When Life Becomes A Competition



Photo courtesy Sofia Francesca Photography

“Playing House” – Photo courtesy Sofia Francesca Photography

One night I was out running and thinking about how my wedding engagement set off an intense ripple effect in our friend group. Girlfriends started pressuring their boyfriends about wedding rings and houses. All of a sudden we had four weddings to attend before our own! Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to be proud of these things and to share it with people you love, but was it just me or did everything start to feel like a competition all of a sudden?

With this on my mind, I became aware of the neighborhood I was running through. It was a new development with expensive houses, white picket fences, two new cars in the driveways, kids toys on the lawns, swing sets in the backyards. They all looked the same and reinforced even more that sense of completion.

We start to feel pressured around our 20’s and 30’s to have that ticky-tacky lifestyle. Somehow we are made to feel as if there’s something wrong with us if we don’t get into the competition.

I’m not immune to the competition stress. Even though, I am married I still don’t have the house, two nice cars or kids. Should I feel bad about that? Was I doing something wrong? The pressure was getting to me.

Being sucked into this race didn’t feel like me, but there I was. I struggled to remind myself to stay present and focused on what I have instead of what I don’t have yet. As much as I might wish I had more control, few things in life can be forced; things, especially the important things, tend to unfold in its own time, when the conditions are right. My timeline doesn’t look like everyone else’s. Just like other people’s timeline doesn’t look like mine. That doesn’t make it wrong or make me or anyone else a failure at adulting. Learning to be comfortable, patient and confident while we find our own path is a process, like so much of life.

What helps me is to stay mindful, aware and present in the moment. I try to remind myself:

“I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.”

I hope this helps you, too. If you can relate to any of this or have your own ways that help you deal with this “life competition”, please leave me a comment! I would love to hear your story.

Choosing A Pleasurable Life



Roman Flowers

Courtesy Sofia Francesca

“I don’t know if it’s a function of age or temperament, but I’m no longer seeking those major exclamation points of pleasure. I want a life that has pleasure contained within it.”

~Terry Gross

The Nice Attack: Be Careful What You Watch



So many times, too frequently to count, I strongly advise people to give themselves permission to stay away from media  after terrorist attacks. In reference to the attack in Nice on Bastille Day, my colleague and friend, Shane Owens,Ph.D., A.B.P.P.,  wrote this:

“The footage from this attack is unusually graphic, and it is raw and widely available. I logged into social media and was hit immediately with it without clicking the GIFs.

Seriously, this stuff is different. Be very careful about what you watch and what you click on when around those of tender age or sensibilities.

One last bit of advice, if I may: please limit your exposure to any media over the next couple of days. I have noticed that people who are usually unshaken by events like those we’ve seen in the past week or so are starting to let it get to them.”

It is extremely important that we protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially our children, from being indirect, but still very real victims, of any terrorist attack. I will heed Shane’s advice and I hope you, my dear friends, will do so, too.

Dr. Owens is a psychologist based in Suffolk County, New York, Board Certified in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @drshaneowens

Soothe Your Brain With A Mindful Walk



With the recent shootings in Florida, bombings in Turkey, the Brexit vote and the consistent daily stream of stressful news it is important to find ways to quiet the mind, handle the stress and find peacefulness. But how do you do this when there is so much negativity surrounding us?

Here’s an idea! It can be as simple as going for a walk in nature. Find a bit of greenery! Simply strolling through a quiet tree-lined path in a city park or heading out to a nearby hiking trail can help you let go of dwelling on the dark side of everyday life and find some inner light. In a world that needs each and everyone one of us to be more positive and compassionate, you can impact global change by starting with yourself!

Nicole Chumksy LMHC, CASAC is an associate at Explore What’s Next and is currently welcoming people to join her on a mindful walk in nature. Click here to find out more information!

Fight Terrorism. Take Care Of Yourself.



It makes me so sick. Another gathering of innocents. Another shooting. Another massacre. More desperate phone calls. More screams. More grief so sharp it cuts through bone.

When things like this happen I give myself allowance to avoid the media. It’s too gut-wrenching. The Paris attacks, Belgium, now this. My imagination and empathy take me to such dark places it’s unbearable. So I spare myself as much as I can in order to function.

Is this selfish? I hope not. I think of it more as necessary, healthy self-care. To be able to provide empathy and compassion I need to be able to think straight. That’s hard to do when I’m overwhelmed by the utterly overwhelming reports of what happened in that nightclub.

There’s a kind of re-traumatizing that happens with too much information all at once, over and over again. The brain just isn’t built to process the fire-hose delivery of information and it literally burns out. In my case burn out means full blown panic. In others it might mean a sadness so profound it leads to despair. This is how the terrorists win. This is how they rend the fabric of our society. We must do what we can to not allow this to happen.

So I stay away from the 24 hour news outlets, especially the individual personal accounts they seem to revel in. My news moratorium does not mean I don’t get information. You can’t avoid it completely without very strong effort. Snippets come through, a headline here, an interview over the radio, just enough to be horrified but not too much to be able to handle. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

I know the victims are people with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends. Young people with the pulse of life dancing through them, simply enjoying their Saturday night. I know each and every one precious life has their own story of hope and struggle. I do not need the details force-fed to me by an all too eager reporter.

