I Am Participating in my Destiny: Journal Entry, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC


I really do feel blessed in a lot of ways. Despite the ‘downs’ and occasional disappointments, I can truly say that I am happy overall. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I am saying that, and I have actually felt that way for the past 2-3 years. My life has never been like this before; I have never been able to, for lack of better phrases, appreciate the sadness and pain in life. These things have not diminished my spirits; quite the opposite…all of the negatives have sort of given me a second wind. I love life more and I want to actively participate in my Destiny more, if that makes sense.

I am doing things that I would not have done 5-10 years ago, like becoming less of an introvert in some respects. For example, I love public speaking now, and it was a major fear up until a year ago. I have also expanded my circle of friends to others who would ordinarily be outside of my comfort zone. I’m glad because I have been meeting and enjoying the company of some wonderful people! All of this because I made the decision to step outside of my little comfortable introvert world.

I have learned and mastered the challenging art of forgiveness and letting go. I realized over the years how miserable I was because I was holding grudges and just holding on to things that were not important. It took up so much time and energy that is now free for other activities. My physical health has also improved because I don’t hold on to things…fewer headaches, less muscle tension, etc.

And regarding my health, I feel more healthy now than I ever have in my life. When I say ‘healthy’, I mean as a whole person…the mind, body, and spirit. I have made it a part of my life to keep my whole self healthy.

It took years for me to get to this point in my life. It has been a challenging and eventful journey; I expect that there will be more to come. Since I am equipped with a pretty good resiliency foundation, I think I will be OK. I am going to keep going and taking charge of my Destiny!


Want to be Happy? Change Your Frame of Thought, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC

photos from iphone 036

Many times, people get caught up in being unhappy because of their job circumstances or relationship situations. For example, when a person gets hired at a governmental entity (whether it is city, county, state, federal, school district, or otherwise), he/she starts complaining about all of the policies, procedures, politics, etc. Well, from my experience in working in most of those entities, the environments are rather conservative. There is not a lot of acceptance of free-thinking, or “lone wolf” kind of attitudes. This is what the expectation is when you are hired. You are to conform to the policies and procedures…play by the rules. So when I hear people complaining about their jobs in this respect, I wonder if any of this was considered prior to their accepting the job.

In order to be happy at the job, one has to re-frame one’s thinking. I mean, you can’t really change anything, so adjust your thought processes so that you can be happy and productive at work. Make a decision to set reasonable goals for yourself so that you can feel accomplished. Set boundaries so that you’re not overwhelmed. Don’t try to control what you cannot control, because when it all boils down to it, you cannot control what others think, feel, or do. Make a calculated decision to take care of yourself, meaning have a good work-life balance.

The same thing applies to relationships. You cannot change anyone’s personality. You cannot force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s a very egocentric point of view to expect for everyone else around you to behave in specific ways to accommodate you. Babies and children do that, and many times feel as if they are being harmed by others, but as they mature, usually they grow out of that. People learn to re-frame their thinking so that they can cope with the behaviors of others, without feeling “attacked”.

So how would you get out of your own world, so to speak, and start seeing things from the perspective of others? Examples of this would be to focus on the positive qualities of others, rather than the faults; believe that people are not always engaging in behaviors with negative intent; believe in the affirmations of others for the good things that they do; and ask yourself, ‘Is this really worth my time and energy to be upset over? Am I overreacting?’

The bottom line is, when we change the way we think about situations, we really can cope with them. The whole premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is to adjust faulty thinking so that behaviors can change.


Being Alone Without Being Lonely, By Ben Martin, Psy.D.

There is a great difference between being lonely and being alone. Many people are alone and lead happy lives. It may behoove us to study some of their traits, because many of us are likely to be alone at some point in our lives. Points to consider:

Our culture has a high divorce rate.

Statistics show that wives outlive husbands.

Our society advocates self-sufficiency and independence.

Contrary to many beliefs, the elderly are not the most lonely among us. It is young people who are most lonely, and herein may lie some of the differences between being lonely and being alone.

Many elderly people have developed traits or habits that help them be comfortable with themselves alone. They have found ways to keep busy mentally. Many rely on good memories of a deceased spouse for comfort while relishing the peace and quiet of a household void of too much activity. They have reached the point where their status quo is calmness.

The young, however, are subject to a wide range of moods. They may be up one morning and down that evening or up and down several times in a given day. They are often bored and restless to the point of being unhappy for no clear reason. When they are not sought after and included in all activities of their peers, their self-esteem takes a hit.

When they are lonely, they blame themselves and resort to activities that exclude social contact or productivity, such as watching too much television.

Being alone can have its advantages. The creative person craves time alone. Any professional who takes a sabbatical and spends some time alone returns refreshed mentally and spiritually.

