EP: 117 Stress And Resilience: Maintaining Optimal Stress To Be Resilient With Dr. Deborah Gilboa

BWW 117 | Optimal Stress


How do you feel about stress? Do you think it’s good or bad? What idea about stress did others teach to you? If you’re anything like me, you would think that stress is bad or the enemy, and that we need to manage stress, and it will cause all types of issues physically and emotionally. It almost feels like an enemy or a monster we are afraid of. Today, we will flip the idea of stress on its head. My guest today, Dr. Deborah Gilboa, or Dr. G., has an entirely different perspective on stress and one that intrigued me.

During our conversation, Dr. G. and I discussed: 

  • Why what we’ve learned about stress is a lie? 
  • What is the stress continuum, and what are the signs and symptoms to know where we are? 
  • Where burnout fits on this stress continuum? 
  • How can stress be an asset and drive our resilience? 
  • Techniques how to make our stress work for us instead of against us. 
  • How our ability to handle stress has changed resulting from COVID-19, and more.

Listen to the podcast here


Stress And Resilience: Maintaining Optimal Stress To Be Resilient With Dr. Deborah Gilboa

I would like to start this show with a few questions. We’re going to talk a little bit about stress. How do you feel about stress? Do you think it’s good or bad? Do you have any labels that you put on stress? What have you been taught about it? If you’re anything like me, you may have been taught that stress is “bad” or the enemy that needs to be managed and beaten down, and it’s going to cause all types of issues, physically and emotionally. It almost feels like an enemy or a monster that we are afraid of. At least, that’s how I’ve been taught. I’ve got to push it away and beat it down.

In this episode, we’re going to flip the idea of stress on its head. My guest is Dr. Deborah Gilboa or she is self-referred as Dr. G. She has an entirely different perspective on stress and one that intrigued me. During our conversation, Dr. G and I discussed why what we’ve learned about stress is a lie. I’m going to say it bold and proud, it’s a lie.

What’s the stress continuum? What are the signs and symptoms to know where we are on that continuum? As a sidebar, the continuum in where we are can change, whether it’s situational times of our life that we can be in different places, and we have the ability to change it. That’s great news. Where does burnout fits on this stress continuum? How can stress be an asset and drive our resilience personally and professionally?

That’s where we pivot and change. I didn’t know that it can be an asset. No one has ever taught me that. I thought it would be very valuable to share that with this community. We talked about techniques on how we can make stress work for us instead of against us. We also chat about our ability to handle stress and how that may have changed as a result of COVID-19.

Resilience expert, Deborah Gilboa MD, aka Dr. G, works with families, educators, executives, and businesses to identify the mindset and strategies to turn stress to an advantage. She is a leading media personality seen regularly on the Today Show and Good Morning America. She is the resilience expert for The Doctors.

She is also featured frequently in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and countless other digital and print outlets. Dr. G is a board-certified attending family physician and is fluent in American Sign Language. She lives in Pittsburgh with her four boys. She definitely has a full life, and I had the privilege of talking to her. It was wonderful.

Before we get started, if you’re enjoying Brave Women at Work, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you’ve already done that and you left a rating or review, I thank you so much. Whenever I hear or see the comments, it’s so motivational. It helps give me the fuel to keep moving and keep giving you great content. It definitely helps me. Your support overall of the show means the world to me. Thank you again.

You can always share the show with your family, colleagues, or friends on your social media feeds. Don’t forget to tag me there, and I will give you a little love right back. Finally, if you haven’t yet downloaded my freebie, 10 Steps To Being Brave at Work, go get it at BraveWomenAtWork.com. It is a workbook style where you do self-study on your own.

Some of the topics that I cover are speaking up, building your own personal board of advisors, and asking for what you want. I think I touch on negotiation a bit. Some of those key things that I coach my private clients on are right there in that workbook for you to use. They’re real world and they help us in professional situations. It’s all in that freebie, so go grab it at my website. Let’s welcome Dr. G to the show.


