This Holiday Season Give Yourself A Break!

08HOUSEWORK-popupSometimes we stress ourselves out for no good reason! The holidays are filled with such “voluntary stress” opportunities. I don’t know about you but often my stress has to do with I think I “ought” to be doing for the holidays because of the standards others (a grandmother, mother or aunt, even so-called friends) have set up. Some of my “ought to-s” include:

1. Bake a ton of Christmas cookies, package them beautifully and give them away to neighbors and friends.

2. Find, purchase and wrap (beautifully) the perfect gift for everyone on my list before December 24, even if they live half a world away!

3. Decorate the house with Christmas cheer in every room! Is one tree enough?

4. Clean and scrub the house from top to bottom so that guests will not judge.

5. Lose ten pounds.

Ha! If even one of those five things happens it will be a Christmas miracle! Do you feel the same? Do you have your own list of ‘Shouldas’ that’s making you grumpy?

This year I am more of the mindset to just be honest with myself and brutally prioritize. You can do this, too. Ask yourself if you could only do one thing on the list, what would it be? So I took a deep breath and decided to focus on #2, revising it to read: “Find a good-enough gift that will make your loved one smile.” It doesn’t have to be the Best gift or the Perfect gift. For me the rest of the list is not essential for a happy holiday. In fact trying to squeeze in the rest in the next few days may take away form the holiday spirit.

The real trick here is not to care so much about the stuff that doesn’t get done. That’s not easy is it? But the truth is even the most sparkling floor does not replace the warm welcome of an open loving heart. A good guest won’t notice the dust bunnies in the corner and won’t care if they do notice them. A good friend will be just as happy with a little box of cookies after the New Year as a huge one before January 1st. I know I would! Wouldn’t you?

Life lived well is messy. Revel in it!

Photo via NYT Golden Cosmos

9 Depression Busters Just in Time for the Holidays

6a00d83527e90e69e20120a74631f0970b-320piAround this time of year I don’t think there can be enough helpful tips to keep the Happy in the Holidays. That’s why I’m sharing these classic holiday depression busters by Therese Borchard, mental health writer extraordinaire.

These 9 rules help me put the joy back into the festivities–or at least keep me from hurling a mistletoe at Santa and landing myself on the ‘naughty’ list.

1. Expect the worse. What I’m trying to say is that you have to predict bad behavior before it happens so that you can catch it in your holiday mitt and toss it back, instead of having it knock you to the floor.

2. Remember to SEE. SEE stands for Sleeping regularly, Eating well, and Exercising. Without these three basics, you can forget about an enjoyable (or even tolerable) holiday.

3. Beef up your support. If you attend Al-Anon once a week, go twice a week during the holidays. If you attend a yoga class twice a week, try to fit in another. Schedule an extra therapy session as insurance against the potential meltdowns ahead of you.

4. Avoid toxic people. This one’s difficult if the toxic people happen to be hosting Christmas dinner! But in general, just try your best to avoid pernicious humans in December.

Check out How to Avoid the Holidays with Seriously Toxic People

5. Know thyself. Before you make too many plans this holiday season, list your triggers: people, places, and things that tend to trigger your fears and bring out your worst traits.

6. Travel with polyester, not linen. I’m saying that you should lower your standards and make traveling as easy as possible, both literally and figuratively.

7. Make your own traditions. Making your own tradition might mean Christmas Eve is reserved for your family and the extended family is invited over for brunch on Christmas Day. Or vice versa. Basically, it’s laying down some rules so that you have better control over the situation.

Check out For the Holidays: Change can be Empowering!

8. Get out of yourself. According to Gandhi, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.

Check out How to Bring Christmas Cheer to a Loved One in the Hospital

9. Exercise your funny bone. Remember, with a funny bone in place–even if it’s in a cast–everything is tolerable.

Check out A Merry Christmas Gift: The Gift of Laughter

Please share your favorite depression buster if it isn’t here! Click on the “Comments” tab above. We could all use your wisdom!

Read Theresa’s entire article here.

Nelson Mandela: What happens when we lose a father?

“Who will be my role model now that my role model is gone?” ~Paul Simon

From what I’ve read and heard through the media, I don’t think Nelson Mandela would expect or want to be deified. Some of the posts, interviews and articles about him since his death make him sound like he sprung from his mother’s womb fully the tolerant, brilliant politician and peacemaker he became in later life. But that can’t be so. It wasn’t so.

