The Naked Truth Blog

The Naked Truth is a blog intended to help us all live more fulfilling lives by confronting our self-deception. No sugar-coating. No coddling. Just the honest reflection of you standing naked in front of a mirror. You can read it here or on Psychology Today.

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Is Monogamy Still a Good Relationship Model?

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | February 17, 2021 |

Photo: istockphoto-917874814-170667a fizkes

Why Honesty is More Important to Relationship Success than The Model Itself.

Cultural norms and practices around sex, love, and marriage are shifting. In Western cultural contexts, romanticized, often religiously-informed views of marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman who meet, fall in love, get married, procreate, refuse sexual or romantic encounters with anyone but their spouse, and live happily ever after are being questioned. More flexible conceptualizations of gender identity, sexual orientation, and relationship satisfaction are leading to increased psychological research on consensual non-monogamy (Sprott & Schechinger, 2019). For example, polyamory as described in the book, A Happy Life in an Open Relationship, is gaining popularity as a model of romantic partnerships particularly among millennials. As the world grapples with different kinds of romantic connections, I am often asked questions about whether monogamy is still a good model for relationships. Some people ask because they are struggling after cheating has already occurred, leaving one or both partners confused, angry, and unclear about the future. Others ask because their current sexual experiences are unfulfilling. Others ask in a self-exploratory way. Questions like:
  • I recently learned that my spouse is cheating on me. What do I do? Do I leave? Can we fix it?
  • My spouse watches porn every day. Can porn use be considered cheating? What if he/she is having a video chat with another live person? Is that an affair?
  • Do I want to commit to one person? Is that even possible? Do I want to be in love with more than one person at the same time? What is the purpose?
  • I have been married for 15 years and we have a family. I no longer have the same sexual connection with my spouse. Should we explore other options?
Questions about monogamy are centrally about how to have successful romantic relationships. Traditional views of marriage define monogamy as having one romantic mate or sexual partner at a time. Yet, what is more important to relationship success than your specific model (e.g., monogamy, polyamory, swinging) is honestly living according to the agreed upon boundaries of your relationship. Understanding Boundaries and Their Importance Boundaries are relationship expectations—they reflect how you want others to treat you and how you want to treat them. In romantic relationships, boundaries are usually based on shared values and beliefs about how you want to live, what you need to be sexually or romantically intimate, and what you believe leads to a fulfilling life. For example, boundaries usually articulate how you will behave when you meet other individuals you are attracted to and what behaviors would lead you to no longer want to be intimate with your spouse. The reason that boundaries are so important is that being in a committed partnership is a choice. People and couples make that choice for myriad reasons—because they believe life is better with this person than without; because they want their children to have two parents; because they don’t want to be alone; because their family wanted it; because it is consistent with their religious or spiritual beliefs. Whatever the reasons, it is up to the couple to decide what the boundaries of the relationship are and to—in good faith—try to maintain those boundaries. The boundaries serve as the basic foundation of the relationship from which a shared life grows. As such, sexual and romantic boundaries are highly variable. For some couples, masturbation is considered “cheating” or a breach of relationship boundaries whereas for others it is not. For some couples, having sexual intercourse with paid partners is considered cheating whereas for others is not. For yet other couples, pursing romantic connections and intimate feelings for a person outside of the marriage is considered a violation (even with no sexual touching) whereas for others it is not. Many of the lines that determine whether something is a violation are based in cultural norms, lived experiences, and values reflecting what a partner wants from a marriage. It is up to the couple to decide what boundaries are important to them and to agree that both members of the couple will strive to uphold those boundaries with honesty and integrity. Honest Maintaining of Boundaries is More Important than the Model Itself When looking at monogamy as a model for romantic relationships, it is more important that each member of a couple strives to uphold the agreed-upon boundaries than the details of the model itself. In other words, that you will not intentionally manipulate or lie to the other. That you will not knowingly take advantage of the other person’s trust. This is critical because the real threat to a relationship does not come from the outside world—it comes from an inability to set and honestly uphold boundaries consistent with your relationship agreements when you encounter the outside world. The liability to a marriage is not actually other attractive people in the world—it is an inability to act in a manner consistent with relationship boundaries when you and your partner are apart. The truth is that after getting married, you will still go through life and meet people you would date if you were single. That is a given—we are social beings who will meet other potential partners. As we do, we have to trust ourselves and our partner to create clear boundaries that reflect our marital agreements. To do that, we have to monitor ourselves closely. If a potential affair could happen and we are committed to being monogamous, we pull back. If it went a little too far or we become uncomfortable with a dynamic in a new friendship (for example, being too flirtatious or developing romantic feelings), we reestablish the boundary. Unfortunately, what often happens in relationships is that people make a commitment to their partner that they cannot uphold. Instead of talking about their feelings to their spouse, one or both partners have a string of potential and actual affairs that are deceptively hidden (and often self-deceptively justified in their own heads). At some point, the truth comes out. Yet, a shared process of reviewing relationship boundaries and revising (as desired) the expectations of the partnership can no longer happen until and unless the couple can forgive boundary violations that have already transpired. Often, this leads to an emotionally tense, often bitter and resentful breakup because lying, manipulating, and deliberately taking advantage of another person by claiming to be behaving in one way (i.e., according to the relationship boundaries) but acting in another will universally hurt your connection. Trust will disappear. The Naked Truth is This:  Whether you choose to have a monogamous, polyamorous, or sexually open relationship of some sort, the most important factor to its success is honesty and integrity. Sharing time, intimate experiences, and vulnerable information with another person is a choice. Marriage is a choice. Everyone has access to sexual and romantic partners—the world abounds with opportunities to meet interesting new people. When you are in a committed relationship, the most important thing you can do to maintain your relationship is to set boundaries and talk to your partner about your experiences before you violate those agreements. As you live and grow, you may change. Sometimes that means you must revise your relationship agreements as you (as a couple) learn. And, if it becomes clear that you are no longer a good romantic pair, being honest increases the likelihood that you can separate with respect and love—not resentment and distrust. For when we decide we want to travel through life with a romantic partner, we are also agreeing to share power with them in a unique way. In doing so, we put our heart, our physical bodies, and our lifestyle in their hands as well as our own.   Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD ABPP Note: I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey. Read More...

