The Best Way to Get Through a Tough Day

Whenever I had a really demanding day at work, my instinct was always to power through it.  Other than a quick bite at my desk for lunch I never took any breaks and I certainly didn’t waste time chitchatting with my colleagues.Little did I know that I had it all wrong.  According to research—yes, there is research about this kind of thing—taking breaks makes your more productive, not less.Of course, not any old break will do. What you do and when you do it matters.Here is a guide to truly restful, restorative and resilience-building downtime.

1. What are you waiting for?

Instead of holding off until the afternoon to take a break, research shows that taking frequent short breaks earlier in the day is a smarter way to restore mental and physical energy.

2. Unplug

Don’t use breaks to check personal email, browse the internet, read the newspaper, or do anything that demands mental energy. Even though these activities are not technically “work” they are draining the very same cognitive resources you use when you are working.

3. Get social

Recharge your battery by chatting with friends and colleagues during a break. According to research, engaging in face-to-face social interactions is more effective at reducing emotional exhaustion than looking at your smart phone.

4. Take a walk

As tempting as it may be to sit back and watch funny cat videos at your desk during a break, you will get a greater energy boost from taking a walk around the block.

5. Make it mindful

Take advantage of the “in-between” moments—the walk to the conference room, while waiting on line for coffee, the time before a presentation begins—to practice mindfulness and be present. Don’t succumb to the temptation to reach for your phone.

6. Meditate

A 10 to 20-minute meditation can work wonders to reduce stress and replenish mental reserves. There are a bunch of great apps out there—I love Headspace.

When Hanger Hurts Your Heart: The Link Between Hunger, Anger & Relationships

Everyone knows that going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is a no-no — you’ll make rash, bad decisions. Research reveals another activity to avoid if you are hungry: arguing with your partner. Indeed, being hungry and angry – hangry – at the same time is never a good combination. New research explains why: lower levels of blood sugar may make people angrier with their significant other and more likely to lash out.The study was not your garden-variety lab research study—it involved voodoo dolls, pins and loud horns. There were 107 couples in the study and each person was given 51 pins and a voodoo doll that represented his/her spouse. Their blood sugar was measured twice a day for the 21 days the experiment lasted. At the end of each day, they were asked to insert pins into the dolls expressing their anger. The lower the glucose levels, the more pins they inserted. Strikingly, even couples that reported having a good relationship were more likely to insert pins into their dolls if they were hungry.Being hungry didn’t just cause partners to express anger at a doll. Another phase of the study demonstrated that people who had lower levels of glucose were more willing to blast their spouses with the horns for a longer period of time than those who weren’t hungry.Bottom line: Avoid arguing on an empty stomach, and broach touchy subjects during or after a meal, not before.Brad Bushman, the lead author on the study, took the results to heart:
I’ve learned that I should eat a protein bar when I talk to my wife.
As with most things in life, timing is everything.

How Men Think About Their Own Bodies

Just as heart disease and alcoholism were once thought of primarily as men’s diseases, eating disorders such as anorexia and binge eating disorder, addictive food behavior and distorted body image have mistakenly been labeled as women’s issues. In the past, men did not experience the same social pressure as women to be body-conscious, so they were less likely to develop an obsession with their size or shape. These days, however, with more male actors and models, athletes and trainers in the media spotlight, men’s attitudes about their health, fitness and appearance have improved. As an unintended side effect, however, men are also as more likely feel pressured to live up to unrealistic standards of an ideal body type.A national study released earlier this year by Chapman University psychologists found that some degree of body dissatisfaction is experienced by up to 40 percent of men, and that most are concerned about being judged on physical appearance and about being compared to other men in social situations. The psychologists reviewed the results of five large-scale studies that recorded men’s attitudes toward their own bodies and also compared reports from heterosexual and homosexual men. The total number of study participants from all five studies totaled 111,958 heterosexual men and 4,398 homosexual men, with an average age range of 35 to 50.A greater percentage of homosexual men reported higher body dissatisfaction, felt more pressure to be attractive, felt more strongly they were judged on their appearance, and were more likely to avoid sexual contact because of their own negative feelings about their bodies. Obese men of both preferences were most likely to report negative feelings about their bodies, while men who were classified as either normal weight or overweight were more satisfied with their appearance.Approximately half the overweight adults in the U.S. are men and up to one-quarter (25 percent) of people diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia are thought to be men. Men often respond to the same social pressure to be fit from peers and media as women, and they have many of the same emotional issues that can lead to disordered eating. They’re less likely to think about their weight and more likely to think about their size and shape. Men are more likely to over-exercise to build muscle than to purge or go on a diet to lose weight, which can sometimes make them appear healthier than they actually are. A man’s physical strength and physique may be covering up psychological turmoil and feelings of vulnerability.One of the more significant differences between heterosexual and homosexual men reported by the Chapman study was in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery. Homosexual men were more than twice as likely as heterosexual men to be interested surgery, three times as likely to consider surgery, and seven times as likely to have undergone some form of cosmetic surgery. Overall, however, the Chapman study found that the majority of all men felt “okay” or “good” about their face, their weight, their muscle size, their muscle tone, their overall attractiveness, and how they look in a bathing, Susan McQuillan twitter_profiles facebook_profile How Men Feel About Their Bodies© Susan McQuillan