To reap the rewards of solitude, a person who feels lonely can tune out thoughts of self and seek out activities. They can:

write letters




care for a pet

enroll in a correspondence course

A person who is feeling lonely should avoid situations such as:

drinking alcohol alone

using other escapes such as non-prescribed medications

watching so much television that it becomes a substitute for socializing

It may sometimes be good to be alone, but it is rarely good to be lonely.



Why chocolate really is the secret to happiness

Money may not buy happiness or grow on trees but when it comes to chocolate, it seems you can have both. Chocolate really does grow on trees and the chemical feel-good factor comes from the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug.

The Theobroma cacao is an evergreen that is native to tropical regions of the American continent and its seeds or beans are the source of the 4m metric tonnes of chocolate produced each year, and much of it from countries like the Ivory Coast and Indonesia.

Chocolate consumption goes back at least 4,000 years, to the peoples of present day Mexico: the Mayans, Aztecs and their predecessors, the Olmec. Just as today, they roasted the fermented seeds from cocoa pods, grinding the roast to a powder which they used to make a chocolate beverage, a cold, foaming drink that was very different to the substance we consume today. Sometimes they added honey to sweeten it and the Aztecs also added chili-pepper to give the phrase “hot chocolate” a whole new meaning.

Two thousand years ago the Mayan people, of what is now known as Guatemala, even came up with the original “chocolate teapot”, a ceramic vessel used to pour the foaming drink and archaeologists have found evidence that chocolate drinks were served up at the celebrations after the interment of sacrificial victims (though I’m not sure that the condemned would have been made any happier with a bar of chocolate).

Montezuma’s secret

The last Aztec emperor Montezuma II consumed a lot of this drink every day, and it was hinted that this enhanced his virility. No wonder the Spaniards were interested. Of course, it was the Spaniards who brought this wonder drink back to Europe, but adding sugar and spices like cinnamon and vanilla, another import from the Americas, transformed it into the much sweeter drink we have now. Chocolate drinking became the thing to do in fashionable society.

Less than 200 years ago, the invention of the chocolate press by Casparus van Houten senior made it possible to separate roasted cocoa beans into cocoa butter and a solid that could be made into cocoa powder. This powder could be recombined with sugar and cocoa butter to produce an eating chocolate, and in 1847 the Bristol Quaker firm of Fry’s, closely followed by Cadbury’s in Birmingham, made the first chocolate bar. The Swiss came up with milk chocolate bars in the 1870s, and to this day Switzerland and Britain are two of the top nations for chocolate consumption. Chocolate Easter Eggs were invented in the 1870s, and we haven’t looked back since.

Chemical sensations

The taste of chocolate comes from a mixture of chemicals, many resulting from the roasting process, in which sugars and amino acids combine, forming members of a family of molecules called pyrazines, which contribute the nutty, roasted and chocolately sensations.

But what about the “feel-good” side of chocolate? For a start, there is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug: 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine by name. You may have heard of it: we call it caffeine. It works by counteracting the natural neurotransmitter adenosine, resulting in an increase in heart-rate and muscle contraction. There is also a significant presence of theobromine in chocolate, a similar stimulant which also happens to be the molecule that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs. Then there is serotonin, a natural neurotransmitter which controls many functions in the brain, including mood and behaviour. The body makes it from the natural amino acid tryptophan and chocolate contains both serotonin and tryptophan.

Another chocolate molecule believed to be important was discovered less than 20 years ago: anandamide. This binds to receptors in the brain known as cannabinoid receptors. These receptors were originally found to be sensitive to the most important psychoactive molecule in cannabis, Δ9-THC. Likewise, anandamide and similar molecules found in chocolate are also thought to affect mood.

Phenylethylamine, another family of chemicals, is found in chocolate in very small amounts. It is a naturally occurring substance with a structure that is closely related to synthetic amphetamines, which of course, are also stimulants. It is often said that our brain produces phenylethylamine when we fall in love, and it acts by producing endorphins, the brain’s natural “feel-good” molecules. The bad news, however, is that eating chocolate is probably not the best way of getting our hands on phenylethylamine as enzymes in our liver degrade it before it can reach the brain.

There are yet more other molecules in chocolate – especially in dark chocolate – like flavonoids, which some scientists think may help improve cardiovascular health (but chocolate manufacturers have been known to remove bitter flavanols from dark chocolate).

There is one feel-good factor I’ve not mentioned, which isn’t a molecule – the melt-in-your mouth sensation. The fatty triglycerides in cocoa butter can stack together in six different ways, each resulting in a different melting point. Only one of these forms has the right melting point of about 34 degrees, so that it “melts in your mouth, not in your hand”. Getting the chocolate to crystallise to give this form is a very skillful process, the product of very careful chocolate engineering.

