Alexandra Greenhill talks about dealing with stress, including the importance of accepting, asking and offering help, as well as three words – and a new perspective – for when things in your life go sideways.
Leading Moms Podcast Transcript: It’s No Big Deal
I didn’t bring slides on purpose as a physician educator. I’m a master of the slide deck, but I thought that we can have a very intimate 200 people conversation right here, right now for the next few minutes. And so, before I share with you something that I have learned the hard way and I have found solutions for, I just want to explain a little bit because people usually say – a physician tech CEO, like how does that happen, and it’s a long story, but I will make it very short.
I was an emergency physician and one of my insights in the emergency room was that most of the things that hit the emergency room shouldn’t have come to the emergency room in the first place. So, many years of saving people’s lives in the last crisis moment, I decided to do something about it and got involved in healthcare policy.
And so, that led me from Montreal to Ottawa, to then, Vancouver. I was involved in major initiatives, implementing electronic medical records, primary care reforms, women’s issues, you name it.
And all of my work was receiving a lot of awards and recognitions. And I didn’t feel happy with what I was doing because I didn’t see a change that impacted real people in real daily life. I mean, some things were somewhat better, but marginally so. It wasn’t anything that was like denting the universe. And suddenly, all these Star Trek stories that we grew up on where you have a tricorder and the doctor just heals you – none of that was becoming a reality.
And then, I started reading more and more and being very evidence oriented – evidence-based. Seventy percent of illnesses – the big ones, so heart attacks, strokes, cancer, colon, you know, all sort of colitis, Crohn’s – all of these things completely due to stress – either induced by, or worsened, or triggered. And the stress that we’re talking about is not major life stress such as “I lost a loved one in a 9/11 crash of the towers”, but was the daily grind that we kind of push aside and say, you know it’s not a big deal, it’s just one little thing. And that little thing when you’d actually do studies, and I could have put up lots of slides to show you the evidence behind that, but it’s a low-grade inflammation largely because it triggers systems that were built to help us run away from the lion chasing us. It was supposed to last 5 to 10 minutes while we found safety, and then, all of those systems would shut down.
Our daily life, with the ongoing small events that are happening are triggering all of those systems and then turning them all the time. And so, what happens with that is we’re not built to withstand that and our systems are sustaining wear and tear. And so, I had an epiphany and I kind of said, hey healthcare establishment shouldn’t we of something about that instead of saving people once they are sick and spending millions of dollars doing that. And people basically big yawn and said yeah we know all of that, but we have these fires going on over here, so there’s no resources to spend over there where we could have prevented the fire in the first place.
And so, doing the same thing, expecting a different outcome is a definition of insanity, and I said well, I can’t participate in this insanity, I think I have a way of finding a different way forward.
My different way forward started with me and say hey, I’m a N of one, what if I actually applied some of those insights in my own life and saw what kind of an impact that would have. And so, those insights did work for me and I’m now happy to share them with you.
The first step – and it seems like a very small, obvious, little step – is my default answer for somebody who offered help became “yes”.
Before these insights, when people said “Can I give you a hand?”, the proud, independent oh-I-can-get-it-done-no-problem me would say, “No, I’m okay, thank you.” And then, I just changed and I said to people offering me help at work, people offering me help at home, I would say, yes.
And then, things happened: that created capacity. I might have something that I could have done myself, but now somebody else was doing it and, therefore, I had more time to do something else that mattered to me.
And it was fun. Like people would actually then stay over and have coffee, and I would see my friends more often. The most immediate impact of that was great.
So many people here in the room have that policy already. Am I preaching to the converted? Are you the kind of people that when people offer help you are like: yes!
Okay. All right. Some of you, but some of you need to do some more extra work.
So, the second step on that journey is crossing the psychological divide and actually saying: Can you please help me? So, asking for help.
And that requires some bravery, because most people don’t want to offend. They don’t want to impose. They’re not sure if it’s going to get done that way. I don’t want to owe you. It’s more threatening to move into that space and ask for help, but I can assure you wonderful things happen.
And most importantly, all of the research, including some great stuff being done at UBC shows that people offering, providing help to others feel better on the spot – like if you help somebody else out, the person offering the help feels better and they will live longer and healthier. So, in fact, by asking you for help, I’m giving you an opportunity to feel better right now and live longer and healthier.
And so, after doing that for a while and sharing those in [inaudible], I have tons of people who’ve tried to implement that and they’ve seen the benefits, are all of the problems solved?
Well, no, not entirely. Life is better, but not yet to the degree to which I wanted to improve it.
And so, there’s three additional things you can do after those three steps. And the first one of them is – actually Arts Umbrella gave me the short way of saying that, which is: When they do birthday parties with kids, the first thing they do with the kids is they say “If you get paint in your hair, what do you say?” No big deal. “If you get paint in your eye, what do you say?” No big deal. “If another child runs into you and drops a paint on your clothes?” No big deal.
And so, one of those things is that being a mother and running around being busy, things will happen that’s outside of your control and your day’s going to go haywire and my first thought is it’s not a big deal, right? It’s not a major disaster, there’s nothing I can’t recover from.
And you know, I was late for the BCIT convocation in May where I was the keynote speaker because my daughter was throwing up until half an hour before. There was nothing I could do. There was nobody else you can delegate to. I can’t ask anyone else. It’s you. And so, no big deal.
The second one is we’re building a whole bunch of tech tools that will make it easier for you to reach out just in time and ask people, friends, and community for assistance, so watch for all those tools hitting you on your mobile phone. You can figure out which one of your friends is available to help.
And then, last but not least, is people underestimate the benefits of giving hugs.
Hugs release oxytocin. It’s an instant booster to your health and well-being. And if there’s nobody around to give you a hug, giving yourself a hug totally works. So, doctor prescribed, 90 seconds, wrap your hands around yourself and tell yourself, I’m awesome.
So, I welcome questions and interactional stay for later on, but: Accept help, ask for help, offer a help. If things go haywire, no big deal. And then, whenever you have a good chance to give a hug or receive a hug, I would also recommend take it.
About Alexandra Greenhill
Alexandra T. Greenhill is a mom of three and a physician tech innovator. Passionate about big ideas that use tech to make people’s lives better, she co-founded myBestHelper, an award-winning tech company transforming how families find help for child and elder care. She now serves on the board of myBestHelper, and is the co-founder CEO of Careteam Technologies, a digital platform that helps health organizations provide care coordination for patients with complex, chronic diseases across different health conditions and contexts (hospital, clinic, community and home).
Alexandra has served on numerous non-for-profit boards, including a two-time public school trustee and Chair of the French School board of BC and the Canadian Institute for Child Health. She has received many recognitions, including BIV Top 40 under 40, Startup Canada Women Entrepreneur, YWCA Women of Distinction, YWCA Women of Distinction nominee, WXN’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, and the Queen Elizabeth II Medal of Service.
About the Leading Moms Podcast
Welcome to the Leading Moms podcast, where every mom has a story. Launched in 2012, Leading Moms started as an annual one-day event in Vancouver, BC, with an aim for each mom to recognize her significance and belonging, gain a sense of mastery and be impactful in her business, community – or the simple everyday of her family. Now these thought-provoking, inspirational talks are available on this podcast. Join your host Christine Pilkington, entrepreneur, publisher and TV mom expert, every other week as she shares the best talks from the past six years and more.