Samantha Boardman is the absolute chicest. I say that because not only is she fabulously dressed, but because she’s also fabulously educated and informed. A born and bred Upper East Sider, she avoided becoming merely a lady who lunches in favor of a psychiatrist who scrutinizes. (Though, she does the occasional lunch too. I’ve been to them. They’re divine.) With already one MD degree and a job as a psychiatrist at Cornell Medical College, this year she received another master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. All that, and a closet full of Giambattista Valli. Recently, she launched a website called PositivePrescription.com, which is a wonderful resource for those of us intrigued and inspired by scientific breakthroughs. We sat down to talk about mental health (which is, as I discovered, much different than mental illness) and all the cool things that she is packing into her new site.
Samantha Boardman and her husband Aby Rosen in St. Barth’s and, below, the homepage of her new website.
Let’s start with how you came up with this site. When did the idea come to you, why did you think it was important to spread the good word on mental issues?
As a psychiatrist, I used to spend the majority of my time focusing on mental illness. But in recent years, I have become increasingly interested in mental health.
Oh, I’ve never heard someone make that distinction. That’s interesting.
I care about the simple tweaks and changes that can make a big difference and PositivePrescription.com is a way for me to share information that may be of interest or relevant to those who care about their well-being. It’s so easy to get lost in our crazy, busy lives that we literally forget to look up. I think of PositivePrescription.com as a “To Remind” card to slow down and to reconnect with the things that matter. There are fascinating studies in science journals about behavior that is directly relevant to our lives but they’re accumulating dust on the shelves of a library. Unless you are an avid reader of The Scientific American Mind, chances are you might miss them.
I like that. I like knowing I’ve got someone scanning the science glossies on my behalf. And don’t worry: I’m reading UsWeekly for you.
Many of the posts on my site are based on these studies and why they matter. I am especially interested in the way psychology, fashion, appearance and style collide, so there are a lot of posts on that type of thing. How we choose to present ourselves to the world is the most intimate form of self-expression and as studies illustrate, how we dress really does affect the way we feel. And as tempting as it is, I promise to resist my inner nerd impulse to share algorithms or boring data.
Talk to me about being a psychiatrist. What drew you to that field?
My favorite part of medical school was getting to know patients and listening to their stories. It’s one of the reasons I chose to specialize in Psychiatry. Psychiatry, however, focuses mostly on mental illness and on what’s wrong with someone. I felt like I was missing an important piece of the puzzle—an approach predicated on mental health. I then learned about the field of Positive Psychology, which focuses on human strengths and well-being. I spent this past year getting a masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
What I love about some of the observations that you’ve passed on to me is that while they’re medically involved, they’re interesting to someone outside your professional community. Like that study you sent me that found that dudes who carry guitars getting more numbers from ladies than dudes who didn’t. Can you recall any other studies like that which have such a broad appeal?
Like the one about how wearing certain colors impacts the way we feel? That study found that red boosts confidence and blue has a calming effect. Or the one about how posture affects stress levels and helps put things in perspective? My favorite: Staring down at your cellphone can give you what plastic surgeons call “Smartphone Face.” It isn’t pretty!
What’s a particular case that has blown your mind?
I love the one about how volunteering or doing things for others expands our sense of time, which you can read here. Who knew that by giving away time we actually gain time?
I love that. Sometimes, working in fashion, I think I’m a part time shrink myself. Are there any tips or suggestions you have for someone who works in a stressful environment?
If you work in a stressful environment, make sure you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day. Shape your job around your talents and implement ways to use your strengths on the job. This is an important predictor of health and well being in the long run.
As a friend, you’ve given me some fabulous advice when faced with a crisis. (I guess I’m considered your pro bono work.) Is there one piece of advice you find that you are giving people often?
Excellent question. “We all admire the wisdom of those who come to us for advice” is one of my favorite quotations. I would say that the single most important thing to keep in mind is that other people matter. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing one’s own well-being. On the contrary, it is predicated on taking care of oneself. Well-being is a verb. Don’t wait for weekends or vacations. Be actively engaged in taking care of yourself every single day. It’s the little things that can make a big difference.
Samantha with the artist Francesco Vezzoli and, below, her friend and the iconic writer Bob Colacello.