Susan Whedbee, LCSW, NCPsyA
Psychoanalyst and Psychotherapist, NYC
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A Rise in Breast Cancer – Isn’t it Time for Women to Fight Back?

In his October 6, 2017 New York Times article, “Researchers Predict a Quarter-Million New Cases of Breast Cancer in the U.S.”, Nicholas Bakalar tells us that researchers at the American Cancer Society estimate that there will be at least 250,000 new cases of breast cancer reported in the U.S. with one in every eight women receiving this diagnosis. He goes on to tell us that triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer, will be twice as common in black women as in white women.

Although Bakalar has provided predictions for women developing this disease and has also informed us that early screenings may reduce death, nothing was mentioned about preventing the disease in the first place.

A life-style change such as focusing on diet and exercise may be the best first step to lower the risk of fueling growth hormone-dependency cancers such as breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. To be clear, when we eat animal sourced food we raise what is called Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) which puts us at a higher risk of developing a number of breast and other cancers. And when we eat dairy, IGF-1 is actually in the dairy itself raising our risk even more.

plant based diet

In his September 28, 2012 lecture entitled: “How Plant-Based to Lower IGF-1”, Michael Greger, M.D.(1)  illustrates that just by simply walking and eating whole healthy plant foods for a few days, our IGF-1 can drop low enough to reverse cancer cell growth. And if we stick with it, for at least 14 years, we have half the IGF-1 in our bodies than those on the Standard American Diet putting us at lower risk for developing breast and hormone-dependency cancers.

We ought not to lose sight of the fact that Japanese women have had far fewer breast cancer events than women in the West. Their diet traditionally consisted of a whole food plant-based diet with no dairy, and perhaps a little fish used more as a garnish/flavoring. The same thing is true for people in rural China eating a predominately plant-based diet – they, too, have had very little if no incidences of breast cancer and other Western diseases. When, however, they migrated to other countries and began to consume the Standard Western Diet they became susceptible to the same diseases that are seen in Western cultures. Don’t forget the old adage: You are what you eat.

But “where do I get my protein “ is a cry I often hear. Rest assured if you are eating a whole food plant-based diet, you will be getting all the protein you will ever need. Conversely, if your protein comes from animal sourced foods, you will be taking in far too much protein and putting yourself at a higher risk of developing breast and other cancers as your IGF-1 increases.

The other question I hear is: “What if I already have the cancer gene such as triple-negative breast cancer, will a plant-based diet actually help?” The answer is a resounding yes! Although the gene may have already been initiated, it has to be promoted in order to develop the disease. Think of grass seeds. They are there but will never grow unless they are watered – maybe it is time to turn off the sprinklers and focus on a healthy life-style change. Feeling great and looking wonderful can be an extremely powerful motivator!

How Soy Can Reduce Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer

by Susan Whedbee, LCSW, NCPsyA

A number of women and some men I’ve worked with are concerned about developing breast cancer; whether they have been diagnosed with the disease, are afraid of a recurrence, have someone in their family with the illness or have had a breast cancer scare.  I can certainly understand their worry as there is so much inaccurate information one can find not only on the Internet but from their own medical doctor.

What many people don’t understand is that soy foods can be very beneficial to both the prevention or reoccurrence of the disease.  In a lecture, Michael Greger, M.D. illustrates that soy contains phytoestrogens unlike estradiol, an estrogen we make in our body.  We don’t want to raise our level of estradiol since it may increase our risk of breast cancer.  The significance of this is that soy provides an anti-estrogenic effect and inhibits the growth promotion effects of estradiol.  For example, eating a cup of soybeans can provide a meaningful barrier to estradiol receptor production.

Greger points out further that women in their fifties living in the U.S. have ten times more breast cancer than women in their fifties living in Japan as Japanese women tend to eat a fair amount of soy products.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that it is not just genetic – Japanese women moving to our country, assimilating into our culture and adhering to a Western diet have experienced an increase in breast cancer.

