Haley Smith's 12 Mental Strategies for Managing Self-Quarantine & the Covid-19 Pandemic

Mar 23, 2020
by Sarah Moore  
Haley Smith cooling down before the start.


Haley Smith is a member of the Norco Factory Team and the Canadian National Team, as well as a Cam’s Kids Ambassador and mental health advocate. She finished third at the Nove Mesto World Cup race last year and was a strong candidate for Team Canada's XC squad in July before the Olympics were postponed. Last week, she shared these mental strategies on her blog as she came back from a block of training in California to self-isolation. With her permission, I've shared them below.





These are obviously very strange and scary times, and a lot of us are (understandably) feeling overwhelmed or struggling to adapt to the new circumstances we find ourselves in. While allowing ourselves to feel these feelings is super important, it is equally as important to maintain focus and take care of our minds+bodies during this. I thought it might be helpful to give you my strategies on how I’m doing this, so read on for my tips to take care of your mental state during these early stages of the COVID crisis.

But first, a pep talk:

This is not the End of Days. Yes, this period will be challenging and will push us to new levels of discomfort, but it WILL end. I find it helpful to approach this situation like a nasty set of intervals: if I think about the end of an interval set when I’m only on repeat 1, then it feels as if I will never make it. This feeling is exponentially worse if Coach doesn’t tell me how many efforts are on the plan for the day. But if I only think about the current interval I’m on… well, I can do ONE interval, can’t I? For sure. And if I keep just thinking about the single effort that I’m engaged in, eventually I will have done an entire set and the workout is over. I’m applying the same thinking to this crisis: thinking only about today - or at most, this week - and trusting that the end will eventually appear if I continue to string these discrete moments together.

Now, I know that mindset is easier talked about than realized, but the thing about challenges is that we never know what we’re capable of until we complete them. As a species, humans are so incredibly resilient, and we have a way of getting through whatever the universe presents us with. So buckle up and put your determination hat on, because we are all going to get through this.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been finding myself to be overcome by random waves of anxiety and stress during the last week. There is a plethora of advice all over the internet on how to deal with the stress of the crisis and the new circumstances of self-isolation, but here are the specific strategies I’ve been employing. I hope they help you, too!


Great result today by Haley Smith placing ninth. She s been climbing up the ladder slowly but surely.


1. Create a daily To-Do list and establish a routine

Make sure there are small, achievable tasks for each day (I make my To-Do list for the following day each night before bed) in addition to bigger, multi-day ones. Try to wake up and go to sleep, eat meals, and exercise around the same time each day.

2. Meditation / Breathing Exercises:

It doesn’t have to be structured or with an app, and you don’t need to have any pervious experience with meditation. And as easy as it is to procrastinate meditation, I REALLY STRONGLY suggest this one. It can be as simple as taking 10 deep, mindful breaths when you wake up and again when you go to sleep. If you want to try a guided meditation, the Headspace app is offering free recordings for “weathering the storm” during this time.

3. Set a limit for media/news consumption and parameter on the time of day you’ll allow yourself to check in.

This is one of the biggest ones for me - it’s good to be informed, but checking the news too frequently isn’t helpful. It just amps you up.

4. EXERCISE.

If you’re able to be outside (self-isolated obviously), then do that. If you have to be inside, then there are SO many athletes and resources sharing at-home workouts that you can do with minimal to no equipment. I can’t stress how important getting some movement in is.

5. Once per day, give yourself a Reality Check:

Remind yourself of the facts of the immediate situation and acknowledge where you’re extrapolating and/or catastrophizing.

6. Put your work away after normal working hours.

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should always work. Don’t check your email after 6pm. Don’t check it before breakfast, either. Set boundaries for yourself.

7. Virtually connect with your family and friends.

Use FaceTime, Skype, etc. and get the social interaction that you’re missing with physical distancing. You can even use these platforms to do yoga or eat a meal together.

8. Learn a new skill.

This is really mentally engaging and gives us a big dopamine hit - new skills generally yield a lot of improvement very quickly, so you get a big sense of reward. Plus it gives you something to focus on and direct your energy to. My new skill for the coming weeks is to learn to make sourdough!

