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Therapist Rachel Noble on Building Resilience

Uplifting episode of ‘The Girlfriend: In Conversation’ focuses on finding inner strength and creating joy




More than ever, it’s beneficial to look inward and find ways to be strong in the face of uncertainty — and to create greater joy and happiness in our lives. In this episode of The Girlfriend: In Conversation, mental health counselor Rachel Noble shares how to become more resilient and why happiness is a choice.

Noble, an expert in AARP Staying Sharp’s most recent series of brain health challenges on mental well-being, shares an exercise on practicing gratitude, as well as the three key pillars of resiliency.

“You always have the power to choose how you’re going to respond to something that comes at you,” Noble tells host Shelley Emling, AARP Executive Editor of Specialized Content. “The beauty in life is to recognize that you actually have a choice in how you’re going to react.”

The Girlfriend: In Conversation audio series is a special collaboration between The Girlfriend, AARP’s free weekly digital newsletter for Gen X women, and AARP Members Only Access, which features content available only to AARP members.



[00:00:04] Shelley: Welcome to The Girlfriend: In Conversation. I’m Shelley Emling, the editor of The Girlfriend, AARP’s free, weekly digital newsletter for Gen X women, and today we’re launching a new audio series. That’s right, here at The Girlfriend, we’re going to deep dive into conversations with some pretty incredible guests — female thought leaders, trailblazers, paradigm shifters; and we’re going to cover a variety of topics including mental health, wealth, self-care, travel, things that matter — and I mean really matter right here and right now. 

And I couldn’t be more excited than to launch this new audio series with noted therapist and resilience expert Rachel Nobel, who can tell us all about creating greater well-being and greater joy as we emerge from the pandemic. Rachel has published articles on mental health topics for the Washington Post and other newspapers as well as for numerous magazines such as New York magazine. Rachel was also an expert in AARP’s Staying Sharp’s most recent series of brain health challenges on mental well-being, which is available to all AARP members at We cannot think of anyone better to join us for what’s bound to be an uplifting chat. So welcome, Rachel. We have a lot to discuss.

[00:01:34] Rachel Nobel: Thank you so much, and thank you for that warm and kind and thoughtful introduction. Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here. 

[00:01:40] Shelley Emling: You deserve it. Thank you for joining us. So Rachel, these past 16 or so months have been extraordinary in every way, and they’ve certainly taken a toll on our mental health. Why do you think some people have been more resilient than others during this very difficult period?

[00:02:00] Rachel Nobel: You know, that’s such a great question. I think that one of the big tells is how people were in their lives before everything hit. It’s sort of where were you … were you to that point where you were going at 110 percent all the time every day with no wiggle room in your life? No space to breathe, no extra bandwidth to absorb anything? What I’ve witnessed is the people that were running like that … everything that we‘ve experienced these multiple crises really walloped people, because there wasn’t any space to absorb anything different. And that forced shift was really painful … because they were stretched so thin to begin with. And I think that one of the nice reminders of this, of everything that we’ve been through and how we’ve all been required to kind of slow down and take a breath, is not just that that’s a helpful thing, but it’s just really powerful to have that little bit of extra wiggle room and a little bit of space in your day and your life so that you’re not stretched so thin when life throws you curve balls, because there were curve balls before what we’ve been dealing with. You know, we always need to give ourselves that little bit of grace so that when life throws us curve balls, we can absorb it rather than having it break us. 

[00:03:34] Shelley Emling: So if you don‘t consider yourself a very resilient person, and life throws a curve ball at you, what can you do? Is there anything you could do to become a more resilient person? 

[00:03:45] Rachel Nobel: Sure. Oh my goodness, yeah, absolutely. There’s beautiful things that you can do to become more resilient, and it’s … such a positive journey to find your resilience and feed it and nurture it and be intentional about your day. For example, make sure that you recognize your strengths, know what you’re good at, know what your strengths are, know where you need supports. That’s powerful. Not everybody knows every little thing, and nor should they, but it’s good to know what you know and how to do it well, and appreciate those things in you. And when you have a hard time seeing those strengths in you, remember the people who really love you, and what do they see in you? And ask them. 

[00:04:33] Shelley Emling: That brings up my next important question of practicing gratitude — because I know practicing gratitude is so important all the time. I know there’s an exercise that we can do together in this area. Could you lead us in that right now? 