How Soy Can Reduce Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer

It’s important to note that you should be eating organic soy.  If it’s organic then it would not be a genetically modified product.  Also, the soy you ingest should be whole soy such as tofu, tempeh, natto, edamame, miso or soy milk.  In a newsletter, John McDougall, M.D points out that the controversy about eating soy is tied to consuming concentrated or isolated soy protein, such as soy protein bars and shakes.  Eating isolated soy protein increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) which raises your risk for certain cancers.  Also, eating 20 servings or more a day of whole soy can increase your IGF-1.  Now to put this in the right perspective, eating meat increases your IGF-1 and when you consume dairy, IGF-1 is actually in the dairy.  But on the other hand, eating one to five servings of a whole soy product can add tons of health value to your diet.

 

CAN WE REDUCE STRESS BY THE FOODS WE EAT?

wellness NYC therapy

Eat Healthy: Reduce Stress

In a breaking news bulletin, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reports that people who consume a plant based diet may actually lower their stress and anxiety levels.  PCRM findings were based on a study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, the results of which, highlighted that when male vegan participants increased fruit and vegetable consumption their anxiety scores were lowered.  Moreover, when female participants shifted to a plant based diet, their stress scores were lowered due to the elimination of animal foods and a reduced intake of sweets.

Nutritional Balance and Emotional Health go Hand in Hand

Reference:  Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

 

Families and the Holidays: Tis the Season for Joy or Despair?

As you anticipate the approaching holiday season and old memories come to mind, you may get a sense of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Family interaction that starts out joyous may shift very quickly to a stressful experience as it can bring up old stressors within the family system.

When growing up in the family home, each family member develops thought and behavior patterns that eventually characterize their relationships and become their family dynamics. Later on in life, as circumstances trigger response patterns, parents may, unconsciously, become intrusive or critical. The mother, for example, may complain about her daughter’s weight, her son’s drinking or his lack of success because he followed a career path that was different from what she and his father had envisioned for him. Parents may find fault with how their adult children are raising their grandchildren. In turn, adult couples may decide to spend Christmas away instead of with family. Or, they may encounter a tug of war between spending time with the husband’s or wife’s family.

A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) illustrated that people are likely to feel increased stress rather than decreased stress during the holidays. The study found:

  • 61 percent of people surveyed associated the holidays with stress
  • 68 percent mentioned fatigue

Yet, the same study also found:

  • 78 percent experienced feelings of happiness
  • 75 percent associated love with the holidays
  • 60 percent experienced high spirits

The question arises as to how can you survive a Thanksgiving dinner or the Holiday season without regressing to the 10 year old you once were, living in your parents’ home? You want to feel grateful on Thanksgiving Day, and as December approaches, you want to maintain a balance between the spirit and focus of the holiday versus the “exciting commercial aspects” of Christmas. What you may not want to do is find yourself resorting to the protective defenses you used as a child or to soothe yourself with food, alcohol or other mechanisms which leave you feeling more off-course than before.

Over the years, I have heard a number of patients talk about some of the negative things that took place either with a parent or a sibling during a family visit. Yet, they chose to refrain from saying anything during their stay because they would be leaving the next day and didn’t want to stir the pot so to speak. Fast forward five years later, they are still talking about the same thing having never fully resolved the issue.

Psychotherapy can help you find your voice while setting healthy limits that lead to better communication and improved family relationships. By working with a therapist, you do not have to manage this alone. Approaches used in therapy can help bring closure by identifying and changing the patterns that interfere with your well-being.

Susan Whedbee is a NYC psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan.

NYC Psychoanalyst, Susan Whedbee Blog : Fighting The Winter Blues

Author: Susan Whedbee
Private Practice NYC Psychotherapist

As we turn the clocks back and the days get darker and colder you may find yourself coming down with the winter blues. Seasonal Affect Disorder, otherwise known as SAD is more common when we are exposed to less light during the day. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression which may occur in late fall and winter and alternate with periods of normal mood the remainder of the year.   Other symptoms of SAD include hypersomnia (excessive sleep and lethargy), carbohydrate craving, weight gain, and for some, hopelessness, lack of interest in normal activities and isolation.

There are a number of things that you might consider to combat the winter doldrums in a natural fashion:

Light exposure:  

Many people who are not severely depressed respond well to light therapy.   According to Joel Fuhrman, M.D., exposure to morning light helps the brain to regulate the production of melatonin which then regulates our sleep-wake cycle. If we are not exposed to adequate light in the winter this cycle can be disrupted.   A therapeutic light corrects the body’s clock, restores normal melatonin production and stimulates the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which elevates our mood and is often low when we are depressed.