Change is Possible: A Simple Strategy to Build Resilience

Conventional wisdom holds that people don’t really change.  We typecast others and ourselves.  “She is an anxious person.” “He is such a grouch.” “I am naturally lazy.” The problem with this rigid belief system is that it is self-fulfilling. The moment you label yourself as lazy, you give yourself permission to slack off.  Similarly, if you assume your co-worker is anxiety-ridden, you will interpret any ambiguous behavior as further evidence that she is a worrywart.As tempting as it is to put ourselves and others into boxes, research suggests that the opposite —believing that change is possible — is the key. According to a 2014 study, ninth graders who read information about how people and the brain are capable of change were less likely to develop depression than students who were not educated about how personality is flexible. It was a low-cost, one-time intervention that had lasting results.David Scott Yeager, the lead researcher, highlights the impact of this simple exercise:
We were amazed that a brief exposure to the message that people can change, during a key transition — the first few weeks of high school — could prevent increases in symptoms of depression.
American industrialist Henry Ford said it best:
Whether you think you can change, or you think you can't change, you're right.

Dessert, Reimagined

“Would you like to see the dessert menu?”At once the most blissful and stressful words. For anyone trying to eat healthy, this seemingly innocent query can seem like an absurd question and a downright hostile provocation. Of course you would like to see the dessert menu and to inhale the chocolate mousse, but as someone who cares about health, you grit your teeth and order a tea instead. Or not…Truth be told, dessert is extremely hard to resist, even for those with a great deal of self-control, when everyone else at the table is indulging. Research shows that we make similar choices to the people we dine with. If all of your friends are ordering cheesecake, odds are you will too, or at least take a bite.The good news is that not all desserts created are equally bad for you. Thanks to new research from Harvard’s School of Public Health, there is a delicious option that doesn’t undermine your health — a tempting trio of fruit, nuts and dark chocolate eaten together. Motivated by his own sweet tooth, nutrition scientist Walter Willett was on a mission to create a smart dessert without all the added sugar, refined flour and unhealthy fat. Based on his research he concocted a “better” dessert that skips the unhealthy stuff, is tasty and combines what he calls The Three Pleasures:


A refreshing and naturally sweet option that brings a burst of color to the plate. Dried fruits can also work well.


Along with a satisfying crunch and a variety of flavors, nuts are a great source of healthy fat and protein.

Dark chocolate

Depending on the brand and cocoa percentage, dark chocolate offers a wide range of complex and delightful flavors. Remember that the higher the cocoa percentage, the less sweet it will be — 70% or higher is a nice complement to the sweetness of the fruit!Next time you’re out, look for this trio or ask the chef to prepare a dessert with The Three Pleasures in mind. Willett hopes that if the public gets involved on a mass scale, this request will challenge chefs everywhere to harness their creativity and redesign dessert.At last, you can have your dessert and eat it, too.


When Willpower Isn’t Enough

How can you get yourself to do things you really don’t feel like doing but really should do? University of Pennsylvania professor Katherine Milkman has developed an ingenious strategy to solve this conundrum: temptation bundling. Temptation bundling is the coupling of two activities—one you should do but avoid, and one you love doing but feel guilty about.It’s about combining “want” experiences (listening to an un-put-downable audio book or binge watching Narcos) with a valuable “should” experience (cleaning the house, exercising, writing thank-you letters). Dr. Milkman personally discovered the benefits of temptation bundling a few years ago when she was having trouble making it to the gym on a regular basis. Her solution was to allow herself to listen to Hunger Game audio books only while exercising. She ended up at the gym five days a week.Here is how it can work for you:
  1. Think about activities you should get do but put off. Exercise, studying, working on a special project, having dinner with a relative you are not particularly fond of, etc.
  1. Make a list of your guilty pleasures: Watching Narcos, reading Us Weekly, listening to your favorite music, eating your favorite food, etc.
  1. Now pair them.
As Milkman explains:
So what if you let yourself get a pedicure while catching up on overdue emails for work? Or what if you only let yourself listen to your favorite CDs while catching up on household chores. Or only let yourself go to your favorite restaurant whose hamburgers you crave while spending time with a difficult relative you should see more of.
Temptation bundling can be especially effective when trying to jumpstart a positive new habit and make it just a little less painful. Combining a guilty pleasure with an unappealing activity is a win-win strategy.So go ahead and watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Just make sure you do it at the gym.

Is it Better to be Kind than Nice?