[00:04:50] Rachel Nobel: Absolutely. And this is really one of my favorite things to do. So let me take a little bit of a step back and just give us all some context: Resilience is the capacity to rebound from adversity stronger and more capable than when you got walloped by whatever it is that came at us. And it’s a practice. It’s something that we keep trying and working on every day. It’s not something static. You can’t just check the box and say I’m resilient. It’s something we keep working at. But there are some key elements of resilience, whether it is understanding how your resilience got formed or doing the things that you know you can do to take care of yourself, to take care of yourself physically and emotionally to help you … feed that resilience, but also then how you emerge from things like this. So those are … three of the main components of resilience. But really, the first one is getting to what you’re talking about this practice of gratitude is; one of the coolest things about resilience is that it really started long ago when you’re little … and if you can think back to that one person who always believed in you. Who is that one person that always believed in you? 

So let‘s just take a moment and … just play along with me, folks. Just close your eyes. Just take a breath and close your eyes and think of that one person who always believed in you. Imagine their face smiling at you, hear their voice. Think of all the good traits that they see in you, even when you don’t. And quietly, in your mind, thank them for it, because they built the foundation of your resilience. Right, you can open your eyes. 

So that‘s really one of my favorite little exercises to do when I’m feeling …like I do everything wrong in a day, or I can’t get anything right. I close my eyes and I think of that one person — and for me, it’s my nana. It’s my grandmother, and she’s the one who always believed in me even when I didn’t, or even, honestly, when parts of the world were telling me, oh, no, no, no, you’re getting it wrong.Think of that one person and what they saw in you and remember those traits. That’s powerful.

[00:07:11] Shelley Emling: For me it’s my mother, so thank you for that. That’s wonderful. 

[00:07:14] Rachel Nobel: You’re welcome. 

[00:07:15] Shelley Emling: So turning to just happiness in general, are there actually real keys to being happy and finding happiness? Let’s discuss the power of choice. 

[00:07:26] Rachel Nobel: Hmm, gosh, choice. Oh, that’s a big one, right? Happiness is always a choice. It doesn’t always feel like it is, but you always have the power to choose how you’re going to respond to something that comes at you … kind of the big philosophical way to say all that is, something comes at you, and you react, right? A stimulus comes at you, and you respond. And most of us go through our day [and] just react, react, react. You know, responding in the same old way that we always respond. But the beauty in life is to recognize that you actually have a choice in how you’re going to react. And so if you think about it, something comes at you and you respond — if you can slow that down a little bit, and see … OK, hang on, I don’t have to just react, and I certainly don’t have to just react in the same old way, especially if whatever that way is, isn‘t actually getting me what I want, or is having me show up in a way that I’m not always proud of. 

So if you slow it down — stimulus, response, space. And in that space, consider other ways to react. Think about other ways to react, and even if you’re off like, I don‘t know, doing something, washing dishes, something like that, and you’re thinking, you know, I had that moment the other day, and the kids came at me like this, and I feel like I just bark at them all the time, and I need to figure out a different way to respond when they come at me, or I need to figure out a different way to talk to whoever this person is, or I need to figure out a different way, honestly just to respond in traffic, ‘cause I’m tired of getting grumpy every time I drive down the road. Think about other ways to react, and then practice it. You know, start to practice it. Slow down your response, recognize that you have choice, and try another way that’s true to who you are; you know, you don‘t want to be false because that’s not sustainable, but try other ways of showing up and see if it gets you what you want. It’s powerful. 

[00:09:24] Shelley Emling: So you have the power to choose how you react to troubling situations, basically. 

[00:09:29] Rachel Nobel: Always. Always, and so that, that kind of, again, kind of larger philosophy of stimulus response space, you know, something comes at you, you react, and there’s a space in that. You don’t have to keep reacting the same old way. You could choose how you want to react, and in your choice lies your growth and ultimately your freedom. This is where we become free from all those little things that drive us crazy all day long. That whole philosophy actually was written or put down on paper for the first time, as far as I know, by this guy named Viktor Frankl; he was a neurologist, and he was literally in a concentration camp. He was a Jewish man, incarcerated, encamped in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, and he came up with that theory when he was in this concentration camp, because he said, “You know what, it doesn‘t matter what they do, how many bad things they do to me, until I am dead, I get to choose how I want to respond to these things. They cannot ruin my day. They cannot make me; they can‘t control my mind. They can‘t control who I am.” 

[00:10:32] Shelley Emling: I find that fascinating, because I think that everybody is sort of stressed right now. I mean we’re coming out of the pandemic, but there are still shortages in everything from Federal Express drivers to customer service people, and I feel the stress levels, instead of going down after the pandemic, in some ways are going up again. So being able to choose how you react to situations, it may not always be easy, but I think that’s really important.

[00:11:03] Rachel Nobel: It‘s powerful, and … if you think about it, if you’re that person who’s the cashier at a Safeway and the line is a mile long, they’re having a bad day, too. 