 Exercise:

Exercise works to increase the production of serotonin. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the United Kingdom asserts that when aerobic exercise is done regularly, one’s mood can improve without the side effects of medication. Research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin has shown that 40 minutes of exercise can have an immediate effect on one’s mood. In addition, Fuhrman asserts that yoga has been shown to improve depressive symptoms. You may be surprised what you find when you monitor your mood before and after your workout.

Vitamin D:

A 2010 national study found that people who are depressed are more likely to have a deficiency in vitamin D compared with people who have adequate levels of this vitamin. It was found that when suffering from SAD, their mood tended to improve as their levels of vitamin D increased over the normal course of a year.

 Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Fuhrman points out that Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain health – DHA is associated with cognitive function and EPA with mood. In a meta-analysis of 28 trials, it was determined that EPA supplementation is effective for improving depressive symptoms. In another study, scientists found that societies that eat a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids are more predisposed to major depressive disorder than societies that get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. For people who are depressed, DHA and EPA supplementation may be indicated.

High Nutrient Diet:

Since alcohol is a depressant, you may want to cut back on its consumption. You may also consider eating a more whole food plant strong diet since plants contain substances such as dopamine, serotonin, melatonin that positively affect one’s mood. Fuhrman points out that plant foods contain a high degree of antioxidants which help to decrease the markers of oxidative stress on the brain – markers of oxidative stress are associated with higher incidences of depression. Moreover, many people suffering from depression are deficient in folate and may also be low in potassium. Green vegetables and legumes are high in folate and all whole plant foods are rich in potassium.

Another meaningful dietary alternative is to consume more complex carbohydrates to boost your tryptophan levels.  In his article, John McDougall, M.D., points out that this essential amino acid is converted in the brain into serotonin. How much tryptophan that enters the brain depends on other large amino acids that are present in the blood. A high protein meal full of meat, dairy foods and eggs contain other amino acids which compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain. As a result there is less tryptophan passing into the brain which then decreases the synthesis of serotonin. Conversely, consuming more complex carbohydrates consisting of whole plant foods results in the highest levels of serotonin absorption in the brain since fewer large amino acids are competing with tryptophan.

There is clearly a connection between a healthy lifestyle and a healthy mood. So please don’t despair if you are suffering from the winter blahs – there are a number of things that you can start to do right now. If, however, you are experiencing significant symptoms, you may want to discuss this with your primary care provider or see a mental health professional so that you can be properly evaluated and treated.

NYC Therapist wants to know if anxiety is affecting your daily life?

Milton reminds us in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  Think of a time when you were anxious about something—a job interview, a loved one’s birthday, a first date, or a doctor’s appointment. The human response to uncertainty is often anxiety, regardless of whether the stress-inducing event is negative or positive, sad or happy. This is usually tied to not knowing the outcome ahead of time, thus causing worry. The worry is actually an unconscious way of controlling things; in other words, if we worry we feel we are doing something to control for all the possible negative outcomes and will be prepared for the mishap. The irony here is that if we go through the event reasonably well, which we often do, our worry caused us to feel all the pain we might have had if we had actually experienced the negative outcome. On the other hand, if the negative outcome should come to fruition, we are often calm and resolute since we have already experienced the outcome in our mind over and over again.

Often people become wedded unconsciously to their worry. With help, they come to understand that this pattern of worry may have begun earlier in their lives and served as a protective device and that their attachment to worry is really more about old wine flowing in a new bottle. It is important to become more mindful of your thought process and to notice if you are engaging in faulty thinking. Is the thought that is making you anxious a fact or is it based on fear? For instance, are you in a new relationship and afraid that your partner is going to break things off? Are there real reasons for that fear or are memories of a past breakup coloring your view?