9. Eat as well as you can.

Nutrition is definitely correlated with mental health, and though it is arguably more challenging to eat well when we’re going to the grocery store less (or not at all) and relying more on pantry staples, it is possible. Lots of great bloggers are sharing adapted, pantry-friendly recipes (try The Minimalist Baker). *I'll have a post coming on this topic soon, as I've noticed some personal struggles with navigating the current situation as someone who has an eating disorder history*

10. Plan something for the future.

Give yourself a carrot to chase - like a vacation or outdoor project. Having something to look forward to helps immensely with motivation. Make the general plan and think about how you’ll put it into action when the world returns to normal.

11. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude.

When at all possible, think about the things that you CAN still do, and the life amenities that you still have available to you. Can you walk outside? Consciously be grateful for that. And so on. One exercise that I’ve been doing for the last 9 years (seriously, I have NINE YEARS OF JOURNALS FILLED WITH THIS) is writing down three positive things from each day before I go to sleep. It will help with mindset and actually changes the neural pathways in your brain to trend more in a positive/optimistic way. You CAN train your brain to be more able to see the bright side of things.

12. Do your part to self-isolate/socially distance and give yourself a pat on the back for benefitting society.

Feeling like part of a team and honouring your responsibility to society as a whole gives you a big sense of accomplishment. Consciously acknowledge that you're doing the right thing and take pride in the care you're showing your fellow humans.

I’m not sure if any of those tips land with you, or if they’re unique in any way, but hopefully they at least serve as a reminder to take care of your brain right now.





You can follow Haley Smith on Instagram here.




55 Comments

  • 75 3
 Missed out "13. Refresh pinkbike every 3 minutes for any sign of the Grim Donut".
  • 19 2
 Best thing I've seen all day. Thanks for inspiring us all Haley and Sarah. Hang in there - we're in this together.
  • 12 1
 Great write-up
  • 17 11
 We all need to come together for the quantitive easing and bailouts that must take place in these times of need. We mustn’t burden our underfunded health care systems while trillions are pumped into the markets to save them from the debt fuelled crash that was inevitable prior to the virus. We must take cover in our homes and remain positive while the government/corporation lines become more blurred than ever. Hide away people and don’t question why you didn’t have to practice social distancing during the H1N1 Virus that killed 75,000 Americans alone.
  • 12 2
 Nice. And you did it without blaming one party/political leaning or the other (as if there is a difference).
  • 5 2
 @smithcreek: truth. I'm going to steal this btw!
  • 4 1
 @smithcreek: Lizard people?
  • 2 10
flag ceecee (Mar 23, 2020 at 19:06) (Below Threshold)
 Why didn't I have to practice social distancing during the pandemic of 1918 that killed 675,000 Americans?
  • 4 0
 H1N1 killed 1 in 5,000 people. COVID-19 kills at least 10 times that, 1 in 50 people, and is more contagious.
  • 6 0
 @bobbys13: your math is a bit off but your point is on.
  • 3 3
 @epoit:

“Since it started circulating in the spring of 2009, H1N1 has infected about 100 million Americans, killing about 75,000 and sending 936,000 to the hospital, the CDC estimates. Another virus, H3N2, is responsible for more infections, but “in terms of the severity, H1 is kind of this quiet killer,” said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, head the CDC’s flu division.”
  • 1 1
 In these hard times we all need to get into Tiktok

It is the safest way to publicly judge people who are not complying with our vision of self distancing and quarantine.

The biggest social media Covid shitshow is yet to come. We will be divided as hell when this starts to tone down. Brother will accuse brother, sister will stop talking to a sister. Politicians will unleash the most awful demons to use Covid for their stats and elections and we’ll be dancing like best puppets. Hate will flow like never...
  • 4 3
 @jclnv: 75000 deaths in 11 years. Italy has had over 6000 deaths in around a month, but you think it's comparable. Wake the f*ck up.
  • 1 1
 @metaam: it is estimated 50% of restaurants in my city will die in two weeks. Volvo, one of biggest employers here fired masses of consultants. When cranes stop, gloves will be off. Right now most of us are living in blissful ignorance.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: I'm no great fan of our PM here in the UK, but I think the measures he has put in place to try to protect jobs is the right way to go. It's going to be horrendously expensive for us, but the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.
  • 2 1
 @metaam: we'll see how it develop on Scandinavian continent... most of "us" have been really good at social distancing since forever. So far enjoying minimal efforts. It's so much different from country to country and region to region in those countries.
  • 2 2
 @epoit: Yes read it. The final estimates were completed in 2011. The numbers I’m quoting (from the CDC’s head of influenza) are to date.

