Roberta Lee, M.D. is Vice Chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine, Director of Continuing Medical Education, and Co-Director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel’s Continuum Center for Health and Healing (CCHH) at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Dr. Lee attended George Washington University Medical School. Following the completion of her residency in Internal Medicine, she served as a U.S. Public Health Service physician in Micronesia for five years.
For the past ten years, she has traveled back to Micronesia as the ethno-medical specialist in an interdisciplinary team of biologists, ethno-botanists, ecologists, and conservationists studying a cross-section of cultural and botanical influences on health, healing, and the promotion of wellness in chronic disease.
Dr. Lee is one of the four graduates in the first class from the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona conducted by Andrew Weil, M.D.
Empowered Mommies (EM): Dr Lee, thank you again for giving us the opportunity to sit down with you. You are such a wonderful role model not only as an expert in the medical field, but also as a pioneer in Integrative Medicine and Health & Wellness. Can you share with us how you began your career and what made you decide to focus on this field?
Dr. Lee (DL): I had the good fortune of serving in the public health service right after my residency in internal medicine
As you know from the book I worked in the Pacific islands. I saw some amazing results from traditional healers and that was intriguing to me. Later as I saw what happened in chronic disease- what options were available to patients I realized there could be much more and that is how I became interested in a more holistic preventive approach- an integrative medicine approach. There is so much empowerment for patients in this way of treating health.
EM: Based on your experience, how do you think stress has evolved over the years and why? How is SuperStress different from the Stress we know?
DL: Yes stress is different. Its compounded and our behavior in our daily life is frenetic and we communicate and work much longer hours. This has grave effects on the nervous system – this kind of lifestyle is overloading the capacity for the body to heal and rebalance to access calm
People who are superstressed feel 4 things1- stress is compounded 2- life is out of control/you cant handle it – they cant get a grip 3- life has lost its luster ( joy) 4- anxious is the new normal
EM: What do you think are some of the challenges mothers especially are facing today as it relates to stress?
DL: Balancing self care and family /work obligations is a tough balance. Especially because we as women often think that self sacrifice is a noble virtue – but so many times I see that actually it is a poor model for family members to see because mom’s become irritable, mean , depleted and downright depressed because they won’t allow themselves a little me time.
EM: What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions when it comes to stress’ affect on our long term health and well being?
DL: The biggest misconception is that we can tough it out without hurting our health. I have written very plainly how our body’s biochemically are affected by this pervasive and immense kind of stress. There clearly are numerous diseases
That are made worse with stress and even enabled with chronic stress.
EM: You recently wrote and published your first book: “The SuperStress Solution” which has received great recognition and praise and you have been featured on several national shows including The View and The Today Show. Can you tell us what inspired you to write the book?
DL: I saw so many people suffering from superstress and struggling to get ahold of their lives. I also saw that with an integrative approach people has amazing and lasting results – once I saw that I knew that I had to “get the word out “
EM: In the book you discuss different “stress types” and how most of us fit into one of the categories, can you briefly highlight those for us?
DL: Sure. They are:
Type I: Burned Out, Exhausted, Numb, Depressed
Are you fighting a losing battle trying to keep up with your kids’ needs, your own job, and a seemingly ever-growing to-do list? Are you experiencing extreme fatigue when you get up in the morning and repeatedly throughout the day? This is Type I SuperStress: you’ve reached the point where stress has been present for so long that you can no longer mount much of a reaction and you have started to “check out” emotionally.
Type II: Agitated, Overwhelmed by Life
If you have days when your agitation is so great that you’re distracted by your own restlessness, if you dream of the days when sleep came easily to you, you are a typical Type II.
Type III: Emotionally sensitive
Have you lost your sense of humor and are you sometimes weepy or melancholy, despite your best efforts to be your old self? How did you become so emotionally vulnerable and sensitive to criticism? If this describes you, you are probably a Type III and every little stressor hits at your digestion: you are often bloated, gassy, and crampy.
Type IV: Driven, Controlling
You are a first rate goal-setter and goal-achiever and that’s admirable. But the flip side is that over-attention to detail and micromanagement have become the only way you can handle situations that feel out of control. If you’re one who approaches your life in this manner, I’m willing to bet you have symptoms that reflect this tension, such as constipation, neck pain, back pain, and stomach problems.
Type V: Explosive, Can’t Slow Down
Do you use every means possible to keep things going at an ultrafast pace, living on caffeine and sugar-laden foods? Do you have little tolerance for mistakes? Do you sometimes overreact or explode when mistakes are made (yours or someone else’s)? If so, there are steps toward tranquility that you can begin to take right now. You’re going to need to wean yourself off so much caffeine (but don’t go cold turkey; follow my progressive one-less-cup-a-day plan) and begin to choose foods with natural sweeteners instead of sugar.
EM: What I loved about your book is that you offer practical solutions taking a complete approach that focuses on diet, exercise, and other alternative prevention and treatment options in addition to traditional medicine. Do you think your integrative medicine approach enabled you to have a more “whole” understanding of how to prevent and treat stress related conditions?
DL: Without question the integrative perspective was the first process of seeing a more comprehensive
Way to treat superstress. The next phase was understanding neuroscience ( the science of mood and brain health)
EM: If you had to look forward a decade, how do you hope your book will have influenced mothers’ understanding of integrative medicine and overall health wellness of their family?
DL: I hope that there will be more rest, familylife and downtime ( without blackberries and so forth) built into their lives so they are present with oneanother – without guilt. It’s a very old fashioned kind of hope for others.
EM: Thank you again for your time Dr Lee. We're honored to have been able to speak with you.
DL: Thank You!