Leadership & Executive Communication , Training & Security Leadership , Video

Building Mental Resilience: A CISO's Journey

Kinly CISO Don Gibson on Dealing With Anxiety and Burnout in a High-Stress Job
Don Gibson, CISO, Kinly, and CyberEdBoard member

Cybersecurity professionals are driven to make the world a safer place. But this often comes at a personal cost, as CISO Don Gibson discovered. At the age of 44, the price of stress and long hours was unexpected heart surgery. “How you adapt to change can really help you going forward," he said.

See Also: How to Strengthen Your Organisation's Last Line of Defense: Your Human Firewall

Gibson, who is a member of the CyberEdBoard, emphasized the importance of identifying signs of burnout early to prevent detrimental consequences. Whether it's a shift in appearance, a regression in habits, or noticeable changes in mood and communication, these external signs often indicate a negative response to stress responses.

“Personally, my experience of burning out was marked by a constant state of anxiety … waking up with adrenaline already flowing … It's like having a cloud of doom following you around, expecting something to go wrong,” he said.

Gibson said that recognizing physical and mental cues, such as "phantom pains" and vivid stress-related dreams, helped him understand that he needed to take a step back and make his well-being a priority.

His key message to cybersecurity leaders is that the idea of a leader being indispensable is a fallacy. "If you're senior in cybersecurity and you're irreplaceable, then you have failed. You have to have a team behind you that knows what to do and can pick up the pieces if you're not around and carry on," he said.

"It's fine to love your job, but it needs to be in a manner that is attainable or in a way that you can balance it," he said.

In a video interview with Information Security Media Group, Gibson discussed:

  • Challenges he faced during and after leading a ransomware incident response;
  • Why cybersecurity professionals need to prioritize their well-being;
  • Strategies for building mental resilience in high-stress environments.

Gibson creates pragmatic security programs, molding strong, diverse and resilient teams and functions that work with the business and help deliver business objectives. He is an advocate for cyber mental health.

About the Author

Anna Delaney

Anna Delaney

Director, Productions, ISMG

An experienced broadcast journalist, Delaney conducts interviews with senior cybersecurity leaders around the world. Previously, she was editor-in-chief of the website for The European Information Security Summit, or TEISS. Earlier, she worked at Levant TV and Resonance FM and served as a researcher at the BBC and ITV in their documentary and factual TV departments.

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