John Templeton famously said:
It’s be nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.
Science backs this up. Nice people live longer, they are happier and they are less stressed. Adam Grant, professor of management at The Wharton School of Business and author of best selling Give and Take, persuasively argues that doing things for others may even be the key to success.That said, being “too nice” isn’t good either. Those who never say no and who always give at their own expense run the risk of becoming doormats. People take advantage of them and the cliché “nice guys finish last” becomes a reality.Robert Brooks, internationally recognized psychologist writes a monthly article on themes of resilience and motivation. He addresses the conundrum of being too nice and offers a great solution:
An article “Why I Quit Being Nice” by Allison Vesterfelt…captured the seeming downside on kind behavior. She came to the realization that being “nice” prevented her from offering her opinion about things for fear of being rude, that it kept her from engaging others for fear that “I was going to hurt someone, or offend someone, or mess everything up.”In taking steps to deal with these anxieties, Vesterfelt found that using the word “kind” instead of “nice” was helpful. “I care about people, and want them to feel loved, noticed, and important. But ‘niceness’ as I defined it all those years was actually getting in the way of what I was trying to accomplish. Sometimes niceness isn’t very kind at all. For some, the words might be interchangeable. But for me, it helps to make a distinction.”
I love this distinction. There is a big difference between being nice and being kind. Kindness wins every time. Allison Vesterfelt says it best:

Niceness stays quiet. Kindness speaks up.

Niceness is toxic. Kindness is healing.

Niceness lies to keep the peace. Kindness knows the only way to make peace is to tell the truth.

Niceness holds back. Kindness moves forward with humility, gentleness and grace.

Be kind.

What Is The Ultimate Luxury?

The best things in life aren’t things.

-Art Buchwald

While nice things may be nice, the relentless pursuit of material goods leaves people feeling empty. More money, a faster car, a brand new dress and a bigger house don’t bring happiness. What is striking is how bad most of us are at predicting what will.The offices of Park Avenue psychiatrists are filled with people who have “everything” but feel empty inside. Philosophers and religious teachers have known this forever and research confirms it. Study after study shows that materialism is bad for wellbeing. It actually undermines happiness.The good news is that there are proven strategies to reduce materialism. In one study, a group of adolescents were asked to participate in three sessions where they learned about consumer culture. Then they were asked to think about what they value most in life such as friendship, family, giving back to the community and connections. The adolescents became less materialistic, showed greater self-esteem and were more content than those who didn’t participate in the sessions.By focusing on what was intrinsically meaningful to them, they gained perspective and were able to distance themselves from the “more is more” rat race. As the researcher commented:Intrinsic goals tend to be the ones that promote greater well-being and act as a kind of ‘antidote’ to materialistic values.In other words, when people live their lives in concert with their values, they are inoculated against the unyielding lure of luxury.Arthur Brooks says it best:

Love people, not pleasure.

Read My Mind: Do You Ever Really Know What Someone Else is Thinking?

I love this speech and cannot resist sharing it with you. It is the remarks that Joe Biden gave to the graduating class at Yale in 2015. He tells a powerful story of how our beliefs can mislead us. What a heartening message of humility and humanity. Never again will I make the assumption that I know what someone else is thinking:"There’s no silver bullet, no single formula, no reductive list. But they all seem to understand that happiness and success result from an accumulation of thousands of little things built on character, all of which have certain common features in my observation.First, the most successful and happiest people I’ve known understand that a good life at its core is about being personal. It’s about being engaged. It’s about being there for a friend or a colleague when they're injured or in an accident, remembering the birthdays, congratulating them on their marriage, celebrating the birth of their child. It’s about being available to them when they're going through personal loss. It’s about loving someone more than yourself. It all seems to get down to being personal.That's the stuff that fosters relationships. It’s the only way to breed trust in everything you do in your life.Let me give you an example. After only four months in the United States Senate, as a 30-year-old kid, I was walking through the Senate floor to go to a meeting with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. And I witnessed another newly elected senator, the extremely conservative Jesse Helms, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole for promoting the precursor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But I had to see the Leader, so I kept walking.When I walked into Mansfield’s office, I must have looked as angry as I was. He was in his late ‘70s, lived to be 100. And he looked at me, he said, what’s bothering you, Joe?I said, that guy, Helms, he has no social redeeming value. He doesn't care -- I really mean it -- I was angry. He doesn't care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled.Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me. He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe.I felt like a fool. He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don't know his motives.It happened early in my career fortunately.From that moment on, I tried to look past the caricatures of my colleagues and try to see the whole person. Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive. And something started to change. If you notice, every time there’s a crisis in the Congress the last eight years, I get sent to the Hill to deal with it. It’s because every one of those men and women up there -- whether they like me or not -- know that I don't judge them for what I think they're thinking.Because when you question a man’s motive, when you say they're acting out of greed, they're in the pocket of an interest group, et cetera, it’s awful hard to reach consensus. It’s awful hard having to reach across the table and shake hands. No matter how bitterly you disagree, though, it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive."--Remarks by the Vice President at Yale University Class Day, 2015 


Dr. Elisa Port

Mother, Wife, Surgeon