[00:11:15] Shelley Emling: Right. Exactly. 

[00:11:16] Rachel Nobel: And I think that especially when we’re in these challenging times, whether it’s scarcity or whether it’s just whatever challenges are going on, it is a kindness when we give each other some grace. 

[00:11:29] Shelley Emling: Right. Exactly, that’s so important. 

[00:11:31] Rachel Nobel: And we recognize that we’re all struggling. 

[00:11:34] Shelley Emling: So again, this is The Girlfriend: In Conversation with Rachel Nobel, a noted therapist and resilience expert. We’re talking about creating joy and happiness as we emerge from the pandemic. So when talking to your patients, friends, family, acquaintances, Rachel, I just wonder what‘s the number one or two top challenges that are facing people in mid-2021? What are you hearing over and over again from people? 

[00:12:05] Rachel Nobel: Hearing over and over again from people, uh ... gosh. I think that really one of the biggest things I’m hearing is people have a ton of anxiety about entering back into the world. 

[00:12:18] Shelley Emling: Exactly. I hear that, too. 

[00:12:19] Rachel Nobel: Yeah, all the time. And … it’s funny, because, as abrupt as it was to change, and it was really, really hard, people are really liking the way they’re living now, and people are really settling into it, and the thought of getting pushed back into and expected to perform at that go, go, go, go, go pace that we were at before, a lot of people are like, uh-um ... nope, I’m really good right where I am. I don’t need to go back to that before, because they’re looking back on it with a different perspective, and they‘re realizing how much that life hurt them, literally. 

[00:12:56] Shelley Emling: Right. I was actually going to ask you about that, because I know many people that I‘m friends with are feeling a bit fearful about returning to the workplace and getting back into their old social routine, and seeing a bunch of friends at one time. I mean they’ve sort of enjoyed having an excuse for staying in Friday and Saturday nights, so what would you tell those people that have grown accustomed to this quieter way of life? You know, how can they get outside their comfort zone again after these 16 months and step back out into the world again? 

[00:13:30] Rachel Nobel: I don’t know if you‘re going to like my answer, but ...

[00:13:32] Shelley Emling: Oh.

[00:13:33] Rachel Nobel: Really, don’t. 

[00:13:35] Shelley Emling: Don’t. 

[00:13:35] Rachel Nobel: No, seriously. … I don’t mean like don’t become a total hermit, but I just mean if one of the things that this switch has lended is an opportunity to see yourself in a different way. You know, and there’s a lot of extroverts out there and that’s great, but not everybody is an extrovert. A lot of folks, and even extroverts, need their quiet time. A lot of us are introverts, and introverts get kind of a bad rap … we’re kind of, there’s all this stuff out there in the world that makes it look like we should want to go do this and we should want to go do that, and if we’re not doing these things, we’re somehow deficient in some way shape or form, but this time has really given us the opportunity to feel, to get to really own the way we want to roll in the world, and if really, if you think about what we were talking about before with that stimulus response space, choose a different way to respond, ‘cause that’s where your growth and your freedom actually comes from. That‘s really what people are saying. You know what, this is the way I want to roll. This is the way I want to live. This feels good and right to me. So if that‘s really the way you feel, good, yay, enjoy it. Embrace it, and try to figure out how to not put those expectations on yourself that you should want to just go sit in a crowded, noisy restaurant with 100 people and you‘re trying so hard to hear them talk over every little noise and the music blaring in the restaurant. If that rattles you and you don‘t want to do it, don‘t do it. You know, find a different way to interact with the people that you love. Find a different way to connect and appreciate that you want to go at a slower pace and that‘s OK. 

[00:15:17] Shelley Emling: Well yes, that leads to the question I was going to ask you later about if the pandemic has made it really apparent that a person needs to make some major life changes, but that person doesn‘t have a clue as to where to start. What would you tell them to tackle first, and I think this is what you‘re just saying … if you don‘t want to get back out there in the world and you don‘t want to go to parties on Saturday night just quite yet, how can you relay that to others? How can you tackle that in your life so that you can kind of create, continue the good that you experienced perhaps during the pandemic and the quieter existence? 