The Power of Choice in the Face of Adversity

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | December 9, 2020 |

Strive to respond to difficult life realities with forgiveness, compassion, and care.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

–  Viktor Frankl

Photo credit: Pixabay Devanath

Life is full of difficult realities that we have little to no control over. In 2020, examples of challenging life circumstances seem endless. We continue to be in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brings ongoing physical, emotional, financial, and logistical complications (1). In the United States, we are living in a very heated political and sociocultural environment that is causing considerable stress for many Americans (2). Heavy conversations about systemic racism and organized protests fighting oppression abound (3). Parenting and family dynamics are shifting as many people are working from home and trying to function with distance education, limited social interaction, and little personal space (4). These are in addition to other “normative” personal challenges people will experience over the course of life, such as relationship struggles, life cycle realities, and trying to understand ourselves. For most of us, 2020 is unprecedented in the number and gravity of difficult external realities to navigate. It certainly was for me.

When confronted with difficult external realities and crises, it is easy to feel powerless. To feel abused and victimized. To focus on how unfair and flawed life can be. To allow the external difficulties to burrow into our internal perceptions in ways that lead to mental and emotional struggles. Yet, the outside world does not dictate our response to it. In fact, the only thing we have control over is our response to difficult life realities—and how we choose to respond will dramatically determine the course and quality of our lived experience.

Consider your own experience in 2020. There are myriad realities that probably affected you personally in meaningful ways. As you live amidst these experiences, you are presented with a choice: How are you going to respond? For example, how do you think about yourself and others because of these realities? How do you act? What do you focus on and where do you put your energy? Does your response lead to your own empowerment—or do damage to you or those around you?  

In times of difficulty, it is very easy for humans to get stuck in the shadow characteristics of our Egos—the rational part of ourselves that wants the world to be fair, self-serving, and make sense to us from an intellectual perspective. Yet, left unchecked, the Ego can lead us into dangerous psychological space because we will want to justify our protective, self-centered reactions using a host of self-deceptive strategies (5). For example, we may rationalize why we should feel justified in feeling or acting a certain way. We may unintentionally cause harm to others by projecting our emotional reactions onto them. We may become mired in self-indulgent pity and deep resentments towards others. Yet, where does that leave us? It leaves us with justifications about why we are entitled to be resentful, bitter, vengeful, angry, depressed, and anxious and allowed to punish others in the face of difficulty. Responding to adversity from a place of judgmentalism, resentment, entitlement, and blame will lead to harming ourselves and those around us. It represents the worst of humanity—the darkest aspects of ourselves as humans.

On that other hand, challenging experiences also offer us the opportunity to respond from the highest level of humanity. For what separates us from most animals is our capacity for rational thought. To overcome our instincts, impulses, and desires by making deliberate choices about who we want to be, how we want to act, and what we value in life. As such, difficult experiences offer us an opportunity to become our best selves by striving for the highest level of human development. That journey requires that we overcome the animalistic, self-centered parts of our nature by making choices from a place of goodness and care for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. Specifically, choosing to overcome the shadow aspects of our Egos (i.e., blame, resentment, entitlement) by embracing our capacity for forgiveness, gratitude, endurance, compassion, and understanding (6). Responding to adversity in ways that serve the greatest good without allowing our Ego to get mired in self-deceptive rhetoric benefits us and everyone around us.