BWW 117 | Optimal Stress


Welcome to the show, Dr. G. How are you?

I’m fantastic. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you for being on. I wanted to talk to you because you have a totally different bend and thought on stress than I have typically read about and learned about.

It has never been heard before.

We’re going to talk about stress. Before that, I wanted to hear from you about your backstory and how you’ve gotten to where you are now.

I’m an MD. I’m a family doctor. That means that I see newborns, older folks, and everybody in between. I’m lucky enough to be at a federally qualified health center, which means we do full-service care. I do house calls, hospital work, and in the office. I did not start off my life thinking, “I’m going into medicine.” I thought that when I was a kid, and then I got to high school and discovered that biology seemed gross, so I went in a totally different direction.

I majored in theater in college. I got my Equity card, which is the actors and stage managers union in live theater. I worked in theater and television for about 6 or 7 years. I luck into a job that was better than anything I was ready for. I was about fifteen years younger than the next youngest person in the company. After I did that for a couple of years, I realized that I wanted to go to medical school.

I applied to medical school. I had to take a bunch of classes and whatnot. I practiced as a family doctor for about five years. Jen, maybe you can relate to this and I hope that some of your audience can, too. Once you got a job you were looking towards and working towards, it takes a little while in that job to feel like you know what you’re doing.

Once I started to feel confident that I knew what I was doing in this role, I started to recognize a hole in my training. It became clear to me that I had been trained to help people prevent illness and injury and recover from illness and injury, but I hadn’t really been trained to help them be well. I was seeing this gap between helping people get better and them actually thriving.

I wanted to know what was in that gap. In my research in the medical literature, that gap is called patient resilience. That sounded like a cop-out to me. Doctors are saying, “We did our part, and the rest is on the patient.” I thought, “What if it’s true? What if they’re right about what it is? What is individual resilience?” When I was looking at this fifteen years ago, most of the research on resilience was done either on people with severe post-traumatic stress disorder like combat veterans, or folks with other significant mental illnesses. It is interesting but not generalizable to all my patients.

I dove into the research myself because I had a couple of experiences in the office that let me see that how people did was not solely dependent on the disease processes that they were dealing with, the injuries they’ve been through, even their background, education level, or resources. There was something else. It turns out that in large part, something else is individual resilience.

I was able to enter into a research situation where we dove into a lot about resilience. The first great thing we learned is that resilience is not a fixed trait. It’s not like your eye color and you’re born with it. I guess you could get colored contacts, but that’s the color of your eyes forever. It turns out that resilience is a growing commodity. It’s something that goes up in certain situations and down in others. Even more, we can influence and grow our resilience.

BWW 117 | Optimal Stress
Optimal Stress: Resilience is not a fixed trait. It is a growing commodity.


If it was eye color, I wouldn’t have kept working on it because then you have what you have and that’s it. I got interested in what grows our resilience and what drops our resilience. What is it? When do we need it? The neuroscience of it is interesting. The thing that I think will be most useful to the women here is that we often think about or hear about resilience as it relates to adversity. It turns out that we need resilience in all change situations, even the good ones.

We need it in all situations, even the good ones. Just so I’m clear because I know in theory what resilience means. Is resilience also the ability to manage stress? Are those synonymous in your world or not?

Resilience is the ability to navigate change and come through it with intention and purpose toward a goal. The reason that the answer to your question is yes is that our brains interpret all change as stressful, not just the bad stuff.

Resilience is the ability to navigate change and come through it with intention and purpose toward a goal. Click To Tweet

All change is stressful, even if it’s good.

That’s what’s surprising to people until I start to give you a couple of examples. Jen, can you think of a change in the last couple of years in your life that you’ve gone through that you would definitely say was a positive change, even at the time you knew it was good news?

I would say a couple of examples. The launch of this show and the launch of my book were two positive things that weren’t there before, so it was a change.

I’m going to use your book as an example. Did you decide to write it and publish it yourself or did you have someone give you a yes about wanting to publish it?