[00:15:56] Rachel Nobel: So let me say one thing about that one really quick first. You‘d be surprised. I‘ve heard … the thing I keep hearing about the pandemic, about this time is that people really did find the good. You know, it was painful adjusting, they shifted, but once they shifted, they find they actually do enjoy being with family more; they enjoy a quieter, smaller circle, so on and so forth. So  if they need to make some major life changes, start with baby steps. That‘s always the best way to make changes — it‘s about finding your voice, it‘s about being true to who you are, even though you know you‘re going to disappoint somebody else. You know, when we‘re in these conversations with people, and we know what they want us to say. We ... (chuckles) we know what they want us to say. But life isn‘t about that. Life isn‘t about just [being] here to make everybody else happy. Life is about figuring out who you are, saying look, this is who I am, and the people who love you for who you are going to keep loving you, and the people who have no time or tolerance or whatever for that, then you probably don‘t need them around anyways, and that‘s OK.

           It‘s interesting, what I have found is that when people speak up and assert themselves clearly and kindly and warmly, and say … you know, I‘m really grooving on this pandemic time, I‘m only going to go to one outing a month or one party or whatever it, whatever works for you, whatever you feel good with. When you say that to other people, oh my God, usually what you hear is just this relief. 

[00:17:33] Shelley Emling: Yes. 

[00:17:33]Rachel Nobel: Seriously, ‘cause they‘re just like (sigh) oh God, ‘cause I don‘t want to either, you know. 

[00:17:39] Shelley Emling: I‘ve been saying that a lot lately. I just don‘t want to go out again. I‘m pretty happy staying home and watching Netflix. I really am. 

[00:17:45] Rachel Nobel: Exactly. … I think that, so you get the sense, when you say out loud this is what I want, first of all, it gives you a better sense of who the people are in your world a), but then b), you give other people permission to do that, too, and that‘s powerful. You‘d be surprised how often people go, oh, thank God, OK, good. ‘Cause I didn‘t want to either. 

[00:18:06] Shelley Emling: (laugh) 

[00:18:08] Rachel Nobel: Right? 

[00:18:08] Shelley Emling: Very true. Yes.

[00:18:09] Rachel Nobel: So the other thing, and let me just say this about all of that, is … if you need, if anybody needs a minute or is bored on a Friday night, google trauma curve, look up a trauma curve and see what a trauma curve looks like, ‘cause it‘s interesting, because even though we‘re "past" the lockdown and the scary part of the pandemic, and we‘re all reemerging and we‘re past all of this stuff, there is some trauma that we all experienced with this, with other things around this. We‘ve all been through 100 different crises lately, and you don‘t just  bounce right back out of it. Nobody does. You, you‘d be surprised. Usually once people reemerge, there‘ll be a little bit of a honeymoon period, but we‘re still psychologically healing from a lot of this stuff. There‘s still a lot of uncertainty, there‘s still a lot of unknowns. People need time and space to heal, and usually what a trauma curve looks like, if you have like one traumatic event, it takes about a year to really heal from it. 

[00:19:06] Shelley Emling: Exactly. 

[00:19:07] Rachel Nobel: But we‘ve had multiple challenges going on, so give yourself time to heal. It‘s OK. You‘ll fall out, and you‘ll get to where you need to be, but you don‘t need to rush it. We‘re all still healing from this. This is not, it‘s not just a light switch. 

[00:19:24] Shelley Emling: Right. So I‘ve heard about something called post-traumatic growth. Can you tell me a little bit about what this is exactly, and how it relates to resilience? 

[00:19:34] Rachel Nobel: Yes, post-traumatic growth. (chuckles) It‘s one of my favorite things. Post-traumatic growth is this really cool phenomenon that you know most people don‘t talk about. Usually when we hear about post-traumatic, the next word we all want to insert is stress disorder, you know … we all know about post-traumatic stress … we‘ve all heard about it, and seen it, and understand how painful and challenging it is, and how it‘s this thing that haunts people. It‘s almost like being permanently rattled, you know. But that happens to people, obviously, but that‘s about 10 percent of the population who experience a trauma. 

About 90 percent of the people who experience a trauma, they really experience growth, and I should say this, too; even if you experience post-traumatic stress disorder in any way, shape or form, you can have that in tandem with post-traumatic growth. So don‘t be surprised. It‘s not like one or the other. It‘s not an either/or. It can definitely be both. But what really, what post-traumatic growth is, is that usually when we have a shared suffering experience like we‘ve all had, or even an individual suffering, usually when you come out of it, you‘re stronger, you‘re more resilient, you‘re more likely to make bold changes in your life that you need to, that you know you‘ve needed to. You‘ll see people use that time after a trauma to be a springboard for growth, for change, for … making the job change you‘ve been meaning to make, making decisions about family that you‘d been putting off. You know, deciding you’re finally going to embrace whatever that change is in your own life, in your own personhood, in your own body. You‘ll see people use it as that springboard for growth, because you have a different perspective on the gift of your life. 