Like Nelson Mandela, my father lived a long life. He died in his sleep at eighty-eight years old. We are very lucky when we are able to know our parents as adults. It gives us chance to get to truly know them, not as the two dimensional icons of our childhood, but as the three dimensional human beings they really are. More like us.

Sometimes that’s a painful transition. As a child and into early adulthood, I worshiped my father. I thought he was the most intelligent, the most cultured, the coolest guy around. A combination of Jack Kennedy, Einstein and Freud. I had him on an impossible pedestal.

When it turned out he wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, that he could be, and often was, wrong, I had to grieve the loss of the superman I had created.

Then I got to learn all over again who this man really was; his frustrations, failures, in addition to his accomplishments. I realized he had clay feet as well as strengths. I had to let myself be angry that he wasn’t perfect. That he had “let me down”. Then I could forgive him in my heart and accept that he did the best he could. This was a long process and took not a few hours of therapy! It turned out that even with his faults my Dad was pretty cool after all. And, more importantly, he was a real human being.

Ultimately, when we are able to embrace our role models as good yet flawed, we can incorporate them into who we are and love them and ourselves that much more deeply for it. Who is our role model now that our role model is gone? They are never gone, as long as we carry the best of who they were inside our hearts.

The NPR Program, Tell Me More, had a wonderful conversation which emphasized the evolution and complexity, of who Nelson Mandela, the father of his country, really was. Of all the tributes I’ve heard and read over the last few days, this one stood out for me. To help us remember Nelson Mandela well, here are some of his most cherished words. Is your favorite here? If not, please share it in the comments:

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

“Let your greatness bloom.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

Photo via Andrew Johnson

Thanksgiving Day: Minefield or Comfort Zone?


There are lots of reasons not to be crazy about this holiday, such as putting up with kids that aren’t yours, in-laws who have an uncanny ability to push all your buttons, too much to eat, conversations that are either too intense or too boring and, my personal favorite, a lot of tongue biting just to get out in one piece. Here are a few good sites to help enhance everyone’s enjoyment of the day:

And let’s remember:

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

~Epictetus, Greek philosopher and very wise guy


Photo courtesy of Yeimaya

3 Ways to a More Resilient Self-Esteem


Or, How is Our Self-Worth Like a Bug?

When I was in therapy back in graduate school I had panic attacks. My therapist said I was susceptible to anxiety because I wore my ego on the outside where it was too vulnerable. She said if you look at evolution the creatures on the low end of the food chain wear their skeletons on the outside and the inside was all mushy. Beatles are like that. The slightest thing could crush them. If the exoskeleton was cracked that is the end of them.

More advanced, evolved animals have their skeleton on the inside and their mushy bits are on the outside. If the mushy bits were hurt (as a rule) they may be battered and bruised but they could still stay upright and strong because our core, our bones, are on the inside.

We want our self-esteem to be more evolved.

When our confidence is anchored in ourselves rather than outside us, we are more stable and more resilient.  For example, many of us are people pleasers. We tend to measure our self worth way too much on others’ view of us, instead of what we think about ourselves. That’s not to say other people’s opinion isn’t important. It just ought to be less important than our own belief in ourselves. It means that if they turn away from us, it may hurt, but we can still stand and stay strong. That’s real power.

How do we get our self-esteem skeleton on the inside where it belongs?

Start with some very simple, basic exercises:

  • Raise your awareness of who that harsh critic is in your life.  Whether in the form of another person or a critical voice in your head. Distiguish between that voice and the True You. You are kind, good and tougher than you think. You just need to raise the volume on your True Voice and tell that other nasty voice to bug off!
  • Remember who You really are. List all your best attributes. Re-affirming who you truly are (instead of what others say you are) is a lot harder than it sounds but it works!
  • Play a little defense. Say No. Start small. Turn down an invitation to join a committee when you already have too much on your plate. Say no thank you. Repeat as needed.

When we are born with thin skin it’s especially important to remember our inner strengths and practice them every day.

Beauty in a Dark Sky


Even in a dark sky there is light and beauty. Sometimes it’s easy to see. Sometimes we need patience, time and breath to see it.

Photo courtesy of Steve O’ Bryan of SmackSmog



My Blog Was Hacked Part Three

This is a test. Fingers are crossed that this time all comes out squeaky clean.

Another bouquet of quotes just for the hell of it. Enjoy!