The Naked Truth is This:
2020 presented us with a host of difficult realities that we could not control. Yet, we do have complete control over our response to them. Choose to respond to adversity with forgiveness, compassion, understanding, and care for yourself and those around you. It is key to our own mental health and the well-being of those around us.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD ABPP

REFERENCES:

(1) https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/30/people-financially-affected-by-covid-19-outbreak-are-experiencing-more-psychological-distress-than-others/

(2) https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/11/post-election-stress

(3) https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/04/09/race-in-america-2019/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7440155/

(5) https://www.amazon.com/Lies-Tell-Ourselves-Psychology-Self-Deception-ebook/dp/B00J527LPG

(6) https://www.apa.org/research/action/empathy-forgiveness-prosocial-behavior

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A Celebration of the Life of Dr. Karen J. Warren

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | August 27, 2020 |

Using philosophical arguments to fight for end of life options until the end.

 

“Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.” 
― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Death is a reality of life. It is a part of life. It is an inevitable reality of being human. One day, we will all die. And yet, it is a reality that many of us don’t want to think about.

 This blog is a biographical tribute to the life and death of my mother, Dr. Karen J. Warren. An ecological feminist philosopher, Karen was diagnosed with a terminal, neurodegenerative illness in 2016. Since that time, she used philosophical arguments to promote conversation about end-of-life options for those diagnosed with terminal illnesses. She (co) authored two blogs with me for Psychology Today: one practical commentary on her personal experiences confronting death and a second advocating for end of life options.

My mother’s death leaves me feeling profound sadness mixed with relief. Although her illness made the last few years of her life physically and emotionally challenging, the last couple of months were particularly painful to witness because I knew that she did not want to live in such a pained and impaired physical state. In Minnesota (as in many states in the USA), medical aid in dying for terminally ill patients is not yet legal. A bill (HF 2152), otherwise known as the End of Life Options Act, is still being considered by the Minnesota State Legislature. Organizations like Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity continue to lobby for the rights of individuals with terminal illnesses to end their lives on their own terms. I hope that my mother’s work promotes critical thinking about medical ethics and human autonomy such that others in her position will have more power to decide how and when they die. I will miss her deeply.

Karen Joyce Warren: September 10th, 1947- August 21st, 2020.

-Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

________________________

Dr. Karen Joyce Warren, a pioneer in the field of Ecofeminist Philosophy, died last week at her home in Minneapolis, MN.

Karen was born on Long Island, NY, and raised by her parents “Jooj” and Marge Warren in Ridgefield, CT. She is the third of four siblings. Karen loved activities with her Girl Scouts troop, playing sports, and caring for her dogs and her cat in her youth. She received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota (1970) and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (1978).

Karen called herself a “public philosopher”— one who believes that philosophical thinking is appropriate for all age groups, used in all cultural contexts, and relevant to both theoretical and applied issues. In that vein, she presented her work around the world to diverse audiences, giving Keynote Lectures to academic professional organizations and lay audiences alike (e.g. The Wilderness Society, school districts, prison systems).

Karen’s expertise was in the areas of environmental ethics, critical thinking, and feminist philosophy. She published and co-authored 8 books, including her most well-known book Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters (2000) and the anthology An Unconventional History of Western Philosophy: Conversations Between Men and Women Philosophers, which was the first book to include female philosophers alongside their contemporary male counterparts. She also wrote over 40 articles and won numerous awards, including the INTERCOME Gold Hugo Award (1994) for a film demonstrating how to teach critical thinking to 1-4th grade children; the American Education Studies Association Critic’s Choice Award (1996) for her book Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature; a Teaching Excellence Honor from the American Philosophical Association (1997); and, Educator of the Year Award from Macalester College (2000).

Karen spent the majority of her career as a professor in the Philosophy Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. In addition, she was the Ecofeminist-Scholar-in-Residence at Murdoch University in Australia (1995); an Oxford University Round Table Scholar (2003); and the Women’s Chair in Humanistic Studies at Marquette University (2004). Her biography was featured in the book, Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975.

Karen was diagnosed with Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA) in 2016. Since that time, she worked to promote end of life options for individuals with terminal illnesses.  Using ethics as a philosophical framework, Karen argued that humans should have the right to choose when it is time to die when faced with an untreatable fatal illness. Karen articulated her arguments in public forums, including speaking in front of the Minnesota State Senate and writing articles for Compassion & Choices and Psychology Today.

