Don\'t Worry Be Happy

Don't Worry Be Happy

Alice Domar tells women how to escape "the perfectionist trap"

By Barbara Walsh | Photos by Mary Schwalm '99

alice domar
Alice Domar ’80 speaks to a group of health professionals at the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham, Mass.

That message is the focus of Domar’s new book: Be Happy Without Being Perfect: How to Break Free from the Perfection Deception. Cowritten with journalist Alice Lesch Kelly and released in March, the book has attracted international attention. Dozens of radio and TV shows, magazines, and newspapers around the globe have interviewed Domar about how women can escape the “perfectionist trap.”

“This,” Domar said, “is the busiest I’ve ever been in my career. It’s been a little zooey.”

At 50, Domar is no stranger to success and celebrity. Considered an international expert on women’s health issues, she is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. At her Waltham, Mass., clinic, patients are treated for infertility, cancer, eating disorders, anxiety, and stress. Or as her youngest daughter, Katie, explains: “When people are sad, they see Mommy, and she makes them happy.”

Domar has published three other books in the past 12 years: Healing Mind, Healthy Woman; Conquering Infertility; and the bestseller Self-Nurture. Her goal in publishing her recent book is to help women “lighten up and enjoy life more.” She offers techniques on relaxation, deep breathing, prioritizing, and cognitive thinking—altering thoughts from negative to positive.

“The whole mind-body connection is Ali’s specialty,” said Elizabeth Browning, founder of LLuminari, a network of health and wellness experts. “Ali has helped millions of women through her books and speaking engagements that have taken her all over the world.”

Healing patients has been a lifelong passion for Domar, who, she recalls, proclaimed as a 13-year old candy striper: “I want to be a doctor.”

The daughter of a social worker and an MIT economics professor, Domar learned as a child to be both empathetic and academic. “My mother was a giver,” Domar said. “She was loving, kind, and generous, and worked so hard for her patients. She gave me the empathetic part of what I do.”
Domar’s father taught her that science and research also play an important role in medicine. Her parents’ influence prepared Domar for her years at Colby, where she was advised by psychology Professor Edward Yeterian, a neuroscientist and now vice president of academic affairs. Domar said Yeterian was and is her mentor. “I owe my career to Ed Yeterian,” she said.

Yeterian introduced her to the new field of health psychology, Domar remembered. “That became my dream.”

In the mid-1980s, after graduating with a Ph.D. in health psychology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Domar decided to focus on women’s issues, a niche yet to be explored as a clinical specialty. One of her initial studies involved researching how stress and anxiety affect a woman’s infertility.

“It was the first time anyone had looked at this issue in depth,” Domar said.

Two decades later, Domar is known internationally for her infertility research and has trained psychologists all over the world on the “mind-body connection.”

“She was a pioneer in how stress and lifestyle choices can affect a woman’s ability to conceive,” said Melissa Freizinger, a psychotherapist at the Domar Center.

On a warm April morning, Chinese music played softly in the waiting room, where miniature waterfalls gurgled among ferns and vases of yellow and pink flowers.

Dressed in a royal blue pantsuit so soft and comfortable that her neighbor accused her of wearing pajamas to work, Domar sat at her desk, surrounded by photographs of her husband, David Ostrow, and her two daughters, 12-year-old Sarah and 7-year-old Katie.

Fertility symbols and statues (gifts from grateful patients) compete for space on her windowsill. Stacks of self-help and medical books fill her bookshelf; pictures of sunflowers (Domar’s favorite flower) brighten her office walls.

At 9:30 a.m. Domar had already crammed much into her morning. She had biked 10 miles, gotten her daughters off to school, reviewed her never-ending flow of e-mail, planned her daily meetings with patients, colleagues, and staff members, and responded to media requests. The popularity of her new book and the increased demand for Domar’s time has tested the psychologist’s multitasking skills.

“I am,” she said, laughing, “insane.”

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  • On August 5, 2008, Cheryl Heiks wrote:
    I too am a Mom with two wonderful daughters, and want to avoid passing along some bad habits I have accumulated. I read this book and loved it! It is full of wonderful humerous examples of how to avoid some of the common self-criticisms that can get in your way.

  • On September 3, 2008, Ann R. Stillwater '81 wrote:
    Wow, I have not read this book, but have read bits of an earlier book. I agree with Cheryl that healing the generations is important. My children are grown, but I hope that by modelling more self-care and self-acceptance, my children will see pathways out of the dysfunctional patterns that impede them.