(Scare-Free Sundays)

Dr. Macrene Alexiades Says A Daily Dip In The Aegean Sea Is An Instant Stress-Reliever

The derm is enjoying her final moments of summer in Greece.

Jahné Spencer/TZR; Courtesy of Dr. Macrene Alexiades
August Anxiety

In TZR’s franchise Scare-Free Sundays, industry leaders discuss the all-too-common weekend anxiety (aka Sunday scaries) that can rob one of the relaxation and rest they so desperately need to properly take on the week ahead. Here, we sit down with board-certified dermatologist, scientist, CEO, and founder of Macrene Actives Dr. Macrene Alexiades.

When I hop on my Zoom call with Dr. Macrene Alexiades, I half expected to find her all-business in a tidy, pristine office setting, donning a lab coat and her hair perfectly swept up in a neat bun. Instead, I was met by a smiling bikini-clad woman with unruly sea salt waves and an Aegean coastline in the background. As it happens, the Harvard-taught physician (who’s widely known in the beauty world as the GOAT of all derms) is in the midst of her annual vacation to Skyros, Greece, where her family originates from.

As I struggle to regulate my rapidly spiking envy, Alexiades is quick to clarify her definition of vacation. While her mornings and afternoons may be for ocean dips and catching up with family and friends, her evenings are all business (even if she’s still in her swimsuit). “I do work, much to the chagrin of my daughter who’s with me,” she says with a laugh. “Between about 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., it’s like I’m working; I do my calls.” Understandable, considering the woman is balancing the weight of an uber-successful dermatological practice, a growing beauty brand, a book on photodynamic therapy that is currently in the works, and a pending jam-packed schedule for the upcoming fall season, which will include backstage skin care appointments at New York Fashion Week, a work trip to London, and a speaking engagement in Brazil.

And while the idea of transitioning from the tranquility and calm of Greece into the manic obstacle course that is the life of a New York doctor weighs heavy on her and even triggers some admitted melancholy and anxiety, Alexiades is ever the practical one when it comes to processing her emotions.

“Even [the Greek philosopher] Epicurus, who talked about the hedonistic tendencies of humans — drinking, eating, sleeping — said there is such a thing as too much,” she says reasonably. “There is such a thing as sleeping too much, eating too much, drinking too much, and even vacationing too much. So, somehow the way Greece works is it kicks you out at the end of August; the weather changes and you’ve gotten so much sun and such a saturation of summertime that you’re ready for fall.”

Ahead, the physician speaks to TZR about anxiety and those good ol’ end-of-summer blues and how she keeps them at bay to maximize August’s restful good vibes.

What does August look like for you?

[August is] the month of rest for most companies and most people. But at the same time, I think it’s a time of melancholy for some because you can smell and taste fall in the air and it’s all going to start again. So, to combat against that, [going to Greece] is the way I cope. For the Greeks, it’s like the most important month. We have a lot of holidays and things in August, the three-day celebration of the Virgin Mary is in August, and that’s a big deal for us.

I personally weave in enough maintenance with respect to my work endeavors so that I don’t feel the dread of coming back. And that has been my recipe for success. Everybody’s different. For some people, they want to completely unplug and turn off their phones and have nothing to do. But for a doctor and a scientist like myself, it’s not really realistic. And, for me, it is just not a very good way of handling things historically. So, I have found my balance where I check in a little bit with the practice each day from Monday through Friday so that I make sure when I come back everybody is in good shape and there are no emergencies that I’m not aware of.

How does August anxiety show up for you? Any intrusive thoughts?

This morning when I sensed the heat wave had broken and there was that crispness and that calmness in the air — I know it sounds crazy, but it already is signaling a prelude to fall. Those little reminders make me a bit upset because I’m a summer person. This is my time that I am the most relaxed, happy. I savor it. I’m with my daughter; she’s going to end up going and doing her thing in Paris [after this]. We’re not going to have this time again together. The passage of time upsets me a lot because I want to hold on to my people and those experiences that I love so dearly. When I get an intrusive thought like that, it invades my body, and it creates this feeling kind of in my axis.