Karen loved to garden, paint with watercolors, be in nature and attend Vikings games. She loved animals—particularly her most recent cats Hypatia and Colfax. She is survived by a daughter (Cortney), son-in-law (Cal), two grandchildren (Isabella and Kane), two sisters (Janice and Barbara), a brother (Roger) and their respective families.

There will be no formal funeral services for Karen. Instead, we invite you to celebrate her life as you see fit. Karen generously donated her body to the University of Minnesota Anatomy Bequest Program for medical education and research. She was also a supporter of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Research and their work to understand Parkinson’s disease and MSA.

Karen fought many important battles in her life, often centered around injustice and giving voice to those who did not have one. She will be missed and was dearly loved.

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Unconscious Racism

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | June 8, 2020 |

Understanding how cultural conditioning shapes racial bias can help us change.

 

 “We are living in a racism pandemic… The health consequences are dire. Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.”  

-Sandra L. Shullman, PhD, president of the American Psychological Association. May 29, 2020

 

As a White American, I do not want to admit that I am racist. Or ever could be. Very few of us do. It is a negative word, full of historical pain, systematic maltreatment, and self-indulgent justification of discriminatory thoughts, behaviors, and institutional practices. Yet, the killing of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020, along with myriad other examples of racist practices in law enforcement, sparked a movement of people asking themselves critical questions about race. Questions like, “Why are African Americans so over-represented in prison settings? Why is it offensive to say “All Lives Matter” instead of “Black Lives Matter”? Am I racist and don’t even know it?

Dyana Wing – Upsplash

Consciously, I do not believe in racial injustice. I do not believe that race, defined as the social categorization of people based on visible physical appearance characteristics, has any bearing on a person’s value. I do not believe that a person has more or less worth because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, weight, ability, or any other demographic variable. Unconsciously, however, I have been culturally conditioned to believe something different.

Racial and Ethnic Socialization and Conditioning
Understanding cultural conditioning can help us not only to see how we developed racial biases but also to help us change by bringing them into our conscious awareness. As humans, we are all raised in a cultural context. We don’t choose it—we are born into it. From childhood on, we look around and start learning what is valuable about ourselves and those around us. As such, our cultural environment(s) teach us the traits and characteristics of people that are deemed more desirable and less desirable largely based on who has the most power. We learn these cultural values whether we are consciously aware of it or not. This process of learning about and accepting cultural values through direct (explicit) and indirect (implicit) messages is generally referred to as cultural conditioning. As applied to race, it is also often referred to as racial and ethnic socialization (RES).

At the most basic level, racism is believing that one’s racial group is superior to other groups; and, the power to take action against the group(s) deemed inferior (Jones, 1997). Historically, mainstream American culture teaches us that being White is better than being non-White. Currently, we continue to see evidence of racial bias and discrimination in all areas of life, from law enforcement to employment practices to attitudes that drive political opinion. If you were raised in the United States (and many other Western cultures), you learned that being White is better than being non-White—even if you were not consciously aware that you were learning it—or—consciously believe it is false. You were conditioned to believe it. And, like all ism’s of domination, if you are in a position of power (in this case, you are White), you will struggle to see that race matters to the lived experiences of people because it will be mostly invisible to you. If you are a person of color, it is likely that you also internalized some of these messages and may apply them to yourself and those around you in ways that are difficult to see.

Internalization of cultural norms and values is particularly problematic with regard to racism because even if we consciously do not believe racist ideology is true, we are all likely to have internalized some of it. Despite that fact, most of us strongly deny that we could hold racist beliefs or engage in racist behavior, which destroys our ability to admit the truth and change.

Until we can see the unconscious and deceptive realities of living in a culture historically mired in racism that continues to perpetuate racist beliefs in direct and indirect ways, we can’t change them. So, the goal is to unearth what we learned and think about its validity. We then use that information to change.

Confronting Racist Conditioning
To confront racism in ourselves and continue positive cultural change, our biggest challenge is to see it. To become honest about the cultural, political, historical, and organizational realities we live in and to see how those realities affected our development and the development of those around us. Psychology offers us many important tools on this journey.

  1. Self-Awareness and Exploration

The most important place to start fighting racism is to explore your own multicultural make-up and examine how it influenced your beliefs, behaviors, and values around race. We are all cultural beings who hold beliefs that will influence our interactions with individuals who are different from us on any number of multicultural dimensions, including culture, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and socio-economic status. To be a culturally-informed person, we must strive to be aware of what we bring to the table. What did you learn about race growing up? From whom? Were there conflicting messages from different cultural subgroups or individuals in your life? What did you do with that information? How did it shape you? Do you believe people of color when they describe experiences of discrimination? Do you think racist thoughts? Do you shy away from racial conversations because they are too emotionally charged?