There is still much yet to know about chocolate and some are now even sequencing the genome of cultivated cacao. But the continuing intricacies in chocolate and cacao that we are discovering through science can only add to the very simple human pleasure of breaking off a piece and popping it into our mouths.


Simon Cotton, Senior Lecturer in chemistry at University of Birmingham


Valentine’s Day, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC



The first few weeks in February is when there is a gradual period and build-up of excitement in anticipation of that special day in the middle of the month…St. Valentine’s Day. This day was first associated with romantic love back in the Middle Ages when the tradition of courtly love was popular. By the 18th century in England, the tradition eventually evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed love by giving gifts of flowers, candy, and cards that are now know as valentines. The symbol typical symbols associated with Valentine’s Day are now Cupids, hearts, doves, and roses; the colors connected with this occasion are pink, white, and red.


How is it celebrated all over the world? In Italy, people people have romantic dinners and exchange gifts. In France, restaurants do roaring trades, and Valentine’s Day is a popular day for marriage proposals. In England, Valentine’s cards are still sent anonymously, which is an old tradition. In Saudi Arabia, the holiday is banned because it encourages immoral relations between unmarried people. In Estonia, it is called Friends Day, so that single people are not left out.


So, now that we have a brief history of Valentine’s Day, how does one have a healthy Valentine’s Day however you choose to celebrate it ?


  • Open communication

  • Forgiveness

  • Good humor

  • Have fun

  • Mutual respect


Have a great one!!




How Important is Your Relationship to You? Erin A. Alexander, LPC


I am a counselor who does primarily couples and relationship-building counseling. I love what I do! It’s challenging and rewarding. I’m writing this post because I want to let people know how counselors gauge their ability to work with you…from the first phone call and scheduled appointment, to the discharge.


First of all, counselors have specific office hours just like any other professional. It’s unlikely that a counselor is going to go out of her/his way to see you at any time except during the designated office hours. Would you expect for your doctor to do that? No, you wouldn’t. You know that the doctor’s office is closed at certain times and there are urgent care facilities to handle emergencies. The same goes for counseling. In the case of an emergency, we would not see you in the office anyway…you would need to be assessed in the emergency room. That is standard protocol.


I’ve had people leave messages on my voice mail stating how critical their situation is regarding their marriage/relationship, then they will follow that up with, “We are only available to come in after 6pm or on Sundays.” Really?? I don’t work on Sunday either! As far as I’m concerned, you’ve already told me your level of commitment to counseling and your relationship. I do not return those calls.


If your marriage/relationship is on the rocks, you should be willing to come in whenever the counselor needs for you to come in so that your situation can be assessed as soon as possible. Just like if you were having problems with your blood sugar or some other moderate-level medical issue, you would get to the doctor Wednesday, at 2pm in the afternoon, if that’s what was available. Your health is at risk, and if you prolong things, your life could be at risk.


For some reason, people don’t view mental health that way, not even when their relationships are in jeopardy. Many people wait until there is a crisis, like an impending break-up, or the threat of a divorce before they call a counselor. As mental health professionals, we know that the problems did not just happen overnight. It’s been a slow build-up for months or years.


So here’s the deal, when you are having even the slightest problem in your relationship, go ahead and schedule an appointment BEFORE things escalate. Be flexible with your schedule and demonstrate your level of commitment to the process. A counselor is more likely to be flexible with you if you show how important your relationship is to you. Next, be willing to work; counselors give homework and readings that are to be done between sessions. This represents application of what is being discussed in the sessions. Finally, if the counselor make recommendations that may supplement the relationship-building interventions, follow the recommendations. These can include one or both parties getting into individual counseling, attending some sort of group/workshop/retreat, or participation in other community resources. The counselor may also recommend that you see your primary care doctor for a physical.


Remember, this is about your relationship. This is about you and the person you love, and are committed to. Surely, the months or years you’ve already invested is worth an afternoon from your busy schedule.


The One Thing You’re Missing That Makes a Healthy Relationship Impossible, Jackie Bledsoe, Jr.

Sometimes we shoot ourselves, or our relationships, in the foot by our own action or inaction. There’s something called a relationship killer (or at best, prevents your relationship from being all it can be.) The bad part about it is although most of us do it, we don’t realize we do, or how much damage it does to our relationship.

An article in YourTango.com shares a quote that emphasizes the importance of this, or what happens when something isn’t present in your relationship.  “It isn’t always easy, it’s an integral part of everyone’s lives; without it, it’s nearly impossible to live a productive, happy life. And without it in a relationship, it’s nearly impossible to have a healthy, growing partnership.“


That’s a harsh warning. When this particular thing is missing from your relationship it becomes impossible to have the relationship you hope for.