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” ~Anonymous

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” ~W. C. Fields

“If at first you don’t succeed, do it like your mother told you.” ~Author Unknown

If at first you don’t succeed, you’re running about average. ~M.H. Alderson

My Blog Was Hacked Part Two!

The hacking went deeper than we thought. SmackSmog, my Internet ninjas, thought they had it and then, like a hydra, the hack came back. After much sweat and blood, (imagine a really intense episode of trauma surgery on ER) I am told it is time to test the system.

To test the system and have a little fun at the same time, I offer you these quotes about computers:

“Anyone who has lost track of time when using a computer knows the propensity to dream, the urge to make dreams come true and the tendency to miss lunch.” ~Tim Berners-Lee

“The computer is a moron” ~Peter F. Drucker

“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid. Humans are slow, inaccurate and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination.” ~Albert Einstein

“My favorite thing about the Internet is that you get to go into the private world of real creeps without having to smell them.” ~Penn Jillett

3 Things I Learned When My Blog Got Hacked!

Dear subscribers and readers of the Explore What’s Next blog:

I am so sorry!

For weeks I’ve been trying to figure out why a rogue link to some lame online office services was appearing on EWN subscribers’ email notifications. Yesterday the hackers upgraded from an innocent (but still unwanted) link to full-on nasty-scam in the form of advertisements for pharmaceutical sexual enhancers. ARG!

It was as if they were saying, “Well, they didn’t chuck us out for the little hack so that must mean we can go all out now!”

Lessons learned:

1. Do not hesitate to kick anyone out of your life who is not treating you nicely. Don’t wait for them to go away on their own or for them to change just because they said they would (“I promise”). No. Kick the jerk out first, ask questions later. Firmly say, “Oh, no you don’t! Straighten up and treat me with respect or get out!”

2. Be grateful for your support system. When it comes to creating and maintaining a good website/blog it takes a village. The first notifications that something was way off came from three intrepid friends/readers. All reported a variation on “You’ve got a serious problem here!” Once alarmed, I immediately sent up the Bat Signal! Or in my case the SmackSmog Signal. The SmackSmog team jumped all over the interlopers and drove the bad guys out within hours! Thank you, thank you, thank all of you!!! I heart my Internet village. XO!

3. Take passwords seriously. Passwords are a pain in the ass but it may be the only thing standing between you and the spineless pig hacker in pjs, sitting in his mom’s basement sucking down Mountain Dews and chowing on Cheetos. Ew! In my case, one way the hackers may have gotten in was because I was lazy and didn’t assign a super strong password where I should have. Those days are over.

As God is my witness, I will never choose a cheesy password again!

It is my hope that you may learn from this little episode as I have. Please continue to enjoy the Explore What’s Next blog knowing we will do all in our power to keep it informative, helpful and classy.

With much affection,

Dr. Aletta


Relax! We are Awesome Just the Way We Are!

That’s the message for today. I want to have a day that is guilt-free, agitation-free, restless-free and anger-free. If I have trouble with any of those I will stop whatever it is I’m doing and sit or lie down and focus on ONE THING  like maybe how awesome I am just because I’m trying! And Goddamn it, trying does count! I don’t care what Yoda says.

Ok, that sounded sort of pathetic but I think a lot of you know what I’m talking about.

I am going to the barn to see my horse because she makes me happy. She recharges my battery. The smell of the barn, the hay, the tack, the horsey smells, the sound of their nickering and chewing, stomping and blowing. If I can allow myself this pleasure for just an hour instead of feeling like I really should be doing something else, like writing a more meaningful article here on the blog that will change your life, then maybe, just maybe, I can do a little of that tomorrow. But that’s fortune telling.

For today: More simple relaxing things I can do…

Read a book just for fun!

Pet my dog because he is so soft.

Ride my new stationary bike while watching Tabitha Takes Over. Something about exercises I can do while sitting tickles the hell out of me.

Take a large garbage bag, go through the house and throw out stuff that so obviously needs to go there is no “can this be useful later?” argument. Yes, I find this relaxing!

Pretend I’m Nigella Lawson and experiment with a new recipe for dinner. I might have to speak with a British accent as I clean the leeks!

What will you do today just for fun or just to relax or just to recharge the YOU ARE AWESOME  neon sign in your spirit today?

Photo courtesy of MarcelGermain via Flickr

© Copyright Explore Whats Next - Designed by Pexeto