  1. Learn About Race

As we explore our own personal experiences around race, we also must become more educated. Learn about the sociopolitical system in the United States and how cultural realities influence individual development and treatment. For example, understand the operation and impact of oppression on human development (racism, classism, sexism, homophobism). From a psychological perspective, a large body of theoretically-grounded and empirically-supported research exists on the impact of racism on mental health. For example, research on experiences with racial discrimination (including environmental racism) explores how it affects identity and mental health while also providing information on resiliency factors that combat internalization of negative cultural messages in people of color as they cope with living in a racist society. Models of racial identity formation help us understand the process and experience of identifying with a racial group in people of color and Whites. Information on stereotype threat helps us understand how activating a negative racial stereotype affects behavioral responses and emotional reactions. Information on acculturation helps us understand how people navigate differences in cultural values and its impact on health. Research on racially-salient appearance features help us understand how ideals and values of beauty influence body image and eating pathology in people of color.

  1. Do Something Differently

As we learn about ourselves and current cultural realities, we have to challenge ourselves and those around us to change. Vote. Talk to friends, family, and colleagues about race and how it affects their lives. Ask questions. Challenge your thoughts and behaviors when you notice you are acting in a discriminatory way. Peacefully protest when you see injustice. Acknowledge ways that you benefit from unearned cultural power and privilege in your life. Contact your political leaders. Read about the history of racism in the United States. Mentor a child. Do something in a conscious, intentional effort to acknowledge racial inequity and do something about it.

The Naked Truth is This:
Racism continues to have incredibly negative consequences on the psychological, physical, and spiritual health of the oppressed. When a cultural reality is etiologically tied to illness, I as a psychologist and we as human beings have a responsibility to fight it.  Although changing culture is a massive task, it starts with each of us being willing to dismantle systems of oppression and our role in maintaining them. It starts with honest self-examination and a willingness to see some ugly truths that need to change—in our own minds, community, country, and world.

Note of thanks: I have spent the majority of my career studying how sociocultural inequities influence mental health and illness: I would not be who or where I am today without the mentoring and friendship of some brilliant and inspiring people. A special thanks to the American Psychological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program for your role in my professional training and personal life.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

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Declines in Physical Activity During COVID-19 Highlight Need for Exercise

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | April 27, 2020 |

Why movement is important while quarantined and how to get back on track.

*This blog was co-written by Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP and guest author, Dr. Darian Parker, PhD, NSCA-CPT*

Source: Wokandapix, Pixabay

As we socially distance to stop the spread of COVID-19, most Americans are getting far less exercise than usual. In a nationwide initiative to track the attitudes, behaviors, and experiences of Americans during this pandemic using a fitness app, Evidation Health has collected data from more than 185,000 people from all 50 states. Overall, physical activity has declined an average of 48% from March 1 to April 6, 2020. More specifically, all states show drops in movement greater than 30%, with 10 states and the District of Colombia showing declines greater than 50% (including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas).

In addition to declines in physical activity, most of us are feeling increasingly stressed. Reports by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) and Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2020) highlight that fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the disease itself is co-occurring with increasingly difficult economic and social realities that contribute to higher stress levels. For example, in the Evidation Health study, 20% of participants reported being worried or very worried about maintaining their health through the pandemic and 42% are worried about going to the doctor’s office or hospital for necessary medical care not related to coronavirus symptoms (Evidation Health, downloaded April 25, 2020). In fact, the need for interventions that ameliorate anxiety and other mental health challenges experienced by people under quarantine are shifting psychological service delivery to online and digital formats at very high rates (World Economic Forum, 2020).

The truth is there are many psychological and biological reasons exercise is essential to health, particularly during this coronavirus pandemic. First, obesity is a major public health issue in the United States and around the world associated with a number of physical diseases and medical complications. Preliminary research suggests that high body weight may be related to the need for hospitalization for people diagnosed with COVID-19. For example, a recent study of 4,103 COVID-19 patients in New York found that body mass index (BMI: an estimate of obesity status) was a strong predictor of hospitalization. In other words, those who had higher BMI’s were more likely to need to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 symptoms (Petrelli, et al., 2020). Second, exercise is highly important to physical and emotional health. Exercise contributes to an increase in neutrophils and natural killer cells which provide protection against viruses. Furthermore, recent research (Neiman, et. al, 2019) indicates that there is an inverse relationship between moderate exercise training and illness. Additionally, a recent review study by Dr. Zhen Yan of the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome—an issue that affects many people with COVID-19. Finally, research indicates that exercise not only provides short term immune system benefits, but also decreases long term changes to the immune system that can therefore reduce the risk of infection (Turner and Bath, 2020). In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may last for months and years, developing a strong immune system may be protective in fighting the illness and its complications over time.