I wanted to do it on my own, but I found someone that took me through the entire process. I did not do it entirely on my own.

What I wanted to think about for a minute is either when you committed to doing it like you’d wanted to, but then you decided you were doing this, or when you got the email back from this person who was going to help you with the process. That moment, your brain would identify it as an inflection point or a moment of real change.

You’re not just pondering, “Maybe I’ll write a book. I haven’t told that many people. I haven’t promised myself I would do it,” but you’re committed to it. Once you wake up that morning and realize, “I said that out loud yesterday. I committed to that. I mean that or I just now have said that I’m doing that.” Even as you might feel excited, happy, relieved, or proud, your brain still said, “Wait a minute. Could we die though?” Our brains have millions of functions but one purpose. That purpose is to keep us alive. Do you remember from middle school science class the word homeostasis? It’s about keeping things stable and keeping the same situation.

Our brains have millions of functions but one purpose. That purpose is to keep us alive. Click To Tweet

That’s what our brain tries to do at all costs, even sometimes to our danger. Your brain says, “I’m supposed to keep you alive. You’re currently alive. It will obviously be a change that kills us.” All change, even the good stuff, is suspect. You can feel happy, excited, and glad but your brain still ticks through these three safety reflexes to make sure that whatever the change is, we’re not going to die.

When you got up that morning and said, “I’m going to write this book.” Your brain said, “What could we lose? What won’t you be doing that we need for our resources, relationships, income, food, shelter, and most basic needs? What could we lose?” The first safety mechanism is loss. The next safety mechanism is distrust. “Can I do this? Should I do this? Will people see that I don’t know what I’m doing if I do this? What don’t I trust about this?” The last safety mechanism is discomfort, “What’s going to be hard, expensive, awkward, or boring about this?”

The reason that I was so excited to talk with you is that this is so contrarian. We’re taught about it to a certain extent if we dive into personal development, but this is not how we read about stress and change. When I hear the word stress, I’ve always been taught when I read magazines or books that stress is bad. I know we’re not saying that, but I’ve always been taught that stress is bad. It’s to be avoided, pushed away, managed, and put into a box. Why do you think we get that lie? Maybe it’s just me, but I think that I’ve always been fed this lie that I have to manage and box my stress.

There are two reasons that I’m going to tell you. This is exactly why I dove into this work. The narrative that we hear is you should avoid stress at all costs. We’re starting to believe, especially as women, that if we’re stressed, it means we’re doing life wrong. In medical school in the late ’90s, our professors would say, “Stress is the new smoking. Tell your patients to avoid it at all costs.” In a lot of higher education, it’s a little like drinking from a fire hose. You’re not thinking critically about what you’re being told, you’re just taking notes.

I would hear this message of stress is the new smoking. I would write down, “Stress is the new smoking. Avoid.” I then started to think about it and I realized that I knew a lot of people who were thriving under a fair amount of stress. The same professor who said that during the lecture, at the end of the class, he would make announcements, “Remember you should be involved in three research projects. We want you to be leading an interest group. You should also be exercising. What are you doing to keep your own relationships and family strong?” I was like, “Are they trying to kill us?” “Plus, there’s a test on Tuesday.”

I thought that something doesn’t square here because it is possible to avoid smoking, but it is not possible to avoid stress. You would have to keep yourself in so much homeostasis that you didn’t even recognize the change. Not only did you not navigate change but you also didn’t even hear about it. When our brains hear about the possibility of change, we go through these stress chemical reactions. A lot of us have learned excellent strategies for navigating that.

The other reason that we’re told to avoid stress is the same reason that my well-intentioned med school professor said that it can cause damage, but so can exercise. Lots of people exercise and they get injured or exercise on an injury and cause damage. It’s very much like you cannot get more physically fit without exercise. You cannot get more resilient without stress.