Sidebar: Do they hear themselves? Do they ever turn off the video and just listen to their breathless voices? To how excited they sound shouting out really awful things? I would be so ashamed.

As we grieve, our family, our friends, our community all need us to take care. Do what you need to do to titrate your exposure to the tragedy. Balance the exposure with walks in nature, listening to music you love, reading an escapist novel, laughing at an episode of a favorite sit-com. This does not make us insensitive. It is because we are so sensitive that we need need to be careful.

Try this Self-Care Exercise. Take a break in as quiet a spot as you can manage. Close the office door, turn down the lights. Sit or lie down as comfortably as possible. Breathe in deeply slowly, and out deeply, slowly through your nose if you can. (If not, don’t sweat it) three times. Then just breathe easily. Bring to mind the place, person or thing that gives you refuge from the storm. A place where you always feel safe and nurtured, a person who never judges, who only has love for you, a thing that reminds you of a time or place that was wonderful. Visualize your refuge with as much sensual color as you can. Smells, sights, sounds, textures and tastes all come together to create a real sanctuary where you can breathe easily, plug into your source of positive energy and recharge your battery. Give yourself a minute, ten, twenty, however long you wish to be in this place of peace.

You’re Invited to a Mindful Walk In The Woods



photo

Nature tells us, “It’s going to be OK.”

Do you feel you could use some unplugged time from your busy life? Would you like to enjoy the calming connection nature provides? I’ve got just the thing for you! You are invited to a mindfulness hike in the woods this summer!

“When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor.” –Florence Williams, This Is Your Brain On Nature

The idea for the Mindfulness Hike Retreat grew out of an experience I had a few years ago. At that time I was still suffering with the pain of being forced to change my job. In my first job after earning my degree, I loved going to work everyday. I finally felt like I had arrived. This was the job I worked so hard for the last few years. To top it off I was in a clinic where my colleagues felt like family. It lasted a year, a year that I am still grateful for.

Then one day my supervisor told me I was being transferred. The news came out of the blue. My heart sank and my eyes started to smart with tears. Immediately I felt a heavy sense of loss, betrayal and lack of control. I was devastated.

During the transition I struggled going to and being at work. I was so angry! My thoughts were constantly racing – “Should I look for a different job?” “This is not fair!” “This is going to be a disaster” “You are going to hate your new job.” Not very helpful, right?!

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5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Couples Therapy



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This is a True Story.

A couple walked into a therapist’s office. (OK. It was my office…)

“If you would only stop doing what you’re doing we’d be fine!” yelled one.

“If you would only stop telling me what to do we’d be fine!” growled the other.

“Time out!” said the therapist (me), using the universal ‘T’ hand gesture.

The couple, united in intent at last, stared at me, shocked, as if a monkey had suddenly jumped on my head.

“Couples Therapy is not about having the same fight you have at home here in this office,” I said,  “Just because there’s a third party witnessing it won’t make the fight, or your relationship, any better. Let me explain what it takes to be in couples therapy. Then you can decide if you want to continue.”

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Teens@Risk: The Dark Side Of Smartphones & Social Media



Photo courtesy of Fred Siebert via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Fred Siebert via Flickr

Your teen’s smartphone may not be as smart as you would like it to be. Teens today are presented with a world that did not exist that long ago. Giving your child a smartphone can introduce risks that you may not anticipate.

When teens open various apps such as KikMeetup or even Facebook, they could be inviting predators into their lives without realizing it. This can introduce cyberbullying, sextortion, blackmail and relationships that can become lethal. Yes, that means it could threaten their safety and ultimately their life.

Recently I was interviewed by a reporter who knew of my work with adolescent girls. In the article ‘Sextortion’ of girls can make smartphone as lethal as a gun, I’m quoted:

“It’s a very vulnerable age. They need attention. They are trusting. They want to feel loved,” Maleski said. “They also may feel like they’re in an adult relationship, so they feel mature and that they can handle it.”

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Happy Leap Day! Time to Take A Chance!



Leap and the net will appear. ~Buddhist proverb

What you probably already know about Leap Year:

Feb. 29 is more like a catch-up day than a leap day, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson told NYT columnist, James Barron.

…the earth takes 365¼ days to orbit the sun, so a day is added to the Gregorian calendar every four years.

… leap years… have also given Ireland its tradition of the so-called Ladies’ Privilege. That is, women proposing to men. (Whether it’s a privilege is debatable.)

Of course it’s not a privilege! There’s no debate about it. It’s archaic. A cute idea for a Hollywood rom-com, but way past its use-by date.

Over thirty years ago I proposed to my husband after knowing him for four months. It wasn’t a Leap Year. I loved him, I wanted to spend my life with him. Nothing exceptional about this story except that he turned me down. I took a risk and he said no.

Was I hurt? Yes. Did I have to take a moment and rethink my plan? You bet. So what’s the point?

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The Good Life Is Built With Good Relationships



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