5 Tips for Increasing Physical Activity Amidst the Quarantine

If you find that you are moving less and are becoming concerned for your health or noticing that you are gaining undesired weight (perhaps out of stress eating), now is the time to change. Here are five tips to increasing your exercise over the coming months.

1) Make time to move each day. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children, adolescents, and adults should move daily. To achieve the best health benefits, adults should do at least 2.5 – 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise a week, ideally with some muscle strengthening activities. So, even if you need to carve out a little corner of your bedroom to do it, schedule exercise time for yourself and your family every day. You can get creative—from stretching to jumping jacks to a dance party with canned foods used as weights. Any movement helps.

2) Challenge thinking that thwarts progress. It is very likely that your routine and options for exercise are very different than they were a couple of months ago. You can’t go to your favorite gym class or even go for a walk outside depending on where you live. You may be quarantining with your entire family, perhaps trying to work, lead distance-learning lessons, cook, clean, and exist in close quarters with no real privacy or space. There are many unwelcome realities of this pandemic that make getting physical activity more challenging than usual.  Consequently, it is very easy to tell yourself that it is impossible to exercise right now. Don’t let yourself indulge in those thoughts. When you notice you are thwarting your movement by telling yourself that it is too hard, you don’t have time, you don’t have any way to get exercise, pause. Take a deep breath and choose to think in ways that promote physical and emotional health.

3) Get social support to encourage physical activity. Many of us are missing our community connections and typical interpersonal interactions. So why not combine the two? Getting exercise while connecting with those around you benefits everyone because it makes you more accountable for getting some exercise, keeps you socially connected, and probably makes it more fun. Try calling a loved-one while you walk, getting on Facetime and doing a workout with a friend, or doing daily text check-in’s to encourage those around you to get some exercise.

4) Increase unstructured physical activity. Increasing physical movement doesn’t mean you have to do “an exercise workout.” Instead, exercise can be very unstructured and still benefit our bodies. For example, doing yard work, chores, walking up and down stairs, and scrubbing the floors can all provide exercise while also improving your living space. So, why not grab a mop and get a bicep workout in the process!

5) Seek out structured virtual exercise options. For those of us who miss the burn of a more intense workout, websites such as Thumbtack and Bark offer certified fitness professionals for live virtual training. Even your local gym may now be offering online fitness classes to you. If you want something more intense, sign up!

The Naked Truth is This:

As we attempt to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are moving less and feeling stressed, which can lead to unwanted weight gain and decreases in overall health. If you notice that you are getting less physical activity, make time to move each day, get social support around exercise activities, and don’t let negative thinking keep you from your goals. Even as the world begins to lessen restrictions around social distancing, we may need to think outside the box to get adequate physical activity for months and years to come.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD ABPP

 

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP 
Board Certified Clinical Psychologist
Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Former)
Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Nevada, School of Medicine
ChooseHonesty.com

Darian Parker, PhD, NSCA-CPT
Co-Owner Epic Leisure Management
Owner Parker’s Personal Training
Host of Dr. D’s Social Network Podcast

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How to Curb Emotional Eating During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | March 17, 2020 |

Is stress about the coronavirus affecting your eating?

As the world attempts to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are feeling increasingly stressed. As recently described by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020), fearanxiety, and uncertainty about the disease itself is co-occurring with requirements for social distancing and increasingly difficult economic realities with an unknown trajectory. As such, helping people through the coronavirus pandemic is not just about helping them stay safe physically—it is also about helping them maintain mental and emotional health (CDC, 2020).

Source: Ryan McGuire/Pixabay

When a stressful situation of this magnitude arises, people often experience substantial changes to their eating behaviors (CDC, 2020). Generally described as emotional or stress eating, we often start to eat (or not eat) in a conscious or unconscious effort to suppress or soothe negative emotions (Mayo Clinic). These emotionally-based changes in eating behavior range from overeating to binge eating to severe caloric restriction (Epel, Laipdus, McEwen, & Brownell, 2001). For example, when feeling strong emotions, some people are more likely to binge eat, which is characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time while feeling unable to stop. Others may notice “grazing” behavior where they want to eat constantly throughout the day or night. Still, others may restrict their eating, sometimes in an attempt to feel control over something during a time of great uncertainty. Furthermore, in the current pandemic situation, fear around the availability, accessibility, and cost of future food may affect the eating experiences of many people.

