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Women In Wellness: Dr Alice Domar On the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

There is competition everywhere. Between colleagues, even if they are good friends, between siblings and other family members, between neighbors and friends. It took me a long time to understand this, especially with my co-workers.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Alice Domar.

Dr. Alice Domar is the Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and a pioneer in the application of mind/body medicine to women’s health issues. She established the first Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health in the country.

Dr. Domar conducts ongoing ground-breaking research that focuses on the relationship between stress and different women’s health conditions — and actively creates innovative programs that help women to decrease the physical and psychological symptoms associated with infertility. She has conducted research on infertility, breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, ovarian cancer, and premenstrual syndrome — and has earned an international reputation as one of the country’s top women’s health experts.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I am the child of European immigrants, both of whom came to the U.S. in their early 20’s and both received their education here. My mom was a social worker, and my dad was an economics professor at MIT. I like to think I am a combo of the therapist from my mom and the scientist from my dad. I have always been fascinated by medicine; not so interested in the physiology, but more the psychology of illness. I earned a Ph.D. in health psychology, majoring in OB/GYN and because my parents struggled to conceive both my sister and me, I was fascinated by the mind/body connection in infertility and have dedicated my career to understanding the stress and infertility connection.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

I treated a patient who had been experiencing infertility for years and had gone through every treatment possible. Although she was young, her egg quality was poor and thus she didn’t make healthy-looking or normal embryos. I started seeing her for weekly counseling because she was very depressed and anxious; she was also facing huge family challenges. As time went on, she became far less distressed. She had only two embryos left, and it was her last chance. Her physician told me that he was only allowing her to do a treatment cycle so that I wouldn’t get mad at him and guess what? She completed the cycle, conceived twins, and now has two perfect babies. She took a picture of me holding the twins when they were about four months old, and I have it taped to my computer, so I see it constantly and it gives me hope for every patient I see. So, the takeaway? Miracles happen, and it is a tiny bit of evidence (or actually two tiny bits of evidence) that stress relief can increase fertility. That is one reason why I am supporting FertilityOutLoud.com, where patients can seek help from a fertility specialist, find out information about costs and insurance coverage, and get advice from a community of others who are struggling with infertility. FertilityOutLoud.com also just launched new resources for the holiday season for patients and their loved ones on how to deal with insensitive comments from friends and family surrounding fertility.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career a woman called me and told me that she had just been diagnosed with early-stage uterine cancer and had been advised to undergo a hysterectomy, but that she didn’t want surgery and wanted to come see me to help her “meditate her cancer away”. I knew that a hysterectomy would likely cure her of her cancer and told her that I couldn’t support her in her quest to take an alternative approach to treatment, so I couldn’t see her as a patient. But later I realized that she surely found someone who agreed to help her use meditation or some other alternative approach, and that not having a hysterectomy likely allowed the cancer to spread to the point where surgery couldn’t cure her. In hindsight, I wish I had agreed to treat her to explore why she was so afraid of the surgery and hopefully teach her the stress management skills so that with my support, she would have considered surgery.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

When my dad, the economist, heard that I was going to have a career determining if stress relief would increase pregnancy rates, he said that I would be doing the world a lot more good if I could figure out a way to prevent unplanned pregnancy, not trying to help people get pregnant. However, I stuck by my goal of helping patients who were diagnosed with infertility get the emotional support, stress management skills, lifestyle advice, and counseling which could increase their chance of conceiving. I have worked directly with thousands of patients (and thus far there are nine babies named Ali after me, plus one dog), and indirectly tens of thousands more from the professional trainings I do and the books I have written. All the research I have done has shown the same thing women who participate in a mind/body-based intervention experience pregnancy rates anywhere from two to four times the rate of women who do not participate. I am helping to spread the knowledge that infertility is a disease and there are incredible resources available, like Fertility Out Loud which may contribute to better physical and emotional health and potentially cause higher pregnancy rates as a result. I encourage anyone struggling on this journey to visit Fertility Out Loud for more resources and tips to support their mental health, specifically as we prepare to gather with loved ones this holiday season who may in fact ask those well-meaning questions about your fertility. For those looking to join a community, Fertility Out Loud is on Instagram and Facebook as well.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Stop treating food as your enemy. There are no “bad” foods. Since we all seem to experience the “what the hell effect” (you don’t allow yourself to eat anything sweet for days, then give in to temptation and eat a cookie, and then since you have already broken your diet, you say what the hell to yourself, and eat a bag of cookies). This is why we teach the 80/20 plan. If 80% of what you eat is the good stuff (fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meat and fish, a more plant-based diet), then the other 20% can be what you crave. So, the cookie is your 20%; not feeling guilty about it and not forbidding favorite foods will likely allow you to not eat the whole bag.

Think of exercise in a different way. Exercise should not be a punishment for eating something “bad” or used to allow yourself to eat something “bad”. Instead, I encourage you to think of exercise as the best possible way to decrease stress and improve your overall health. Walking is the best form of exercise. I keep a pair of sneakers in my office and drag patients for therapy sessions while walking to show them how good they can feel after exercise.

Allow yourself to self-nurture without guilt. Women tend to really struggle with this. We feel guilty doing anything for ourselves and then feel resentment when others don’t take care of us. Every morning, when you wake up, think of one nice thing you can do for yourself that day. Without guilt. I was on a book tour years ago and woke up in Los Angeles. I realized that I was a couple of blocks away from their farmer’s market (I lived in LA as a kid and loved going there). It was January and it occurred to me that there would be fresh fruit there, so I planned which kind of fruit I would buy, and I bought a box of blackberries and ate every single one.

Goof off. Guilt free. We can’t be thinking and doing and looking at devices all day. Read a juicy novel (my patients loved the Shades of Grey series), watch something you love on TV, or listen to your favorite music and dance — I recommend U2.

Hang out with friends. Social support is crucial to our mental and physical health. COVID-19 has had an awful impact on people’s abilities to see friends and connect with others. The definition of social support is trusting someone enough to confide in them. People who are lonely are as likely to die prematurely, as do people who smoke. Prioritize time with friends on the same level as taking care of others.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

That’s exactly it — movement! Exercise is the single best thing one can do for their health. It is effective in treating/preventing depression and anxiety, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, etc. If any of us could invent a pill which does everything that exercise does, and if that pill was basically free and had no side effects, we would be richer than Bill Gates.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Not everyone will support you. Even mentors can be competitive.

People will say bad things about you and all you can do is stay true to your morals and ethics. Always be honest and do the right thing. Be nice.

You can’t be perfect in everything you do. Choose what is important to you and let some other things slide. I prioritize my kids, my husband, and my job. The house? Not so much. Clothing/fashion? Nope.

Moms who work outside the home and stay at home moms don’t always see eye to eye. I still don’t understand the competition/hostility between the two camps, but I feel proud that I have good friends from both, however that doesn’t mean I haven’t been painfully ignored at many soccer and softball games.

There is competition everywhere. Between colleagues, even if they are good friends, between siblings and other family members, between neighbors and friends. It took me a long time to understand this, especially with my co-workers.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental health is my number one concern. As a psychologist, I have seen a dramatic increase in the need for counseling across all sectors of humanity increasingly since the pandemic started. Our calls have tripled since then. Depression and anxiety are their own epidemic now.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Good question! I am not much of a social media person; hard to be as a mental health professional. I have a website www.dralicedomar.com which my older daughter is helping me update! I’ve also partnered with Fertility Out Loud to share some tips related to the connection between mental health and infertility on Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

My pleasure!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.