I’m going to jump in because I think there’s a tipping point and I want to talk about this. Folks who are tuning in to my show for a while know that a hot topic for me is burnout. It’s like a big buzzword in our culture now. Dr. G, I know it’s not a medical term. I don’t even believe it’s a medical diagnosis, but in 2019, my health went to absolute hell in a handbasket and fell apart. This is what I’m trying to figure out with the stress continuum. When does stress become bad to the point where you burn out? I’m just trying to figure that out. Does that make sense?

If you’ll forgive me, I want to get a little bit scientific on you. Our bodies and brains have something that’s called a physiologic range for a lot of things. I’m going to use an example that will be familiar, and that’s water intake. We have a wide physiologic range, meaning the range of water intake that our bodies can survive from a few milliliters of water.

If you have too little water for too long, you become dehydrated. If you still have too little water, you can die. You may or may not know that if you have too much water too quickly, we’re talking gallons, you can actually die. You can drive your sodium level so low that you’ll have seizures and die. We have a wide physiologic range for water intake, but too little and we die, too much and we die.

In the middle of that range is what’s called the optimal range. For most people, that is 24 to 64 ounces of water a day in which our bodies are at peak capacity. Meaning, we’re not tired, confused, and dizzy because we’re pretty dehydrated. We’re not bloated, confused, and logy because we have too much water. We’re in our optimal range. You might have 99 problems, but hydration isn’t one of them.

That physiologic range which is wide, and that optimal range in the middle which is much better for us, that’s not only true of water. It’s true of sleep, food, potassium, and sodium. It’s true of stress. I don’t usually have to make too hard an argument that too much stress can be damaging. It’s even possible to die of too much of that damage sustained for too long.

I want you to notice that at the other end of that wide physiologic range, it is possible to have so little stress that you die. Meaning, if you are not stressed enough about your own safety that you light the fire in your fireplace and light all the candles around your house, and then go to sleep. You run into traffic, you just cross the street with absolutely no stress about what the outcome might be. You can see how we need a little bit of stress to keep us alive.

It’s a very wide physiologic range at which we can survive. From almost no stress like the most chill sixth grader you’ve ever met, to the most uptight person you’ve ever met like the most anxious or the most stressed person you’ve ever met, we have a wide physiologic range and a more narrow optimal range, where we are aware of our competing priorities and goals, and we are working at our peak to get there. What you’re asking me about is, “How do you know when you’re getting pushed out of your optimal range up towards the danger zone that’s too much stress?”

I love this question, but the answer might be a little frustrating because it isn’t the same for everyone. Change navigation is where my work intersects with corporations and how you navigate change toward your goals so that you can be successful. What I ask people to do when I talk with companies about navigating change is first, we have to talk about prevention. How do you make sure that you and your people are not moving out of that optimal range up into the danger zone for any sustained period? You’re not going to ever stay perfectly in your optimal range. I hope you take some vacations that are well in the low range, but we have to know.

How you know is twofold. One is you know your own red flags, but also even probably your yellow flags. Now that you’ve had that experience in 2019, you know what red flags look like for you, but you probably also have thought about, “What are the earlier warning signs for me? What do I do?” I would be happy to share a couple of my own.

I know that if I am unreasonably irritable or if something happens that should not be a big deal like I’m trying to get an envelope in the mailbox and it bends, and I’m like, “This is ridiculous.” That’s a yellow warning sign for me. If I can’t find my keys, even though I have a hook by my front door that I should always put my keys on, and I usually do. If I lose stuff like that, that’s an early sign for me that I’m getting too stressed.

This is an interesting line of conversation. I would say losing the keys is one. I had one this morning. Here’s a yellow flag for you. I put my purse in my car and my four-year-old is in the car. I promise this ends well. She was safe.

That’s great because I’m a mandated reporter, just to be clear.

The car was off and doors were unlocked, or I thought. I went back out to the car and they were locked. I don’t know if I accidentally locked it or if it’s the forgetfulness. I had an extra set so I got in and got her, but my heart skipped several beats. It is forgetfulness for me and I think it’s this sense of overwhelm. It’s when I feel this big cloud of, “I don’t know how I’m going to do all this.” I don’t know if that would be considered more of a red flag. For me, it is between maybe yellow and red.