You know when you live, when you have a moment where your certainty has been taken away, or you feel like you’re surrounded by threats, or you feel like you‘ve lost control over your existence, your whatever, and you get it back, it‘s such an incredible gift and it‘s like, oh my God, I don‘t want to keep living the way that I was. And so what you‘ll see is, usually you‘ll see people come closer together, usually, or you decide, OK, I can‘t invest in you anymore, and you‘ll see people break apart in one way or another, but usually you‘ll see people come closer together, people will see their strengths more so than ever, and they‘ll see where they need help and learn how to lean on each other better than they did before. 

[00:22:17] Shelley Emling: I see. 

[00:22:18] Rachel Nobel: Yeah.

[00:22:18] Shelley Emling: So many people are concerned and worried about their kids, of course, and I, myself, have three college-aged children that have been doing remote learning and, you know, their world has been upended. So we‘re all going through this, we had gone through this pandemic, remote learning, it‘s going to impact them for a long time. How can we help our kids and grandkids through this tough time? 

[00:22:44] Rachel Nobel: People hate it when I … they hate my answer on this one, (chuckles) but it‘s true. So really, you have to let your kids suffer. It‘s OK to let your kids suffer. It‘s OK. I know this is, it sounds like a bad thing to say, but it‘s really not. First of all, your kids aren‘t suffering exactly the way you think that they are. They really aren‘t. 

[00:23:11] Shelley Emling: I do agree with you. I actually agree with you, Rachel, I really do. 

[00:23:15] Rachel Nobel: They‘re really not. So let me, first of all, one thing, there‘s this great book out there called … The [Blessing] of a Skinned Knee: [Raising] Self-Reliant Children. The kids that really do well in life, that really figure out how to stand on their own two feet, you have to get knocked down in life. That‘s how you learn that how to trust yourself that you can get through it. And you start that very young. You have to let the kids fall down, you have to let them scrape their knee, you have to let them make mistakes. You have to let them have bad days at school. When we swoop in and try to make everything all perfect and nice and sweet and gentle for them, they don‘t learn that they can handle the tough stuff. They really have to learn that they can handle the tough stuff, and the earlier they do that, the better. You know the best thing that you could do … as parents often is to just take your hands off of it and walk away and let them figure it out. 

[00:24:07] Shelley Emling: Yep, you‘re preaching to the choir. I agree with you. 

[00:24:10] Rachel Nobel: So it‘s funny, ‘cause I had a conversation with a mom who was … struggling with a kid with remote learning and … she was like, "He‘s just not getting it." And I said, "Well, then ask, tell him to ask his teacher." And she‘s  like, "But he, he won‘t ask his teacher." I‘m like, "Well then he‘s not going to learn it, and he‘s going to fail the test, and that‘s OK. And if he fails the test, the next time he‘ll learn to go ask the teacher because you‘re not sitting there in school with him during the day. Let him fail. It‘s OK." Failure‘s a beautiful way to learn. Failure is … one of the best gifts that you can give someone. You‘ve got to let, and sometimes, not even like a little failure, actually kind of an epic failure is sometimes a beautiful thing to help people learn that they have got to stand on their own two feet, and they have got to figure out how to be someone who can rely on themselves, and not just keep looking to mom or dad or granddad or whoever to say, help me out. 

[00:25:07] Shelley Emling: Right. And I think it‘s important with my own kids, I‘ve got a couple teenagers and one in his early 20s that I‘ve told … we‘ve been through tough times before. For them it seems like this is the biggest thing that‘s —  and it is huge what we‘ve all been through — but I try to remind them that the country has been through extraordinary, horrible things in the past, and we‘ve gotten through it. So it‘s perspective. 

[00:25:31] Rachel Nobel: Well it‘s not just that we‘ve gotten through it. We‘ve actually got through it and came out stronger. 

[00:25:34] Shelley Emling: Right. 

[00:25:35] Rachel Nobel: We came out better, smarter, more efficient. You know, we actually … it helps. It helps, and it‘s interesting, too, because … historically as a country, I always think of [Hurricane] Katrina. When Katrina happened, there was this reporter that I, there‘s this really great book, this reporter went down to Katrina, post-Katrina, and interviewed people during this devastation, and then went back 10 years later after Katrina and reinterviewed people that she had interviewed during that time. And universally, the people who were children during that time … whether they were young children or teenagers, they all universally had the same story. They said, “That was the best time in my life.”

[00:26:17] Shelley Emling: Wow. 

