Mental Resilience in the Face of a Pandemic

The steps that I’ve taken to stay sane and protect Parisleaf.

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster. Like many, our team is now completely remote. Our schedule is a constant game of Tetris. There is an overwhelming level of uncertainty, requiring us to make micro-adjustments moment-to-moment. So much is out of our control.

Here’s a list of the disciplines that I’m following to remain mentally sharp and to protect Parisleaf and our clients. Most of these are behaviors and practices, lifestyle changes, more so than “tips and tricks.” Although I’ve practiced some of these for years, their value has significantly increased during this current situation.

I hope that you can relate to some of these experiences.


Return to your values

In times of stress, values are one of the first things to fail. Take compromising values off the table as an option. When the crisis reached us at Parisleaf, a Darwinistic instinct kicked in. I went into survival mode. It’s easy to forget that there’s room in the lifeboat for more than one. In the first few weeks, we recognized that our most vulnerable value was integrity. No matter how tempting it was to cut corners, we couldn’t and wouldn’t follow a Plan B that wasn’t supported by this value. This stopped us from making a lot of tempting and maybe profitable short-term decisions.

Be an entrepreneur (again)

We’ve reconnected with the early skills that we used to launch Parisleaf. Instead of managing the business, we’ve been re-learning how to hustle and grind. Within days of the pandemic, we used our entire team to set up guidance around coronavirus communications. There isn’t a single agency in the world that can say they specialize in coronavirus creative/communications strategy. So we have temporarily stepped into that space. We published Small Business Disaster Loan information on our website (which has received a load of hits, but was out-of-date within an hour – ha!), and several clients have now hired us to help with their Coronavirus communications strategy.

Make a disaster plan

Ali and I ran through the worst-case scenario for Parisleaf. We decided what specific events would have to happen for us to implement that plan. We then put that plan on a shelf and will hopefully never need to look at it again. But if we need to, we know it’s there. It’s important to put that in place while the emotions are low and logic is high, that way if/when these triggering events happen, it keeps the emotion out of things. Enough said on this point.

Settle for break-even

Many businesses will come limping through this with major damage. For those that are doing well right now, a lot of it is luck. Nobody could have predicted that this pandemic would happen, that the travel and hospitality industries would slam into a brick wall, or that the economy would come to a screeching halt like this. Although we remain optimistic, we decided to scale back our financial forecast for 2020, and to simply focus on breaking even. Taking this pressure off has helped us focus our energy on surviving. As Simon Sinek said, “The goal isn’t to win, the goal is to stay in the game.”

Make a gratitude list

This is low-hanging fruit. Gratitude lists are easy to do and go a long way towards changing brain chemistry. You can write the list on your phone and delete it later. The value for me was in recognizing that I’m incredibly thankful to have a job right now and that our clients haven’t canceled their contracts with us. To have shelter, food, clothes. On a personal note, we also have a dog that is 12-years-old. She was recently sick, and we almost lost her a few weeks ago. Last week, we changed up her diet and she has sprung back to life. That is high up on my list right now. There’s always something to be grateful for, and practicing a daily gratitude list encourages the brain to find those things throughout the day as opposed to finding what’s wrong with the world.

Take care of yourself

My coach says to me, “Lead yourself well.” How many times do we have to hear this? Love yourself, please. This means prioritizing nutrition, sleep, exercise, relationships, and emotional well-being. Staying inside is hard on our health. I’ve been taking walking meetings as often as possible. Thursday of last week, I covered 21,000 steps just from this one habit. That’s 11 miles of meetings! I also recently bought a Peloton bike. I’m riding alongside 500-1,000+ other people in a class and I love the workouts. If you want to join me for a spin, search for “purposewarrior” and add me!

Respect your elders

Tonight I called my grandma, who lives in Atlanta. She told me that she goes to the library every other week and collects a handful of books. This is one of the things she is missing most. My wife suggested a family book club for all the readers in the family and now they are all reading a book together (I’m not a big reader, but I’m cheering them on from the sidelines). On our last call, she talked about how she was feeling restless, so we have a plan to do a guided meditation session together. She totally brightened my day. I heard recently that the reason why the Coronavirus spread through Italy so much faster and was so much more devastating than any other country (initially) is that Italians spend more time with their elders. Not sure how accurate this is. Either way, it made me a bit sad, but also inspired me to pick up the phone.

Empathize with someone else

A great way to shift our mindset is to focus on someone else and their needs. Ask others, “How can I support you?” This question has humbled me again and again.

To be honest, I was planning to continue with my writing no the value of purpose when the crisis broke. Then, after listening to my team, I realized how big and anxiety-inducing this situation was for them and the rest of the world. Instead of sending out a leadership message on behalf of Parisleaf, I decided the most appropriate action was to empathize and to give the team a voice, a creative outlet, a safety valve for fear, and an acknowledgment of their feelings.

In other words, I know when it’s time to pass the mic.

Over to you, Parisleaf…

Coronavirus Q&A