Maybe that’s an orange flag. I encourage leaders to think about their own pale lemon flags. I was working with a company doing some work with their C-Suite and department head-level folks. I said, “What’s the palest yellow flag for yourself you can think of?” One guy said, “When I miss my exit on the way home.” I thought that was a great one because it doesn’t harm anyone, but it will remind him to think. It’s like a twinge when you go running. I hate running, so I always complain about it. If you feel a tiny twinge in your ankle, it should make you pay attention to your shoes, your pace, the surface, your form, and to something because you don’t want it to get worse.

A piece of homework for everybody or just something for them to think about or write about is knowing what your yellow, orange, and red flags are. Mine is forgetfulness and getting my car locked.

Your red flags, other people notice. I’m hoping you’ll notice even your own pale yellow flags. That is one of the two strategies I wanted to mention. The other is when you find yourself surprised. This is true not only of yourself but of other people because leaders need to know, “When am I pushing my people too far?” or “When are my people being pushed by circumstances too far?”

You can’t know or memorize everybody else’s yellow flags. If you share a bed with somebody, I recommend trying to figure out theirs. In general, you can’t know everybody else, especially in a work setting. With the goal of being professional, people try to hide them to some degree. You can use this one question for yourself. If someone is surprising you in their behavior, communication, lack of communication, differences, and change, even if it frustrates you, try to also tie that to curiosity.

You can do that authentically out loud to that person. If you and I work together and let’s say, normally, you don’t email back that much, but suddenly you’re emailing me every hour about a project, I’m glad for the extra communication, but I’m surprised because it’s not your norm. You usually do respond regularly and I’m not hearing back from you and I’m getting frustrated.

I can tie either one of those situations to my curiosity, not to an accusation or a diagnosis, and send you an email that says, “I noticed a different communication pattern on this project. Is there anything going on here that I should know about? Is there anything that I’m not aware of that would be useful if I knew?”

Do you know what’s great about that? This is for all managers and aspiring leaders. This is so valuable because this is the difference between a manager and a leader in my mind. A manager is there to get the job done, but they’re not managing the stress continuum of their employees. What’s the interesting thing about it is it’s not cookie-cutter.

It’s not like, “Everyone, once they hit this water level, they’re overstressed or they’re under stress. Managers are there to get the job done. I get that. That’s important, but leaders are there to look at their people and go, “Where are you at?” Manage where they are, rather than always worrying only about the outcome of a project.

I’d like to pivot a little bit here. Now, we know there’s that stress continuum. We know that we have to look at those pale yellow, yellow, maybe even orangey flags. Everyone is going to know when we get to red, so let’s not go there. How do we build that resilience? We’ve talked a lot about it. Can we dive into how we do that?

What I like to do is talk about how we build resilience in ourselves. A lot of the work I do with corporations is how we help other people navigate change. Whether those other people are clients, bosses, or employees. I think the most useful thing for women in work settings to know is, “How do I grow my own resilience? What is it?”

Some of the work that we did, after we figured out, “It’s not a fixed trait.” We said, “What’s in here?” I won’t drag you through all of the research. Basically, what we learned is that when we say resilience, I’ll just remind you again of that definition. It’s the ability to navigate change with intention and purpose toward a goal. We are talking about eight different skills.

I’ll list those skills in a minute. What I want you to do is to listen with the ear of, “How much of that do I have?” You have at least a little of all of these eight skills. We use different skills in different situations. I’ll give an example when I’m done. When I found out that my mom had a terminal diagnosis, I needed a lot of resilience at that moment.

I’m an only child. She lives 500 miles from where I live. I was raising my four kids. Eight years ago, they would have been 12, 10, 8, and 6. The eight skills are these. Build connections, so I think you can see how when you’re trying to navigate a change and it’s not simple, sometimes the connections you have and that you utilize are useful. Setting boundaries is another one. Setting boundaries is not all about what you say no to. Setting boundaries is the skill of matching what you do with what your actual priorities are.

