A Psychiatrist Weighs In: Can A Good Outfit Affect Your Mental Health?

Photo courtesy of Positive Prescription.
For many women, the pursuit of looking good feels like an indulgence — and most of the time, in the bad kind of way. But, New York-based psychiatrist Samantha Boardman disagrees: "A piece of clothing can help you feel strong and beautiful, even on the worst day. I really think that [clothes are] a positive intervention for people."
If that's a feel-good thought for you, it's no accident. Dr. Boardman has built her career on focusing on the good stuff. Her practice, Positive Prescription, encourages people to consider that building on what's already strong is just as important as fixing what's wrong. "You might have a mental illness, you might have depression, you might have anxiety, but it doesn't define you. It doesn't necessarily have to be your identity," Dr. Boardman tells us during the latest episode of UnStyled. Small gestures of self-care — what Dr. Boardman calls "fortifying" — aren't just fun, but they're necessary. How you take care of yourself, whether it's picking out your outfit, applying a pretty shade of red lipstick, or going to the gym — those things are integral to your mental health.

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Tune in to the full episode below to hear more tips on how you can practice positive psychology yourself. Join Christene Barberich, global editor-in-chief and cofounder of Refinery29, for the full playlist of season one of UnStyled, all on iTunes, and see more of Dr. Boardman's interview, right here.

You can wear a piece of clothing that can help you feel strong.

There is an inordinate amount of pressure on young women to be successful, creative, beautiful, and desirable to a partner. In your profession, how do you guide them in having more perspective about how to manage these pressures?
"I'd say number one is to fortify themselves. I think young women are really bad at taking care of themselves. They're good at taking care of other people. But basic stuff — the I'll-sleep-when-I'm-dead mentality, you know. They're the first person in the office and last one to leave. Like how much sleep are you getting and how are you eating? These were things I never learned in medical school. That type of thing really can affect your mental health, and your ability to concentrate and your mood. What you need is to fortify yourself. Eating as well as you can, exercising. Are you staying up late checking Instagram, or using [technology] to help you stay stronger?"
You and I had some really beautiful shared appreciation around how person style can really enhance your mood. It can enhance your perception of yourself, how you project yourself in certain situations.
"There's been interesting studies with people who were asked to wear a white coat, and then given a multiple choice questionnaire of some math problems. Those who had the white coat on and knew it was a doctor's coat were much more likely to be more focused than those who weren't wearing a white coat. It shaped their behavior in ways that people who didn't wear the white coat didn't.
"We have this false notion that, 'I am who I am.' But I think around clothing, there are always these opportunities to expand ourselves and take advantage of the fact that our identities are so fluid. Clothing can actually be this sort of positive intervention that can help us get unstuck from this fixed sense of identify that isn't necessarily true."
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