How do you overcome these thoughts or anxiety?

I take a deep breath. If I take a deep breath to the belly, that helps with the autonomic aspect, the nervous system aspect. And then I do, to some degree I think, shake it off. So what I’ll do is I’ll take a deep breath and then I’ll be like Scarlet O'Hara: “I’m not going to think about that today.” I so love that prose.

But it is so true. In order to be able to be a high-functioning woman who’s getting stuff done, you’ve got to be able to take a deep breath, shake off a feeling of dread or worry or concern or anxiety and say, “I’m going to focus now on today, on the joy that I have in my presence.” One of the things I’ve actually tried to teach my kids is when you have a pile on your desk that's literally like a mountain, it can be really an overwhelming feeling. But I’ve learned you just have to start with one. You’re not going to be able to dig through the pile and find the highest priority thing. You’re just not. The amount of time you’re going to take to dig through the pile to put things in an order of priority... The time’s going to pass, and that pile’s not going to get small. So I’ve learned you just have to start to chisel away, because guess what? The smaller the pile, the lower your stress and the more time you have to devote to tasks that are higher priority. So just for me, the reduction of the pile of work has been a stress reliever in my career.

How do you unwind during this time of year and keep anxiety at bay?

I learned when I was quite a young child coming to Greece in the summers that this is my natural habitat. When I would get out of the plane and just inhale the air and feel the way Greece feels on my skin, it would immediately lower my blood pressure. And every single day, I have to dunk into the sea. When I do, it’s all the way, head immersed. It resets my nervous system.

Now, there could be some truth to it, because it’s really indisputable that when I dunk completely, all the anxiety kind of melts away and I really feel, I guess how somebody must feel when they take a Valium, which also resets the nervous system. It has that kind of effect on me. The Greeks feel very strongly that they have to swim in the sea pretty much every day, that that’s something very cathartic and very therapeutic. So that has been my key way of decompressing and de-stressing.

Do you have any strict rules you abide by during vacation or even OOO days back at home to avoid working or thinking about work?

I have this farm upstate in Rhinebeck, where I grow the actives for my brand. It was a dream of mine to have an organic farm since I was a child. When I made it happen, I was uncompromising. I must go there, period. At one point, I wanted to be there every weekend. It’s not realistic because of COVID, the Hamptons office, travel, and meetings. But I make sure I get there any weekend that I’m not scheduled for something else.

When I go to the farm, I try to get there as early as I can to spend the extra night. I always leave the windows open so that I can breathe the mountain air and hear the birds. There’s like layers of birds that tweet all night — nightingales and larks — while I’m sleeping. I read this morning, in [an article] in the Smithsonian [magazine], that if people listen to bird sounds for half an hour a day, it lowers their blood pressure.

So how are you preparing for September, which kicks off an incredibly busy season for you?

We’re already [working on] the calendar: The travel schedule is there, actually making those plans, getting all of those [details] solidified, getting the tickets, booking everything so that everything is in place. Even though I may have made these commitments a year in advance, things shift, they change. So when we get to this point, this is when things start getting booked in solid.

[This is when] I have a clear picture [of what to expect] — I’m a very visual person. If you start telling me something that’s going on, I’m actually crystallizing it visually in my brain. So I start to visualize what my September is looking like, whether it’s partnering with some of the designers backstage [at NYFW], the travel, going to London, going to Brazil. I’m actually thinking about those trips. I’m visualizing what they’re going to look like and my meetings with the people that I want to see when I’m there. [Brazil] is really an important place for me, and I’m so excited that now I’ve actually been invited to go, so I’m starting to plan out my itinerary. For me, that takes away the anxiety, having it come into shape in a real way as an exciting new part of my journey.