[00:26:17] Rachel Nobel: She‘s like, yeah, seriously, and she was like “What are you, crazy? The best time in your life? It was destruction and devastation and horrible.” And they‘re like, “Yeah, but everybody was just home. … 

[00:26:28] Shelley Emling: Yes. 

[00:26:29] Rachel Nobel: And we were all just hanging out. And we didn‘t have a thousand things we had to go do every day, and we could just, you know, just all be together.” 

[00:26:36] Shelley Emling: And probably helping each other. 

[00:26:38] Rachel Nobel: Absolutely. And learning about each other in a way that we never did before. You’d be surprised, I‘m thinking of someone I was talking to recently, and she was talking to her son about what does he, like what do you want for your birthday? This was a “what do you want for your birthday” kind of conversation. And he said, “I want more family time.” 

[00:26:56] Shelley Emling: Ah. Yes.

[00:26:59] Rachel Nobel: And, and she‘s saying this, and she looked at him like he had eight heads, ‘cause she‘s like, “We just have been all stuck together during a pandemic, and you want more family time?” And he‘s like, “Yeah. I want more family time.”

[00:27:09] Shelley Emling: That‘s great. That‘s amazing. 

[00:27:11] Rachel Nobel: Yeah … I think that the thing that everybody‘s worried about is, oh my God, my kid‘s falling behind academically, and they‘re never going to get into college, and blah, blah, blah — and it‘s like, you know, all ships rise and fall on the same tide. Colleges know we were all in a pandemic. They know it‘s all going to get shifted, and honestly, it kind of needed a correction ‘cause all that stuff was getting a little nutty. 

[00:27:34] Shelley Emling: Agreed. 

[00:27:36] Rachel Nobel: Yeah. 

[00:27:36] Shelley Emling: OK, so how does one know … if they‘re not doing as well as maybe the mass, the majority of people around them? How does one know when it‘s time to reach out and ask for help from someone else in order to achieve better mental health? I mean, how does one know when they can no longer figure this out on their own, basically? 

[00:27:58] Rachel Nobel: That‘s such a great question. You know, it‘s interesting, ‘cause all these conversations around resilience … we all, especially if we‘re struggling,  we‘re all, we start going looking for answers, right? We‘ll google stuff on resilience and happiness and all this kind of stuff, and we‘ll see all these tips —  do this and do that, and try this and try that, yada, da, da. And we try them, or even just the possibility of trying them makes you feel overwhelmed. Or you‘re … feeling so overwhelmed, or you‘re feeling so low that you don’t even know how to start looking for something like that. Or if you just are not feeling like yourself … you are like, God, I just miss feeling like me. 

One of the things that happens often with people when they start to either get overwhelmed or start to feel really low, is that it happens, it kind of goes incrementally, you kind of slide down that slope slowly, and you don‘t  always see it. But if you take a moment and stop and ask yourself some pretty simple questions, and look at yourself and think to yourself things like: Am I proud of myself? Do I feel like myself? Do I miss feeling like me? Are those around me saying, oh God, you know, honey, you‘re going to have to, yada da, da, da, da. Or worse, they just have kind of given up. You know, those are sort of the bigger things. 

And then the smaller and much more tangible things are: Are you having constant trouble with sleep, either sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, like you just cannot get a good night‘s sleep. Has your appetite changed? Has your motivation … how‘s your motivation? Can you get your laundry done? Can you tackle that pile of dishes? Can you get through your obligations in a day? Or are you just really preoccupied and you kind of can‘t get your head out of that space that‘s just feeling overwhelmed or low or whatever it is. 

If you‘re feeling any of those things, ask for help. There‘s so much help out there for you, especially now — one of the beautiful things that‘s happened from this pandemic is it really opened up that whole telehealth in a way that it was not open before, and I know myself as a therapist, and every therapist I know, we‘re all loving the Zoom. Everybody is, everybody is meeting clients via Zoom; all my psychiatrist buddies are all … having psychiatry visits via telehealth, and so it‘s really opened up that access. You know, you don‘t have to get in the car, you don‘t have to drive to wherever, you don‘t have to … whatever. And so it‘s that availability is really different. 

That‘s the good news — the telehealth. The bad news is that there‘s a lot of waits out there. There‘s a long … you know a lot of people are struggling during this pandemic. I mean to be blunt, suicide rates are up, way up … I think the calls to the national suicide hotlines are up about 1,000 percent more than they were pre-pandemic. 

[00:31:06] Shelley Emling: Oh my God. 

[00:31:07] Rachel Nobel: Yeah, and sales of alcohol and substances are way up — people are hiding from their pains rather than trying to figure out how to deal with them in ways that they did not … you know, it‘s sort of larger rates than they were before. So those are also clues that you need to ask for help. Help is out there for you — it might take it a little longer to get. 