When you have a negative thought, ask yourself how that thought makes you feel – probably not very uplifted and more likely uneasy and out of sorts. Conversely, if you have a positive thought, ask yourself how that thought makes you feel – most likely much better than having the negative thought.  This is an illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  In any given moment, we can exercise our own power to choose what we think which will in turn impact our feelings and ultimately drive our behavior.  In other words, do we choose a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell?  Although this may take some practice, the first step is to become mindful of our thought process and ask ourselves if our thoughts are based on fact or fiction.

On the other hand, there may be a life situation causing unrelenting stress and anxiety. The situation could be a troubled marriage, a serious health or financial concern, having an untenable job or job loss. Whatever the precipitant, it is important that you identify and address the source of the anxiety. Prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to health problems as they impact our immune system and put us at a higher risk for developing disease.

In any case, if anxiety is affecting your daily life, you should consider professional intervention.

NYC Psychoanalyst talks about stress and accumulated stress leading to anxiety

Autumn is officially here—leaves are changing colors, the days are getting shorter, and the year is drawing to an end. While Mother Nature prepares for winter, our lives are no less hectic. In fact, for many of us fall is one of the busiest times of the year. With schools in session, there is a greater demand on parents, driving children to soccer practices, football games, piano lessons, and other after-school activities. And with the holidays looming, finding time to decorate our homes, plan get-togethers, and shop can make a festive time of year seem stressful.

If something, everything, or nothing has you feeling stressed, there are ways to cope:

  • Identify and address the cause. Prolonged stress can lead to health problems as it impacts our immune system and puts us at a higher risk for developing disease.
  • Take a break. Try meditation, yoga, massage, or another relaxation technique[1]. If you don’t have the time or inclination for those, just listening to music that soothes you can be helpful.
  • Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise daily. Healthful living can be easier said than done in our busy world, but the benefits are hard to overstate.
  • Laugh. You may be surprised at how much better you feel after a good laugh! Laughter helps to stimulate the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This is a chemical produced by our own body and can lift our mood and decrease anxiety – it is sometimes referred to as the happy hormone.   And laughter suppresses the release of stress-related hormones.
  • Keep a journal. Record your worrisome thoughts and fears. This can serve as a container for these unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk to someone. Discuss your feelings with a friend or loved one.

It is important, however, to differentiate between everyday stress and accumulated stress leading to anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health tells us, “Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but when anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling disorder.” When anxiety affects your daily life adversely, it important to remember that professional intervention is worth considering. If you’ve tried to manage or minimize anxiety on your own, without success, I encourage you to find out how I can help you.

Susan Whedbee is a Psychoanalyst with a private practice in New York City

“The Decisive Marriage” – A Precursor to Marital Satisfaction

In her recent New York Times article, “The Decisive Marriage”, Tara Parker-Pope illustrates that couples who thoughtfully make more decisions together experience greater marital satisfaction.

This certainly is an important ingredient in building a sturdy and successful relationship.  After all, if we look at any business partnership,  making thoughtful decisions is key to its success.  So why should this not always extend to marital relationships?

It is not unusual for couples to quickly enter the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship and be reluctant to address certain issues since they might have to come down from the clouds and be pushed from that blissful state too precipitously.  But if decisions about their relationship are not adequately addressed, eventually they will be made either by default or by one of the partners.    This might work for a while but may cause some resentment for one or both parties as they move further into their relationship.

I sometimes hear my patients say: “Nothing ever gets resolved.”  The reason for that is that couples tend to put more effort into doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.  If something does not feel right for one of the partners then something is not right for the relationship and that should be addressed.

But what stops couples from talking about something they feel the other may not want to hear?  There is a sense that if something is brought to the attention of the other, they may “stir the pot” and make matters worse.  The truth is that the pot needs to be stirred so that both partners have the opportunity to talk about what is important to them in their relationship at any given point in time.

Patterns in relationships are formed very early and if something that feels “off” by one of the partners is not discussed, it will only develop more steam down the road.   Today, I am seeing more and more couples for premarital counseling.   In the first session, it is not uncommon for me to hear :  “We don’t have any serious issues but we want to tweak a few things so we start off on the right foot and don’t run into difficulties later on.”

Most couples desire a relationship that is intimate on a number of levels.  They want to not only be able to talk to their partner about their hopes and dreams and how to get there but want the input of the other and to feel that he/she is truly committed and involved.