The truth is there are many psychological and biological reasons that we eat when we feel stressed. Eating can decrease negative emotions in some individuals (e.g., Lavendar et al., 2016). For example, in individuals with more clinically-elevated eating issues, some research suggests that negative affect predicts binge-eating behavior, which in turn can reduce negative emotions (Lavendar et al., 2016). Eating can also serve as a welcome distraction from challenging life’s realities and a self-soothing coping mechanism during uncertain times. Biologically, stress is associated with changes in cortisol, which plays a critical role in energy regulation. We also tend to crave food higher in fat and sugar when stressed, in part because our body requires more energy to function when stressed and simple carbohydrates are the fastest way to get a quick hit (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2018).

That said, emotional eating can also lead to regret, physical discomfort, and weight gain because the original stressors will remain independent of our eating behavior. Consequently, until we honestly address the actual emotions driving our eating, our desire to eat will remain when stressed, often leading to longer-term harm to our physical and emotional health.

5 Tips for Curbing Emotional Eating

If you find yourself stress eating now or in the coming months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, here are five tips to help you.

1. Become more aware of your feelings and let yourself feel them away from foodTake time each day to reflect on how you feel and whether it is leading you to crave food in an undesirable way. Ask yourself questions like: How are you feeling? When do you feel most stressed? What is most worrisome to you about your life today? How are your feelings affecting you and your experience of life right now?

3. Make conscious choices about your eating, avoiding triggers when possible. Deliberately choose what you will eat and when. Challenge yourself to cope with that negative emotions that you may be experiencing away from food. Ask yourself questions like: Will I feel better after eating this? Is this something I am going to regret eating or do I actively choose to eat this? What do I need to change about my life today to help myself not experience unwanted emotional eating episodes?

4. Get social support while avoiding exposure to triggering material. Most of us are quite isolated from our typical routines, communities, and social networks right now. Yet, humans are highly social beings and social connectedness is a core way we cope with stress and hardship (CDC, 2020). We need to stay in touch with friends, family, and the broader community. That said, watching the news is triggering for many people experiencing a crisis situation (CDC, 2020). So, you may need to limit exposure to the news. Ask yourself questions like: Who can I call today that will help me stay emotionally grounded? How can I help others in my life get through this? What can I do to feel more connected to my community even if I can’t interact with them in person right now?

5. Start fresh, each moment of each day. If you had a rough moment or day and do not like the way you felt or ate, start again. You can always start eating differently at this exact moment. Beating yourself up about past eating is not going to be helpful. Instead, encourage yourself to start fresh right now—without judgmental criticisms or self-deprecating sentiment—and reestablish a pattern of eating that both acknowledges the difficult emotions you may be feeling as well as encourages deliberate eating behavior that feels healthy and positive.

As the world attempts to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are feeling increasingly stressed, which often leads to emotional eating. When and if you experience unwanted eating behavior because of strong negative emotion, it is helpful to acknowledge and experience your feelings away from food, understand your emotional eating triggers, and make conscious choices about what you will eat and when. Get and give as much social support as you can from loved ones and start fresh if you have an undesirable or unpleasant eating experience. This is going to be a stressful phase of life for millions of people around the world, so practicing deliberate eating behavior that promotes physical and emotional health is critical.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D. ABPP.

References

https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=6d3578af_8

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fcoping.html

 https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.577.6220&rep=rep1&type=pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4821806/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat

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Developing Gratitude Amidst Life’s Struggle

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | March 3, 2020 |

Being grateful for positive aspects of your life can improve your emotional well-being when facing challenges.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com 6689062

Most of us are emotionally struggling with something at any given moment. Whether it be difficult financial realities, relationship discord, parenting challenges, physical illness, self-doubt, addiction, or concerns for the environment, it is easy to find emotionally-charged issues to occupy our minds.

The truth is that life can be very hard. Bad things happen to good people on a daily basis. Painful realities that we have very little control over sometimes smack us in the face. And choosing to live a conscious, honest life requires us to take an unedited look at ourselves and make choices with the information that we learn.

When faced with challenging life’s realities, it can be difficult to see the positive aspects of our lives. Yet, one of the best ways to cope with the struggles that we are bound to grapple with in life is to develop the spirit of gratitude. For there is a gift in every experience. There can be learning in the struggle. There can be growth through pain. And sometimes, we even come out of an objectively challenging reality with tremendous appreciation because the experience made us a better version of ourselves.

In mainstream language, gratitude is generally defined as noticing and appreciating positive aspects of life. It includes the ability to be empathic and to take pleasure in the “little things” in life. Gratitude can occur as a state, which is focusing on something that is good about the present moment; and, as a trait, which is a general tendency to appreciate positives aspects of life.

