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Decisions, decisions: Your answers to daily dilemmas

Sleep or work out? Exfoliants or antioxidents? Glossy lips or matte? Who has time to find answers to these questions when patients are calling, doctors are bellowing and you haven’t had enough shut-eye in weeks? Scrubs! We did the legwork in the Winter 2011 print issue, so just settle in and read on.

You’re running late for your shift. Should you grab an energy bar on your way out the door or wait until you can eat something less sugary and more healthy?

Go for the bar if that’s your only option. “A little food first thing helps your brain think clearly,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, head of nutrition at the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, Calif. Think about it: Your body’s been fasting while you’ve been sleeping, so it needs to re-fuel (caffeine alone doesn’t count!) before it can get you going. However, a better—and equally quick—choice would be an apple or banana, lowfat yogurt or a handful of nuts and some dried fruit that you munch as you race to work. Research shows that eating in the a.m. not only increases your metabolism, but may minimize the number of calories you take in throughout the day.

You just got off work and you’re completely exhausted. Do you drag yourself to the gym or just take it easy?

It all depends on how tired you are and why, says Michael Bracko, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. “If you’ve been working long hours and skimping on sleep, listen to your body and rest,” says Bracko, who recommends a power nap. “Nap” is the operative word—be sure to set an alarm so you don’t fall into a deep slumber, which could wreak havoc with your regular sleep schedule.

If you’re more mentally fatigued than physically exhausted, reach for your workout clothes. Exercise can help invigorate your mind as well as your body. But rather than attending the same old fitness class you know by heart, consider interval training, which alternates bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter activity. Studies show interval training helps your body burn fat faster and increases your endurance more than working out at a steady pace, and just 20 to 30 minutes will do the trick. Try alternating jogging for one minute with walking for half a minute. Or briskly walk up and down a hill or a flight of stairs. Choose a workout that works for you—no gym required!

Your skin is dry and blotchy—no doubt due to the relentless heat and/or air conditioning at work. Do you need an exfoliant or an antioxidant?

Both. An exfoliant brings your skin back to life, an antioxidant protects it from the environment. “When your skin cells are spending all their energy defending against dry indoor air, the sun, free radicals, even your own internal stress hormones, they cannot do the good things like make new collagen, retain moisture and repair damaged proteins,” says Dr. Linda K. Franks of Gramercy Park Dermatology in New York City. No wonder hospital skin can look dry, lackluster, and blotchy. Time to repair and regenerate!

Rx #1: Exfoliate. “An exfoliant will help expose a fresher, younger, more hydrated layer of cells,” says Franks. “I like retinol-based lotions and creams in particular, because in addition to exfoliating, they stimulate collagen production, which will increase both support and hydration to the skin.” Her recommendation: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($23).

Rx #2: Counteract the effects of the elements. Try a light serum, such as La Roche-Posay Active C Anti-Wrinkly Dermatological Treatment for Dry Skin ($46 for 1 ounce) under a moisturizer with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, like Olay SPF 30 Complete Defense Daily UV Moisturizer ($12).

A doctor snaps at you in front of a patient. Should you silently seethe or speak up?

Speak up…but not right away, says Mark Goulston, MD, a psychiatrist in Los Angeles and author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. “Give the doctor a look that telegraphs your displeasure, but don’t let it interrupt your work,” he suggests. Later, after you’ve taken care of your patient, pull the doctor aside and ask, “When could I have a few minutes to talk about how we can work together better in the future?” As soon as the time comes, focus on your shared purpose—acting professionally while taking care of people who are sick—rather than your emotional response to what the doctor said. For example, you may wish to tactfully ask, “Is there a different way you could communicate your frustration?”

It may not be easy to say something, but it’s important to stand up for yourself. Keeping quiet all but ensures that your frustrations over the doctor’s rude behavior will percolate, and you might end up taking it out on yourself. “Many of my patients tell me they go off their diets or exercise regimes after they’ve had a bad encounter at work,” says Dr. Goulston. “They say to themselves, ‘Oh, the hell with it, I’m just going to _________.’” (Fill in the blank with some momentarily comforting but ultimately self-sabotaging behavior, such as drinking or eating too much.) Pent-up anger can have serious long-term health consequences, as well as some not-so-nice short-term repercussions if you end up taking it out on those around you—your patients, your colleagues, or your partner or your kids.

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Lesley Alderman

Lesley Alderman, a former editor at Money and Real Simple, currently writes about health and wellness for various magazines and is a columnist for The New York Times. She recently found time to become a yoga instructor.
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