Donna Leyens

How to Adapt During Stressful Times: One Key Strategy

You need a strategy. So many small business owners have been blindsided by the impact of the COVID19 Pandemic and the resulting economic disruption. I am launching this You Need a Strategy series to help small businesses like yours successfully adapt to this new environment.

Today’s strategy is a tool that you can use, that will help you to be as flexible, innovative and resourceful as possible during this economic crisis caused by the COVID19 Pandemic. It will help you get through it, and come out stronger on the other side.

While we are not all necessarily experiencing the same type of disruptions to our businesses, I think its safe to say that we are all experiencing some type of stressor right now.

Because I know that I can’t possibly address every specific situation, what I’m going to do is give you some general strategies that can apply to most everyone.

I want to start by talking about how our brains work. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the word “mindset.” You might even be sick of hearing about mindset. I know – you want real strategies, not woo-woo out there stuff, but something concrete.

Here’s the thing. During times of stress, the chemicals in our brains can actually prevent us from achieving the high-level thinking that we desperately need during these times. Ironic, right?

This response occurs in the oldest part of our brains, the part that controls our emotions. This is also the part of our brain that protected us from danger when we were living in caves and hunting and gathering for a living.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the fight or flight response. It works like this. You’re walking along, collecting berries and nuts, and you hear a roar. You look up and you see a saber-toothed tiger. Your brain is immediately flooded with chemicals that literally block your ability to stop and analyze the situation, and you can only think of two choices: stand and fight or run away as fast as you can.

It makes sense. Can you imagine if instead of acting quickly, you stopped, pulled out a pen and paper, and made a list of all of the possible responses to your situation, and then after deep analysis you ranked them best to worst, before you decided what to do? Clearly, you would have made a tasty dinner for that tiger before you finished your list.

In this case the current public health and economic crisis is the saber-toothed tiger. And its normal to respond with feelings of stress, anxiety, fear.

Unfortunately, our brains don’t know the difference between a saber-toothed tiger and an economic downturn, and as long as we remain stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, we will not be able to think clearly and creatively. We will make fear-based decisions, not clear-headed ones.

If you have felt that sort of fuzzy brained inability to think clearly recently that’s perfectly normal.

It’s also why mindset is so important. Before we can dig down and get really resourceful and innovative, we have to be clear-headed.

Now, you might be feeling like you want to curse me out right now. After all, this situation is STRESSFUL. How are you supposed to not feel stressed, and instead be calm, cool and collected? For many of us, it feels like that saber-toothed tiger is standing right in front of us, licking his chops.

The good news is, there are lots of ways that we can calm down our brains, clear out the fight or flight chemicals, and tap into our creative thinking. I am going share one simple technique that I have seen work over and over again.

Whether you are aware of it or not, you talk to yourself, (some of us out loud, some of us silently). You tell yourself stories, and ask yourself questions all day long. The things that you say to yourself create emotions, and those emotions dictate what chemicals get released in your brain. It also dictates what your mind focuses on.

Here’s the key. You CAN control your thoughts. You really can.

The first thing I am going to ask you to do is to become aware of what you are saying to yourself. Awareness is half the battle.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen and heard people saying the words “I CAN’T” over and over again.

I challenge you to strike those words from your vocabulary.


Because as soon as you say the words “I Can’t” you signal to your brain to stop looking for solutions. The negative feelings that go along with those words flood your brain with fight or flight chemicals, blocking your ability to clearly evaluate your options and think of creative solutions.

Step one is to catch yourself saying “I can’t” or anything similar.

The next step is not to lie to yourself and tell yourself that you CAN do something that really is not possible. I’m not talking about unrealistic or magical thinking. That’s not the point of this.

What I suggest is that you instead ask yourself questions that feel more empowering and open up your thinking.

I’m talking about curiosity based, learning based, open ended questions.

For example, instead of saying “I can’t do that.” Ask yourself, in this situation, what CAN I do? What IS Possible?

If I was starting my business today, from scratch, what would it look like?

What are the opportunities today?

When you start asking yourself these kinds of questions, your thoughts start to open up, the positive energy motivates you and your mind starts searching for solutions.

This is why coaching is so powerful, because a great coach will ask you the kind of questions that will help you gain clarity, think of creative and positive solutions, and feel empowered to pursue them. It is often hard to do this for yourself, but when you have someone else – a coach, an accountability partner, a group to help you recognize and shift your thinking from what’s not possible to what is possible, then you are more likely to find those innovative solutions.

The reason that I am talking about mindset is because you will only be able to find solutions for your business challenges if you believe that it is possible to do so. That has to be step one.

I also want to say a word about the messaging that’s happening in the media right now. They are focusing on a lot of negative impact – unemployment is going up, businesses are hurting, people are hurting. But I want you to remember something, not everyone is unemployed. Not every business is going under. Many businesses are still operating, people are still working, they still have money and they are spending it on the things that they want and the things that they need right now.

If you can figure out how to be of service, and provide what your customers want and need right now, you will continue to operate and make a living as well. Also, many of us have loyal customers and clients who want to see us stay in business. In my town, I have seen a lot of rallying around our local businesses and you may be seeing the same thing.

It is not greedy and it is not opportunistic to still be out there selling what you sell and doing what you do, as long as you are not taking advantage by jacking up your prices unnecessarily or trying to scam someone. If you have something of value to offer, do not feel badly about offering it.

This is about keeping the economy going. Every business that continues to operate, including yours, contributes to our economy. If you stay in business, your vendors stay in business, and if your vendors stay in business, their vendors stay in business, and so on.

To review, Step 1 is to strike the words “I can’t” from your vocabulary, and instead ask yourself something empowering, like “what CAN I do?”

If you could use more help with navigating your business successfully through the current COVID19 crisis, I invite you to join one of our industry based Strategic Action Groups.

To see a list of groups that are available to join, go to