Jans-Beken and colleagues (2019) recently reviewed quantitative, longitudinal, and intervention-based research examining gratitude as predictor of health-related outcomes. With a final sample of 64 studies meeting inclusion criteria, the authors concluded that gratitude is positively associated with emotional well-being and can facilitate increased social connection. In addition, actively developing gratitude using specific techniques and interventions can help us cope with negative life experiences and realities.

So, how can you increase gratitude in your life? Three effective techniques that increased gratitude in the Jans-Beken et al. (2019) review are:

  • Journaling about what you most appreciate in your life. This can be done on a daily basis for as little as 5 minutes a day or as a one-time exercise.
  • Writing a gratitude letter to someone describing what they mean or meant to you. This can be mailed or done solely as an exercise for you to identify and express your feelings of appreciation.
  • Writing down three good things that happened you to today or this week (also known as the Three Good Things exercise [see Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005]).

The Naked Truth is This:

I believe choosing to be as honest with yourself as possible is key to creating the most meaningful life for yourself—even when the truth hurts. That said, focusing our attention and energy on existing life challenges can lead us to feeling sad, anxious, and depressed. Actively developing an appreciation for the good things about your life can help you cope. Journaling, writing a gratitude letter, and listing at least 3 good things that happened to you today are a great way to start “honestly” appreciating the good in your life—especially when facing difficult life realities.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD ABPP

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How Honest Are People in Online Dating Profiles?

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | September 18, 2019 |

New research study reveals that 70% of singles see photo filters as deceptive.

Conflict of Interest Statement. In all research consultations in which I engage, I operate as an independent evaluator and strive to make recommendations and conclusions in an unbiased, ethical and professional manner. That said, it is ethically warranted that I disclose conflicts of interest when present. In this case, I was a paid research consultant on the Pressure Points study by Plenty of Fish, as well as a spokesperson to describe the study findings to the media.


Online dating is one of the most common ways to find a mate in the U.S. today. According to a 2019 study of over 1,200 participants by Statistica, 17% of respondents met a romantic partner on a dating app and 30% knew someone else who had.

Photo credit: varesennews.it

As online dating becomes more commonplace, the company Plenty of Fish recently conducted a research study called Pressure Points (2019) to understand the pressures associated with online dating, focusing on how authentic and honest people are when looking for a mate. The sample consisted of 2,000 single adults in the U.S. With an almost equal distribution of men and women, participants averaged 48 years old (range 18 +) and were mostly white (68%), straight (85%), and single/never been married (64%) with a relatively wide range of income (under 30k to over 150k).

Data from this study suggests that many singles feel pressured to present themselves in an overly positive light, reflecting “the ideal” date. For example, 60% of millennial women (age 24-34) feel pressure to appear “perfect.” In particular, singles reported feeling pressure to embellish their interests and hobbies, looks/physical appearance, and level of education. Almost half of the study participants (47%) wished they felt less pressure to look perfect when dating.

One of the most important findings from this study is that the large majority of participants think some commonplace online dating practices are deceptive. For example, 70% of the sample considered it deceptive to use face filters, with 52% saying they strongly or somewhat agree that photo editing should be banned from online dating. In fact, 30% of singles reported not pursing communication with someone on a dating app because their photos were too heavily edited. When asked to elaborate, about 25% of the sample reported that seeing a face filter implies that someone is pretending to be someone they are not; 23% said that the person seems insecure, and 16% perceive face filters to reflect superficiality.

Despite the fact that many online dating practices are seen as deceptive, the large majority of singles from this sample would like more honest, real information both from potential partners and in their own self-presentation. For example, 70% of study participants reported that they want their online profile to be more reflective of their true self; 77% want to find a partner who loves and accepts them for who they are; and, 84% would rather have someone be honest online than paint an overly positive picture.

The Naked Truth

As is true for in-person dating interactions, online dating can be challenging. In this sample, 62% reported that they have taken a break from dating at some point in their life because they wanted to focus on other areas of life (52%) or themselves (47%). In any dating format—in-person, online, or in-app—people are likely to present themselves in a positive light. When we meet someone new, we want to put our best foot forward! And that is not necessarily negative—it is hard to be vulnerable and honest until you develop some understanding and trust in another person. That said, these data suggest that there is a great deal of pressure for singles to present themselves in “a perfect, idealized way” that is not consistent with who they feel they really are. If the goal of dating is to meet someone that leads to a meaningful connection, presenting oneself in a more authentic way in an online dating profile (both in photos and description) will likely lead to better connection with the kinds of people you want to meet.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP

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