R’s

Dr. Bruce Perry, a pioneering neuroscientist in the field of trauma, developed The Three R’s: Regulate, Relate, and Reason. This was established to increase children’s ability to come to a place of calm and clarity, but I believe we can all use the 3 R’s to help us process and respond appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Regulate

When we are in a time of uncertainty and panic the best thing we can do is learn skills to help us calm down and ground ourselves. It can be very dis-regulating when our routine is suddenly changed, and we are encouraged or forced to change our daily schedules. Regulating is about learning how to calm ourselves and learning skills to calm our body and mind. Running to Walmart to stock up on toilet paper and panicking when we don’t find any may not be the best way to help us calm down.

One helpful way to manage your mental health during the pandemic is to self-regulate is through skills of mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing. Mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing help us to focus on where we are at in the current moment and gain the ability to react wisely to our situations. If you need help in practicing and developing skills of mindfulness and mediation there are many excellent YouTube videos and apps that can help you to practice these skills. The Calm app and Headspace app are two that I use regularly when teaching these skills.

A woman in a meditation pose stands in front of the ocean

2. Relate

After we regulate and ground ourselves the next important step to managing our mental health during the pandemic is to then relate. Relate is all about connecting with ourselves and others. It is important to identify what we are feeling and thinking. You may be feeling anxious, worried, or afraid. You may be mad or upset or fearful of what may happen. When we acknowledge and connect with how and what we are feeling it helps us become more anchored and secure. Talking and connecting with others is also helpful and essential. Even though physical (not social) distancing is important during this time we need to connect and talk with others. Reach out and talk with people you trust about your concerns and feelings. Technology allows us to continue to connect even if we may be physically apart. Connecting with others helps us to feel understood, seen, and validated.

3. Reason

Reason is taking time to problem solve and make wise decisions. It is important to take breaks and make time to unwind. Take intentional breaks and avoid too much exposure to the news. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis repeatedly. Be intentional and create a routine.  Schedule activities that are enjoyable and that help you to feel as normal as possible. Consume information wisely and look to get proper facts and information from reliable sources. There can be lots of misinformation and new information being shared. Look at the CDC and local resources.

Lastly, seek help if needed. Look for common signs of distress; feelings of numbness, anxiety, fear, changes in your energy level, problems with concentration, sleep patterns, or feeling angrier or on edge. If the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting your mental health and you are unable to carry out normal responsibilities for several days or weeks, please consider speaking with a professional counselor. This can be a trying time for many, but by implementing these strategies I hope you find peace in the storm.

Cary Larson, LMFT

Carey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and has a private practice in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He grew up on a small farm in Northern Utah and has a passion for helping and working with others. Carey has experience and training in helping individuals and families with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and addiction. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

The Psychology of Panic: What Causes It? By Steve Eastmond

The Psychology of Panic: What Causes It?

The Psychology of Panic: What Causes 
It? By Steven Eastmond

During this period of COVID-19, it can be helpful to understand the psychology behind panic.

In today’s world, there seem to be plenty of things to get anxious about. Anything from isolation because of COVID-19, empty grocery store shelves, or earthquakes and aftershocks have recently added to a host of already anxiety-provoking, everyday concerns that people have. But some of the anxiety people are feeling is entirely unnecessary and rapidly evolves into a firestorm of panic that completely overruns the sanity receptors of our brains.

A Personal Example

One neighborhood near where I live was sucked up in just such an unnecessary panic with the recent earthquake. Neighbors up and down the block were out in front of their homes, car engines running, throwing supplies, pets, and small children into their vehicles and then screeching down the street in a mad dash for safety. Where were they going? And where did this panic come from? Apparently, someone on Facebook had decided to pass on a rumor that officials had put out a warning that we had ten minutes to flee before a massive 9.0 earthquake was going to strike. This, of course, was not actually true.

So question: when the facts actually state that, first, we don’t have the technology to predict an earthquake; second, no official has in reality said we are going to have a 9.0 earthquake; and third, you can’t flee an earthquake in ten minutes, why do people end up in abject panic anyway? It seems that all reason disappears and irrational behavior reigns, even amongst otherwise logical and level-headed people.

The answer has to do with the psychology of panic. Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why people panic.

Following the Crowd

First, when we observe just one other person behaving in an unusual way, different from the crowd, we don’t tend to give their behavior a whole lot of credibility. But if many, or all, of the people around us, are behaving in that same way, we have the tendency to follow that behavior, giving full credibility to it, irrational as it may appear. The behavior is much like that of a stampede of wildebeests.

Long exposure photo of a crowd moving across a street

So what’s the psychology behind this source of panic? The assumption is that if everyone is doing it, there must be a rational reason for the behavior, so we mimic it. This is one of the reasons everyone ran for toilet paper at the grocery store recently when in reality there is no shortage and, given the nature of the coronavirus, there is not even a need for people to have excessive stores of toilet paper on hand in the basement. In short, people bought extra toilet paper simply because people were buying extra toilet paper.


A second reason why people panic, at least when it comes to panic-buying anyway, has to do with scarcity. In economics, scarcity is the product of unlimited wants coupled with limited resources. But the psychology of panic when it comes to scarcity is that even if there is only a perception of limited resources in the face of unlimited want for that resource, the result will be some level of anxiety and reactive behavior to obtain that resource before other people do.

Again, in the wake of the coronavirus issue, people panicked about buying toilet paper over the assumption that there would be a shortage, which would, of course, result in the terrifying possibility that nobody in America would be able to “spare a square,” to quote Elaine from an old episode of Seinfeld. So, people rushed the stores for toilet paper and ended up creating a shortage of it. If people believe there will be a shortage of something, there will definitely end up being a shortage.

Perceived Threat

A third and more rudimentary reason panic occurs is when the brain perceives a threat, real or imagined. A four-year-old may panic when she sees a lion at the zoo pacing angrily in his cage, when in reality the child is completely safe because the lion is caged. A teenager may panic when she doesn’t receive a text response from a boy she has been dating, perceiving that he may be breaking up with her or texting other girls. In reality he set his phone down while he was playing a video game. Or a man may panic that he is going to be laid off at work because several other people were laid off at work, even though he has recently been assured he would be keeping his job.

A woman hunches over clutching her hands

The psychology behind this third kind of panic is due to a number of reasons. The brain is hard-wired for self-preservation and is constantly on the alert for potential threats. A loud, unexpected sound, for example, is quickly followed by the brain’s efforts to identify the source as quickly as possible in order to determine if action needs to be taken to fight or flee. The same response happens when we hear about something that may not be immediately threatening us but could at some point become a threat. Like the coronavirus. Where caution is advised in this situation, panic, of course, is not necessary or helpful. Panic leads people to rush to the store and punch someone in the toilet paper aisle because that person got to the last package of Charmin just before they did.

Pause Before You Panic

Beyond the above three causes of panic, there are a myriad of reasons why people become overly anxious. Regardless of the reasons for panicking, try hard to think before you allow anxiety to overtake you. Remember that panic causes more harm than good and generally results from an absence of thought, so taking a few seconds to reason with yourself about what is going on could save you a world of anxiety, if not very embarrassing behavior. With all that is going on in the world, we could all benefit from staying calm and not giving in to panic.

Steven Eastmond, LCSW 

Family Transitions Counseling (

Steve is a Utah native and earned a master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, the top school of social work in the country. He owns and runs Family Transitions Counseling in Pleasant Grove, Utah and has other therapists working in this clinic as well. Steve is also an adjunct professor of social work at Utah Valley University.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.