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.

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.

When Snowmageddon Comes, Be At Home

Buffalo, NY Dec 2001. Courtesy of Mikail A.M. Flickr

Buffalo, NY Dec 2001. Courtesy of Mikail A.M. Flickr

My plans to go to NYC this weekend were caboshed by Jonas. The aspect of snow itself didn’t bother me. The City is beautiful in the snow, hushed and glistening. But the thought of being stuck at an airport all weekend waiting for a flight that never came was too much. I hardly had to bother canceling, the City decided to shut down all by itself.

My colleagues on the Eastern Seaboard, bracing for the blizzard of 2016, said, “You should be used to this,” as if two feet of snow is like a bad smell. No, you don’t necessarily get used to it, but you do learn not to fight it. Some of us even learn to enjoy the forced time off. Dolce far niente!

In Case of Blizzard, Do Nothing, by former Buffalonian David Dudley, says it very well:

“There’s something cartoonish about the menace of a blizzard, in which nature’s wrath assumes a fluffy, roly-poly form and tries to kill you. It’s the meteorological equivalent of getting smothered in Tribbles, or attacked by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. And yet, kill it does, via car accidents and heart attacks and other misadventures, usually involving people trying, unwisely, to do something.”

So to my friends downstate, hunker down, make yourself some popcorn, a hot chocolate or well-laced Irish coffee, and read the whole article. What else do you have to do today?

5 Ways To Deal With Anxiety Over The Heartbleed Bug

3bO_Hxp4_400x400By now you have probably heard about the Heartbleed Bug that has the Internet community shorting out its circuits. With headlines, tweets and posts with titles like “Why Heartbleed Is the Ultimate Web Nightmare” its a wonder any of us got any sleep last night. That Heartbleed logo alone is enough to kick up my flight/fight response!

So what can we do to get a grip, calm our bodies down and take action to do what we can to address the problem?


5 Ways to Cope with the Anxiety of Starting Something New

DSC03852-1Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Kate Maleski, LCSW and EWN psychotherapist.

The weather is changing, school buses are present, you may be staring a new job or project. Changing an ingrained habit like overspending and/or overeating, you may feel a pit in your stomach and think….am I ready for this?

Summer has come to an end and it’s time to get programmed again. As with changes in the season, there will always be changes in your life. Recently I was faced with a lot of change; new city, new job, new house and faced with anxiety because of the unknowns. Change can be exciting for some but terrifying for others.You may be scared about leaving familiar ground and taking the chance on something unfamiliar. It’s important to find the joy in starting something new.

Your mind is racing and you are questioning everything in your day and you haven’t even gotten out of bed. Realize that you are starting something new and it is normal to feel worried. Look at it as an adventure and a challenge rather than adding stress in your life.

Suggestions that may help:

1. Keep in contact with something safe. You want to have something familiar that feels good when faced with anxiety. Even if it includes having your favorite coffee, or picking up takeout once a week from your favorite restaurant, or just meeting with an old friend.

2. Challenge negative thinking. Take a few minutes to develop a different relationship with your thoughts and feelings. Instead of judging yourself think about the new possibilites you are giving yourself.

3. Breath it out. A lot of times when feeling anxious you hold your breath. Don’t hold your breath, focus on your breath. Bring your thoughts and breath together moment by moment.

4. Allow for worry time. Accept the worry rather than running from it.Talk about it but don’t let it overwhelm you. When feeling anxious during a time that is not designated “worry time” jot it down and save it for later.

5. Learn to relax. What is your outlet? Yoga, exercise, reading, cooking. Using a healthy outlet will help your body relax and not focus on your anxiety.

These are the skills I have used recently with my new adventures. Remember, if you don’t push yourself to try something new you will always be left the same place.

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


Tornado Terror in Oklahoma

As I write this I am watching the television coverage of the killer tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma. It is beyond imagining what it is like to have your rock solid home, school, church or barn instantly disappear. The entire landscape as you knew it is gone, just gone. Right now the focus is on two schools where children sheltered from the storm. Seen from a helicopter hovering above them, swarms of rescue workers in their bright yellow jackets cover the rubble like bees.

When I was about twelve years old a category 5 tornado ripped through my hometown, Topeka, Kansas. That’s a photo of it above. The base of that tornado was a mile wide, which is considered enormous.  The Moore, OK tornado is said to have been at least as wide. In Topeka we were incredibly fortunate. Seventeen people died that night, a few from heart attacks. No one could believe that so few people were killed by such a huge storm. Everyone said it was a miracle.

Moore was hit harder and will need much more help in terms of money and emotional support. Already they are saying 51 people are confirmed dead with over one hundred injured. They expect to find more. An Oklahoma emergency services director being interviewed said it isn’t over. There are still tornado warnings out across the region.

People wonder around in a daze. I know what that glassy eyed look is. It’s disbelief, shock, the beginnings of grief.

Do not think you are helpless to help. Every single person who makes the effort does make a difference. That’s what a community does, come together in celebration and in heart break. Today in this small global village, we are all part of that community. We offer our hands, dollars,prayers and hearts to lift up those who have been knocked down so hard they can’t get up by themselves.

Tornado Disasters: How Can We Help?

Search for survivors continues in Oklahoma


A Defiantly Positive Message Out of Boston

You wouldn’t think there could be a positive message out of what happened in Boston would you? No way. It all just depresses us so much, filling us with anger and anxiety. It’s all too overwhelming leaving us numb. We wonder, “What’s wrong with us that we can’t feel anything when this horrible thing has happened?” Or “What? Again? Please God, not again!”

I have written so many posts for this blog so many times after tragic events it disturbs me to remember them all. The shooting at Fort Hood, the plane crash in Clarence, New York, the horror of Newtown. I wanted this one to be different for your sake and well as mine. Which takes me back to the original question: Was there any way we could get a positive message out of this?

Thankfully I saw this on my Facebook newsfeed, a post from Patton Oswald, via Deadspin:

“…But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people [who are responsible for this], that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out…  This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

When tragedy strikes it is human to ask, “What can I do? I’m just one human being and the evil out there is so huge and powerful.” Patton Oswald reminds us that alone, yes, we are small but together we human beings make a whole lot of Powerful Good. There is a lot of suffering in the world  but we put a big dent in it whenever we do a kindness, give generously and accept graciously.



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