Since communication is key, couples may need to learn the emotional language of each other so that a new template is developed to facilitate an effective conversation.  This will facilitate a discussion about future plans and decisions even though they may at first be on different pages.

What they often find, is that they gain additional insight about the blueprint that each one has used in the past and how outdated it can be for their relationship.  This discovery enables them to improve their relationship patterns early on while creating a stronger bond so that they can talk about their concerns and develop a plan to obtain what they both want for the future.

Author: Susan Whedbee
Susan Whedbee is a psychoanalyst with a private practice in NYC.

NYC Psychoanalyst wants to know : Are you attached to your Smartphone, Depressed?

“No Time to Think”- A Set Up for Physical and Emotional Problems

Recently, Kate Murphy wrote an article entitled “No Time to Think,” which appeared in the NY Times Sunday Review. The piece highlighted today’s trend for people to over-schedule and over-commit, allowing little time for self-reflection.

Many of us seem to be married to our handheld devices as we text walking down the street, bumping into people and, yes, even falling into fountains. What are the long-term implications of not allowing time to process our thoughts and experience our feelings?

Risks for Individuals, Couples and the Parenting Process
Individuals run the risk of becoming alienated from themselves, which can lead to an overall feeling that something is just not right. We can then become depressed and not know why. Thoughts and feelings have energy and without a direct outlet they will be expressed either through the body by way of physical maladies or displaced onto other experiences.

Have you ever noticed that you or someone you know had a very strong reaction to something rather benign? This is an example of someone expressing unwelcome repressed feelings from a past event. It takes an awful lot of energy to keep emotions from bubbling up. Over time, repressed energy can deplete your internal reserves and lead to depression. When undesirable feelings begin to emerge, we can experience anxiety and even panic. Anxiety is actually a signal that warns us that something from either an external event or from within ourselves may soon present itself.

When we become accustomed to this way of being, we are ripe to employ certain behaviors to suppress our feelings. The Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, illustrates this through many of his characters. In his play, Waiting for Godot, we see how Vladimir and Estragon use gesture and language to allow them not to feel. That certainly had its consequences for Estragon, as he was plagued with chronic nightmares, which were perhaps tied to the abuse he experienced as a child. Beckett himself suffered from boils and other somatic afflictions. As Beckett points out, “… habit is a great deadener.”

Closing off your feelings also has implications for relationships. When your partner reaches out for you, you may be unequipped to offer emotional responsiveness, which can leave your significant other feeling that you are not available to meet his/her emotional needs. At times, your partner may feel lonelier with you than being alone with his/her self. The person is then more susceptible to making a connection with someone else who fulfills his/her emotional needs. This is what often leads to extramarital affairs. People long to be understood and known, yet are fearful that if they let others really get to know them, they will feel naked and exposed.

Not acknowledging our feelings can also have implications when parenting children. Often, children are flooded with thoughts and feelings and need help managing a myriad of emotions. If your son comes home from school upset about an event in his day and you are not able to respond to his emotional needs, it sends the message that feelings are not acceptable and he must manage them on his own. Children need to know that their thoughts and feelings are welcome and that their parents will help them understand and express their emotions. With luck, they will come to be more connected with themselves and understand that their feelings can serve as a real navigational guide.

Give Yourself Time to Reflect
People are often very good at “doing,” but some have trouble just “being.” Take time away from your smartphone, texting and surfing the Internet. Engage in a little day dreaming, enabling thoughts and feelings to emerge. Go for a walk, sit in the park and look around you, and please leave your handheld device at home. You may find that introspection and contemplation will help you get more in touch with your creative self. At first, self-reflection may feel foreign, almost as if you are walking into a new country, not knowing the language or culture. While self-exploration, like traveling, is not always easy, it can, ultimately, be an enriching journey, offering insight into ourselves and others. Someone once said to me, “I don’t like to think about unpleasant experiences because they make me feel bad.” She finally came to understand that to obtain an overall sense of well-being, she had to allow herself to experience all her feelings so that they could eventually be integrated and worked through. This is what authentic living is all about.

NY Times article, No Time to Think

Author of above blog post: Susan Whedbee, LCSW, Psychoanalyst

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