So, what is this one thing?

It’s not love, it’s not respect, and it’s not even money. It is forgiveness, and it has a major impact on your relationship. Love, respect, patience, and maybe even resources (money) play a part in your relationship, but a lack of forgiveness can completely break down the relationship.

Every one of us makes mistakes, and everyone of us will eventually do something which hurts, offends, or even disrespects our significant other. The way you keep moving forward and allowing  your relationship to grow is through forgiveness. Here are three things to keep in mind when you need to forgive your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.

1) You are flawed and make mistakes too. This is the first thing I think of. I make a lot of mistakes. I say and do a bunch of dumb stuff, yet my wife still loves me and respects me. When she does something, it makes it a little easier to forgive her knowing all the forgiveness I’ve been afforded.

2) You hurt yourself when you hold onto things. I read the following quote from Maya Angelou, which sums it up. “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats up the host.” Basically, the longer you hold on and don’t forgive, the more you hurt yourself.

3) It can help calm the situation. We refer to a specific Bible verse when one of our kids gets angry because one of their siblings did something to them. The verse says, “a kind word turns away wrath.”  We encourage both the person who feels wrong and retaliates as well as the person who did the wrong and is now being yelled at to use kind words. Forgiveness works the same way, as it can calm a situation.

Forgiveness should be a priority and practice in your relationship. Until you forgive,  your relationship will become stagnant and it will be impossible to have the growing, healthy relationship you desire.

What are some other ways you can be quick to forgive in your relationship?



6 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship in 2014 , Dr. Terri Orbuch

If you’re looking to add spice to your love life, more fun to your weekends or a better way to resolve conflicts, 2014 is the perfect time to do it.

This year, instead of making a New Year’s resolution for yourself, why not resolve to make your relationship stronger, healthier and happier? Here are six ways to turn a good relationship into one that is exciting, passionate and really happy! These strategies are based on my long-term study, ongoing since 1986 and funded by the National Institutes of Health, where I learned what makes couples happy and keeps relationships strong. [1]

1. Resolve to lighten up.
Finding: One of the qualities I observed among the happiest couples is the ease with which they relate. They joke. They shrug their shoulders with a smile. They are accepting. Sometimes we forget what brought us together in the first place.

Solution: In 2014, sit down with your partner and tell stories about how you first met. Then share with your partner a quality that always makes you smile. This two-part exercise helps couples get back in touch with the happy side of their relationship, as opposed to the more serious side.

2. Resolve to be an inspiration to each other.
Finding: The happy couples in my study don’t criticize each other, but instead inspire their partners by working on and improving themselves.

Solution: In 2014, take responsibility for your own behaviors, actions and words. Get in shape. Get things done. Put a date night on the calendar. Don’t wait around for your partner to do it. You are a team, so when one partner contributes, the other will reciprocate.

3. Resolve to focus on the positive.
Finding: The happy couples in my study focus on what is going well in their relationship, rather than on the problems and the negative aspects.

Solution: In 2014, think of small behavioral changes you can both try that help each other feel loved, noticed, cared about, supported and valued. It can be as simple as giving a heartfelt compliment, touching and kissing or surprising your partner by doing a dreaded chore or errand.

4. Resolve to empty your “pet-peeve pail” frequently.
Finding: I found that happy partners pay attention to the small stuff, the daily obstacles and bumps in the road. They don’t let small issues pile up until they cause big problems.

Solution: In 2014, bring up things that bother you, but do it in a positive way. You might say, “Honey, it feels really comforting to me when our house is tidy, and I feel stressed out when I come home to dishes in the sink and clothes all over the floor. Let’s come up with a solution together.”

5. Resolve to be more empathetic.
Finding: The happy couples in my study try to understand their partner’s perspective or frame of mind.

Solution: In 2014, whenever you find yourself feeling critical, resentful, angry or judgmental, try to switch places with your partner and imagine his or her perspective or frame of mind. Most arguments, conflicts and bad feelings between partners could be totally defused if empathy were to become their default reaction.

6. Resolve to seize the moment.
Finding: The happiest couples in my study were not content with a relationship that was decent, okay or so-so. They described their partnership as great or amazing, and themselves as incredibly lucky and grateful. By paying attention to the relationship on a daily basis, they kept their partner very happy and their relationship very strong and healthy.

Solution: In 2014, don’t settle for a “good-enough” relationship where you get along most of the time, managing the house, jobs and family competently, but where the passion, excitement and fun are gone. Seize the moment to try new things together, practice new behaviors and get back in touch with your love for each other. Try to do something good for the relationship every day.

[1] Terri L. Orbuch, The Early Years of Marriage Project. University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. Supported by a grant from NICHD (HD40778).