We’re going to go back to that one because I can go with boundaries.

The next one is opening to possibilities. Meaning, opening to the idea that there’s more than one way to get to the goal. The next one is managing discomfort. I talked about those reflexes that we have when we experience a change even if it’s a good change like loss, distrust, and discomfort. It turns out discomfort is where most people get stuck and don’t move forward. Managing discomfort is an important skill.

Be open to the idea that there's more than one way to get to the goal. Click To Tweet

The next four hang together. Setting goals, finding options, taking action, and persevering. If I go back to the example of my mom finding out that she had this terminal diagnosis, the first thing I had to figure out is, “What is my goal here?” As a doctor, I wanted the goal to be saving my mom’s life. I did a bunch of research. I figured it out and talked to her doctors. I looked at everything and realized that they were not wrong, and that wasn’t going to be a thing.

What was my goal then? I had to decide. My goal as I decided at the time was for the rest of the time my mom had, to be the best daughter I could while not giving up on being a mom myself. That was my goal. I didn’t always reach it. I wasn’t always excellent at it, but every time I had a decision to make, I re-oriented myself toward that goal.

When it was my 6-year-old’s birthday and I was meant to be 500 miles away with my mom, I left my mom and came back. When it was my kindergartner’s 5th grade Thanksgiving show a month later, I watched it on Zoom. Even though this was 2015 or 2014, and that wasn’t a usual thing. I got the school to broadcast it so that I could be with my mom, but still see the Thanksgiving show. Every time I had a decision, I had a true north to measure it by. The skills that I needed in that whole process to navigate that change towards that goal were mostly finding options and managing discomfort.

In managing discomfort, I’m thinking of my situation on burnout again. Where were you at all this great work fifteen years ago? I think many women tuning in to this show that is part of my community are high achievers. They just drive and are super ambitious, and all that great stuff. As you said, it can be toxic. When things get hard and the tough get going, I would keep overworking to compensate for that discomfort.

A lot of us use the organization as a way to manage discomfort. Cleaning, I don’t do, but God bless the people that do. They’re welcome to come over to my house. The truth is healthy and unhealthy managing discomfort is an issue of both qualities. Meaning, if you’re using heroin, it’s never okay. It’s never going to be good. If you’re using cleaning your bathroom, then it’s an issue of quantity. In most places where we get in trouble with managing our discomfort, it’s not about the first pint of ice cream. It’s about the seventh. It’s not even about the first glass of wine, it’s about the fourth. There is an issue with both of quality and quantity of our coping mechanisms.

What else is interesting about that is, in heroin, that’s an extreme outlier but it happens. During the opioid crisis, people start and they think it’s fine. All of a sudden, it becomes a slippery slope and it’s absolutely not fine. It’s interesting though with overwork because our culture praises that. It’s insidious. I’m not blaming our culture in the US. I took part in this, so I have to learn what my yellow and orange flags are going forward. In that, it has been a blessing but no one stopped me because I was doing all the “right things.” As you said, I was doing them in excess to the point where it was hurtful.

I’ll use another example because you’re absolutely right about overwork but also exercise. Some people may say to you, “I think you’re working too hard,” but very few people are going to be like, “I noticed that you picked up running, and now you’re training for a marathon. Doesn’t that seem a little extreme?” They’re going to be like, “I’m so impressed.”

A key here is for this community to watch how you’re managing your discomfort. You can do anything to manage discomfort. As you said, “What are your coping mechanisms?” If they’re in the box of good coping mechanisms like cleaning or exercise, put it in the box of whatever is good in your mind. You have to watch your quantities because you can overdo it and you can hurt yourself.

I recently read a quote that said, “The most insidious lies are the ones we tell ourselves.” That’s absolutely true. That’s one of the reasons that it can be helpful to have a couple of truth-tellers in your life, people who will say when they think you’re overdoing or not paying attention to the consequences of how you’re handling things.