@metaam: Thanks for the emotive social justice response. Here is an article with some fun stats for you -https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2020/03/23/a-mortality-perspective-on-covid-19-time-location-and-age/
  • 2 4
 @epoit: so OP means H1N1pdm09, and is responding to Trump's most recent possibly murderous pro-business remarks on easing social distancing? And I'm not supposed to ask because Boeing might come after me? This seems to be a time to speak plainly.
  • 2 1
 @ceecee: why do you people keep blending trump into this?! None of his speeches deserve any comment
  • 2 0
 @jclnv: "The data from China also show the impact of effective public action. China has contained the virus for now. But only a few weeks ago, Wuhan was the world’s COVID-19 battlefield. If the infection had been left unchecked, China would have experienced a dramatic outcome. Small numbers create big impacts if they grow exponentially. China’s 3,500 deaths would have translated into 3.6 million deaths after only 10 doublings (10 weeks in current COVID transmission terms). If you are currently living in quarantine and are unsure about the measures your government has imposed on you, trust the fundamentals of mathematics. If you see an exponential trend, you need to start social distancing very early. Otherwise the eventual impact will be beyond comprehension."

Taken from the link you so kindly sent me.

In your 1st post you gave the stats on H1N1 and impied that we should question why governments are asking us to social distance when we didn't over H1N1. If you can't see the ramifications of ignoring what governments around the world are asking/telling us to do then you are truly beyond help. That would be fine if it only affected you, trouble is you're likely to take an awful lot of people down with you if you are unlucky enough to become infected.
This isn't about social justice, it's about common (or maybe we should start referring to it as increasingly rare) sense.
  • 2 0
 @WAKIdesigns: You people? People listen to Trump, or in my case, hear him. It's unavoidable. If he contravenes the CDC's guidelines on social distancing, a lot more people could die--and not just Americans.
  • 1 1
 @metaam: a short read through Wiki on Family of Corona Viruses gives a glimpse into specificity of particular virus strain, that although they in the same family they cause different health effects of varied adversity and differ in contagiousness, ways of spreading etc. H1N1 is a different animal, impossible to compare. I do hope certain part of population can at least to some extent increase their ability of reading and analyzing data. Unfortunately judging by how people are following nutrition and fitness world, we are extremely far from base levels of understanding how to gain knowledge. Looking for sources of data, weighing them against each other, should be a part of education. In a matter of 20 years We went from half dark ages into overload of information.
  • 2 1
 @ceecee: by bringing him up you are putting people into boxes. Just like that a*shole does. “Oh so you agree with Trump huh?” We really have to avoid that.
  • 1 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Trump is polarizing. Are you in a box now?
  • 1 3
 @metaam: You’re entitled to your opinion. In the years to come I suspect you’ll see that the situation is being intensified by governments and the ever faithful media to reduce social cohesion (this is also the reason many governments are pro mass immigration) leading to more pliable populations that will accept drastic QE and bail-outs for companies who reinvested in themselves via cheap interest (debt) to boost their share price/dividends etc.

I’m not saying that the COVID-19 virus isn’t potentially dangerous although the numbers, like the ones you’re quoting, are either completely wrong or based on worse case scenario models that have no basis in reality. For example;

“On re-evaluation by Prof Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s minister at the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three,”

Don’t let me prevent the fear propaganda from conditioning you though. Let me guess, you believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction too? If governments were genuinely acting in our best interests, global air travel would have been halted the instant information of the virus was known. Instead it was allowed to continue for multiple days after leading to the virus spreading globally.
  • 2 0
 @jclnv: The only number I've quoted that you didn't supply me with is the death toll in Italy, which is fact, unless of course, they're lying about it as part of some global conspiracy. Got asthma, emphysema, type 1 diabetes, cancer? Oh well, your death doesn't really count then, you were probably asking for it.
No, I didn't think there were WMDs and yes I do understand that many politicians have vested interests that go against the common good. That doesn't give me the green light to ignore sensible medical advice that protects not only me, but my fellow human beings.
Do you think it's your tinfoil hat that gives you immunity? On second thoughts, don't bother replying. I'm done.
  • 1 4
 @metaam: I suggest you look at the data of how many elderly and people who have preexisting conditions die from the flu every year. Maybe you’ll then think it’s a good idea to enforce permanent social distancing?