There‘s other resources, too, like talk to … your friends and family that you know will tell you like it is, not the ones that sugarcoat stuff. Seriously. Talk to, if you  are religious, talk to your faith-based emotional leaders out there, because they’re often very helpful. Parents, if you have kids in school, you can reach out to the school counselors. You‘d be surprised … if you’re struggling with your kids at all, even in colleges or even in below college, reach out to the schools’ counselors, and say, “Hey, I just need a little time to talk about how I‘m doing with my kid,” and then usually they can help you — not only give you some good tips on how to handle your kids at home, but also resources for you to reach out to get support. 

So there‘s a lot of avenues out there that aren‘t necessarily just the traditional therapy models. Also if you‘re really struggling with low mood — you can always just reach out — or high anxiety, you could always reach out to your primary care doctor, and they can usually give you resources and/or help if you need medications. 

[00:32:34] Shelley Emling: Well, you just mentioned drinking more, and I have to say that on a personal note, I know many of my friends — I‘m not going to name names, but people are drinking more … this past year. You know, you have a few glasses of wine to take the edge off. It‘s been a stressful time. So I know we did the gratitude exercise earlier. Are there other exercises that we could do instead of reaching for that bottle of wine? Are there other breathing exercises, something else that we could do to be more in control in the evening and to reduce anxiety after a very stressful day? 

[00:33:09] Rachel Nobel: Yeah, sure. So a few things. You mentioned the breathing. The breathing is so powerful. The breathing is … so let me say what it is first and then we‘ll talk about where to use it and when and how. But before, let me take one big step back and go back to the conversation around drinking — especially at night to take the edge off. 

I was talking to someone the other day about decisions. And the power of deciding whatever, and then just owning it. For example, if you decide before you even, we even, we‘re not even up to 12 o‘clock yet. I am going to decide that I will only have two drinks a night. I will not have more than two drinks a night. Make that decision and own it. Period. I‘ve made that decision, that‘s what I‘m going to do. I‘m going to have two drinks, that‘s it. Being more overt about those kinds of things and kind of owning what you do or don‘t do, it‘s powerful. … If you say, oh, I‘m going to try to drink less tonight, you won‘t. (laugh)

[00:34:18] Shelley Emling: That doesn‘t work. 

[00:34:19] Rachel Nobel: Trying doesn‘t work. It … trying is almost like, I hate to quite say it like this, but trying is almost like lying to yourself. It‘s like, well, I‘m trying to drink less. Well, you‘re not. You‘re saying you‘re trying to ...

[00:34:32] Shelley Emling: I completely agree.

[00:34:32] Rachel Nobel: Exactly, trying really is kind of like lying. If you‘re going to do it, do it; and if you‘re not, not. And honestly, if you get to the end of a night and you have two glasses of wine, and that‘s what you‘ve said, OK, I‘m going to have two glasses of wine a night — that‘s it, no more; or, I‘m only going to drink on the weekends, not drink during the weekdays, or whatever your parameters are.  However you know you want to show up and you say this is what I‘m going to do, and you genuinely cannot do it  — wow, is that a sign that you need to reach out for help. 

[00:34:59] Shelley Emling: Exactly. 

[00:35:00] Rachel Nobel: Right? So there‘s that. So there‘s that one. But getting back to the breathing — let‘s just take a second and say there‘s all kinds of things that you can do to be more intentional about how you want to be kind to yourself, good to yourself, and when I say self, I mean physically and psychologically, ‘cause usually at the end of the day when we feel like we need a big old honking drink or eight, to ...

[00:35:22] Shelley Emling: (laugh) OK, let‘s not get carried away. 

[00:35:27] Rachel Nobel: ... go to bed, that‘s usually because we were so unkind to ourselves during the day, or the world was so unkind to us in one way or another, that we feel like we have to escape and we have to get out of it and leave it in some way, and that‘s what drinking does, right? You leave it all. So the challenge is — or the opportunity is to figure out how to be more intentional about how you‘re going to be kind to yourself throughout the day, so that when you get to the end of the day, you don‘t have to go hide from the world. That can include things as simple as throughout the day, like once an hour, take a second, put all your stuff away, shut down your computer, walk away from your tasks and give yourself a little bit of a break; physical, mental break. Go step outside. About once an hour, take a minute and breathe, just a good breath in, just (inhale) (exhale), let it out. Roll your shoulders back, feel proud. Remember proud? You know, sit up tall, feel strong. Feel proud. Take a proud moment and breathe in and breathe out. 