BWW 117 | Optimal Stress
Optimal Stress: “The most insidious lies are the ones we tell ourselves.”


In your practice, now that we’re on this whole opposite side of COVID, what are you seeing in the stress continuum now? Do you think that we’re better or worse? Is it a different continuum per person? What are you thinking about now that we’ve gone through this? I think as a whole humanity, we’ve all gone through something so stressful.

We have. I have to say from a scientific standpoint, we aren’t on the other side of COVID. We’re on the other side of the lockdown.

That’s an interesting perspective. I appreciate you correcting me. You don’t feel like we’re on the other side of it. We’re just on the other side of accepting that it’s part of our daily lives.

We definitely understand more about it. We have better strategies. We have more science. We know more. We know better so we can do better. The lockdowns are I think what landed traumatically for most people. Here’s the thing. Psychologic trauma is caused when your core beliefs or sense of safety is totally disrupted.

That’s what the lockdowns did. COVID was the reason for the lockdowns. We see those lockdowns can happen. Most of our memories, it hadn’t ever. It did with polio in the ‘50s, but not since then. Also, such a thing could be necessary. That’s what caused a lot of trauma. I totally agree with you. We’re on the other side of that. Almost nobody is going to go through a lockdown around COVID. I’d be shocked if we had more COVID lockdowns.

That experience was traumatic for a lot of people. Also, at least one in every five households in the US lost a family member to COVID. That’s traumatic also. That was a huge period of grief and still is for a lot of people. Here’s the thing. Going through a disruption that big can be helpful. If you think about most major horrible traumatic disruptions that we go through in our lives, it only happens to us and maybe our families. People talk a lot about, “I just lost my mom and then I was at the grocery store, and people are acting like it’s a normal day. How can that be and how jarring that is.”

Going through a big disruption can be helpful. Click To Tweet

That didn’t happen in this disruption. It was different. Everybody knew that everybody was going through something and it was similar for most people in its scope. There are some advantages to that. One general example is in our society, asking someone “How are you?” really changed. That became a much more authentic question.

It’s interesting you say that because I saw a LinkedIn post about this. One of the most overused questions is “How are you?” A person suggested this, which I think is good. Maybe we didn’t need it during the COVID period, but maybe we need it again. It should be, “How are you, really?” and then wait for the answer.

Before COVID, if you said, “How are you?” It’d be like, “Fine.” People would give non-answers. During the COVID period, people were crappy. “I’ve lost this person. I’m not feeling good. I have symptoms after the vaccination. I’ve decided not to vaccine. I feel like people are persecuting me for it.” I think that people were more apt to tell you how it really was.

I think also that if you said, “Fine” or give some kind of bluff answer, you’d get a look like, “You’re obviously lying. Nobody is fine. What are you doing?”

I’m all about transparency, vulnerability, and being a real person with other people. I think that will make us healthier in the long run.

Before we end, I had promised to give a couple of strategies in addition to the actual skills. I want to mention that one of the things you can do when you’re experiencing that, or when you hear about good change or bad change, it doesn’t matter, and you’re experiencing loss, distrust, and discomfort. As soon as you ask yourself, “What choices do I have?” That quiets all those chemicals in your brain by opening up the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Don’t turn off the safety mechanisms, but you turn them down.

Before you even answer the question or list your choices, just say, “What choices do I have?” That helps you to be more resilient. It doesn’t make the feelings of loss, distrust, and discomfort go away, but it moves you toward figuring out what kind of person you want to be in this change. You know what your goal is, and it helps you move toward it.

Just asking that question will help you get more resilient. What choices do I have? Instead of going into fight or flight, you could stop, be aware, ask that question, and it will open different parts of your brain.

It does. You might find yourself in fight or flight. You can’t avoid that. It’s not a conscious choice. If you take a deep breath and say, “I feel totally overwhelmed, panicked, and irritable. I am forgetting things. I missed the turn on my way home.” What choices do you have that will guide you to decreasing the stress chemicals that you’re dumping into your body that are causing immune system issues, high blood pressure, and all the other negative physical effects? You will immediately feel less fearful and be able to move towards what it is you actually want.