You don’t need a tinfoil hat, you just need to be capable of critical thinking. Even rarer than common sense it seems...
  • 1 1
 @jclnv: if you liked viruses, you'll love career politicians, corporate executives, and financial instruments!
  • 1 0
 As a worker in a busy uk bike shop do you feel we should stay open? We are very busy with both sales and are currently stacked out with workshop. Is it an appointment only affair or shut it completely as the guidelines say. I ask this this as the powers that be are edging (as other busy uk stores are posting as appointment only). Myself and my colleagues are concerned as interaction is most obviously an issue and we all have family’s. Any comment is grateful.
  • 1 0
 Does your store still allow people inside? My LBS has decided not to allow anyone in and charges an automatic $40 for sanitizing the bike. Seems manageable
  • 1 0
 @Mntneer: front of house will be closed for sure. How does a bike get sanitised? I don’t see it as an option unless power washing whilst wearing ppe. Not available in our store.
  • 2 0
 @synergy73: I'm honestly not sure, and I'll definitely be doing all of my own work during this time
  • 5 0
 Customer drops bike outside shop, leaves instructions via phone or email. Bike is sprayed with isopropyl rubbing alcohol, especially grips. Wear gloves during repair. Bikes don't cough.
  • 1 0
 @synergy73: I've read it dies on it's own on a surface after 12hrs, just need to leave the bikes overnight.
  • 2 0
 @ceecee: if you left a bike more than 10secs outside our shop it would be gone. Bikes may not cough but a passing crackhead doesn’t care about that
  • 2 0
 @EckNZ: they just found the virus on a cruise ship after 17 days in quarantine on all surfaces other than copper and cardboard
  • 1 0
 @synergy73: basically my perspective. If they are truly going to spray and wipe down EVERYTHING on the bike, then sure, it's sanitized. I also don't want someone just spray isopropyl alcohol all over my bike. If they actually wipe down the tires, chains, etc, good on em, but no thanks
  • 6 0
 Thanks Haley!
  • 1 0
 actually set yourself a timetable. structure is key to stay sane set your alarm, go to bathroom, do 100 pushups and 200 situps, shit, shower, eat well, work, lunchbreak, work, get off from work get your heartrate up, eat something nice, watch something beautiful.... I have today spotted like 12 different species of birds from my balcony
  • 2 0
 13. Despairingly read the comments posted by self centred douchebags who think they know better than to follow the advice given in point 12. Amazing how much importance some put in being "right" in front of being safe.
  • 2 0
 Enjoying some of my wifes first sourdough loaf as I read. Time for a trainer ride and workout.... dirt season is around the bend! Big thanks to Pinkbike for the daily content as always! Stay safe friends
  • 2 1
 Hard to look forward to anything because everything is being cancel and there is no end date. I can't plan anything. Mountain biking is my way of getting out of my head and relaxing. I can't be cooped up for even a few days.
  • 10 1
 if you go to the top of the page, Haley has given 12 strategies for coping with this Smile
  • 3 1
 I encourage people to buy themselves a grow kit for Chantarelles or other kind of mushrooms. It takes them around a month to grow. Something to look forward to.
  • 2 0
 Thanks Haley...got my family to read this list...very positive and informative.Cheers
  • 2 0
 I'd add 13, 14. Take naps, read Pinkbike articles and comments.
  • 1 0
 Coronavirus is not “the end of days” except for the 17,000 people that have died from it to date.
  • 1 0
 Looking forward on 9-months later.
  • 2 3
 I assume drinking heavily is the 13th step?

Trails are all closed, liquor stores are open, it’s basically government sanctioned at this point
  • 1 0
 Headspace app highly recommended!
  • 2 0
 Great read. Thank you!
  • 1 0
 Grim donut e bike review coming soon?
  • 2 1
 Dick Pound.

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