That simple breath, that proud moment, shoulders back, head up, feel it proud, feel proud, breathe in, breathe out. That takes less than 30 seconds, and if you did that on the hour every hour, for example, you‘d be surprised at how much when you do that, you breathe in and then blow out, how much that helps you let go of stress, let go of stressors and frustrations and kind of come back to your tasks more purposeful.

There‘s breathing exercises — and anyone can google breathing exercises and see what you find. Take breaks. Hydrate. You‘d be surprised. A lot of people walk around kind of dehydrated all the time. We need about nine to 13 or more cups of water a day. I’ve heard somewhere recently, somebody was talking about like a gallon of water a day, but certainly more than you’re probably used to drinking. It doesn‘t just help your body, you‘d be surprised, it really helps your mood, too. When you‘re anxious — especially if you‘re one of those worriers and you‘re just like, oh, I‘ve got to do this and I‘ve got to do that, and I‘m not going to have time — if you‘re one of those people, when you have anxious moments, your brain releases anxiety chemicals, and the chemicals go bouncing around and they get you all wound up. The other thing that‘s happening in your brain is you have these cool little sponges, and they move around, and they mop up those anxiety chemicals, and that‘s how you calm back down. So your brain will kind of like hopefully stop releasing so many of those chemicals, but then the sponges have to come in and mop up the mess. 

When you are hydrated, when you‘re well hydrated, it helps those sponges move around and do what they need to do to clean up those anxiety chemicals. And so that‘s a really … you‘d be surprised, the hydration doesn‘t just help your body, but it really helps your mood, too. 

[00:38:18] Shelley Emling: Wow, that‘s interesting. That is really interesting. 

[00:38:20] Rachel Nobel: Yeah. 

[00:38:21] Shelley Emling: We‘re about to run out of time, but I‘m curious … as an expert in mental health, and especially women‘s wellness, I just wonder what‘s your favorite part about your job? 

[00:38:32] Rachel Nobel: Oh my God, are you kidding me? I have ... it‘s funny you say that. People who know me in my world, they know, like oh gosh. I have the best job in the world. I have the best job on the face of the earth. I often will … ’cause these days I Zoom with almost everybody, but whether I hang up or I close the door after a client leaves, I often will do what I call a happy dance. And they know I‘m going to do a happy dance, and they‘re like, “You‘re going to do a happy dance.” I‘m like, “Yeah, I‘m going to do a happy dance today.” 

Because what I do — with the gift of having good mental health, the gift of working with someone to help you get to that place where you are trying to be — really what my job is, is I help people build the life that they want. Sometimes it‘s giving them their life back because of one reason or another it feels like it‘s been taken away from them, so they can take ownership back over their life again and over their existence, but then purposefully build the life that they want to have and be proud of every step along the way. 

That is … I can‘t think of anything better to do with my day, my life, my existence than to get the opportunity to do that with people, to be on that journey and help people become the people that they want to be. And it does give me a happy dance, and almost once, at least once a day I‘ll say to myself or I‘ll say out loud to someone I know, “I have the best job in the world,” ‘cause I really do. 

[00:40:01] Shelley Emling: It sounds like you do. I‘m so happy for you. 

[00:40:03] Rachel Nobel: I really do. 

[00:40:04] Shelley Emling: Well, thank you so much. So focusing, as we‘ve heard, focusing on your emotional well-being and health should be a top priority for us all, and AARP‘s Staying Sharp is AARP‘s award-winning, online brain health program, and it‘s included with AARP membership. All you have to do is activate it and you‘ll get access to brain health challenges, recipes, fun games, exercise videos, and so, so, so much more. So check it out at I‘d also like to say, please follow The Girlfriend on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to our free, weekly newsletter at for all the best in beauty, health, sex and life advice. 

Thank you to Rachel Nobel for joining us, and thanks to everybody for listening today. Thank you so much, Rachel. I truly appreciate it. 

[00:40:55] Rachel Nobel: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you so much, and thank you to everyone for giving me some time today, I really appreciate it. Have a great day. 

[00:41:01] Shelley Emling: Thank you, everyone. 

[00:41:02] Rachel Nobel: Bye-bye. 



The Schedule

AARP Members Only Access is offering The Girlfriend: In Conversation episodes for a limited time. Find available episodes below or on our main The Girlfriend: In Conversation page, where you can learn more about the series. 


July 29: Rachel Noble on Resilience

Aug. 5: Jessica Nabongo on Where to Find the Best Travel Deals

Aug. 12: Nikki Boyd on Easy Ways to Update Your Space

Aug. 19: Jean Chatzky on Getting Your Finances Back on Track

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