That is an awesome strategy. Thank you for sharing that. I know we’re almost at the end here, but I wanted to circle back. We talk a lot about boundaries in the Brave Woman at Work community. You said it’s more than saying no. Can you comment a little bit more on how boundaries fit into all of this?

Often, when I’m working with a group of people, I will ask them to rate themselves on these eight skills. In general, successful people rate themselves lowest on setting boundaries because they think I mean, “Do you say no to stuff on a regular basis?” I don’t actually mean that. I went to an amazing business seminar for women a decade ago where someone said, “Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. Even if it’s sleep, catching up on the TV show you wanted to watch, or exercising. Every yes is saying no to something. Every no is saying yes to something else.” The trick isn’t figuring out what to say no to. It’s figuring out what your priorities are, and then aligning your choices to match those priorities.

Every yes is saying no to something. Every no is saying yes to something else. The trick isn't figuring out what to say no to. It's figuring out what your priorities are, and then aligning your choices to match those priorities. Click To Tweet

I’ve been scattered where I’m all over the map. It sounds like they have to do priority or value work first. As you said with your mom’s situation, you had to get very central on that first. You have to take a step before what you’re talking about.

You do have to figure out your priorities and I don’t think they’re always the same, but they’re probably three that stay pretty stable for most people. They might say their family, primary relationship, health, or whatever it is. I hope that health, family, and something else is up there for most people, and then a couple of others. They’re not always going to be in the same order.

During that time, as much as being a doctor and my work is important to me, I had to throttle those back a bit because my family was taking so much and needed so much during those weeks. When you are pretty solid about what your priorities are, it’s a great way to avoid deathbed regrets. When your choices aim toward your priorities the bulk of the time, you know you did the best you could.

That’s so good because there is a whole book or a whole study that’s called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, which is a good read. It definitely puts things into perspective. I want to make sure everyone knows about your book, so if you want to mention this, the book title is From Stressed to Resilient: The Guide to Handle More and Feel It Less. Anything you want to mention there?

This book is meant to be used in a way that’s most useful to you. It’s not a sit down and read it from start to finish kind of book. I guide you in the introduction to figure out how it’s useful to you right now in your life and do those parts right then. It’s From Stressed to Resilient. The easiest way to find me or find the book is on my website, which is AskDrG.com.

I wanted to ask you this question that I ask all of my guests. As we’re ending, what are 1 to 2 ways that you believe women can be braver at work?

I think the best way to be brave at work is to figure out what is this work for in your life and then align your decisions toward that goal.

You’re an organized thinker, Dr. G. You’re a doctor and you were a theater major, which is so amazing. How many theater majors became doctors? Probably less than 5% or maybe 2%.

I don’t know the answer to that one.

One more time, where can women find you and your work online?

The easiest way is my website, AskDrG.com or you can find me on LinkedIn, Deborah Gilboa.

Dr. G, it was such a pleasure talking to you about stress and having an entirely new perspective on it. Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you, Jen. I appreciate the time.

That does it for my discussion with Dr. G. I hope you found our conversation valuable, eye-opening, and inspiring. It surely was for me. Here are a few things to think about before next time. Where are you in the stress continuum? No judgment, write on that, and talk to someone about that. Where are you? What tools and techniques from this episode can you use to harness and use your stress for good? As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Until next time, show up. Use your stress for resilience and be brave.




About Dr. Deborah Gilboa

BWW 117 | Optimal StressResilience expert, Deborah Gilboa, MD, (aka “Dr. G”) works with families, educators, executives, and businesses to identify the mindset and strategies to turn stress to an advantage. She is a leading media personality seen regularly on TODAY, Good Morning America and is the Resilience Expert for The Doctors. She is also featured frequently in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and countless other digital and print outlets. Dr. G is board certified attending family physician and is fluent in American Sign Language. She lives in Pittsburgh with her four boys.

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