Spring Forward into Happiness!


Traditionally, psychologists have focused their attention on what makes depressed people depressed. Yet recently, a small group of scientists has turned the question on its head. Now they are asking: “What makes happy people happy?

Why Happiness?

According to a wide-ranging international study, depression is the most disabling disease in the world:

Nearly twenty percent of U.S. citizens experience some form of depression during their lifetime. Americans are taking so many antidepressants that, according to the New York Times, the water supplies of major U.S. cities are now contaminated with traces of these drugs.

The problem is not limited to adults. The American Psychological Association reports that “as many as 9% of children will experience a major depressive episode by the time they are 14 years old, and 20% will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.”

Statistics show that children who have suffered from depression are more vulnerable to depression as adults.

Depression, anxiety, and other negative psychological experiences have been researched from almost every angle. So we know a lot about what causes negative psychological responses, but not a lot about what might cause positive psychological effects. Positive Psychology has shifted the focus toward such research.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

If perspective is reality, then a positive perspective could be a game-changer. Research shows that engaging in techniques for positive growth and change can help:

Buffer against, manage and overcome problems
Improve your relationships
Enhance health and overall well-being

How Do I Get Happy?

Working with a licensed therapist can be beneficial in order to explore one’s life experiences more fully and from a trained clinical perspective. Below are some examples of techniques that can be done on your own to promote positive growth and change.

Clear Mind Procedure

  1. Write down everything that’s on your mind on one piece of paper (use more than one piece if you need).
  2. Create three columns on a second piece of paper, and label them: To Be Done; Maybe Later; and Delete. Sort all the items on the first piece of paper into the three columns on the second piece of paper.
  3. Take each item from the Delete column, send it off into space, and tell it never to return (with a corny little ceremony if that helps).
  4. Take the items from the Maybe Later column and put them on a Maybe Later list. (If you don’t keep one, start one).
  5. Take the items from the To Be Done column and put them into your planning system. (If you don’t have a planning system, get one).

Gratitude Moments

Gratitude journals can be extremely beneficial when attempting to shift one’s perspective; however, many clients find it a daunting task to journal at length and often do not follow through long enough to see real results.

Build in gratitude “moments” throughout the day:

    1. Recognize moments of joy, thankfulness, comfort, and peace.
    2. Acknowledge both the positive emotion and the positive effect.
    3. Say out loud a statement of gratitude. For example, “Thank you for this moment” or “I feel joyful” or “That was nice.”
    4. Repeat as often as possible.

Art Promotes Happiness Too!

Art and expressive therapy have also been shown to demonstrate healing and happiness. Stuckey and Nobel (2010) reported: Use of the arts in healing does not contradict the medical view in bringing emotional, somatic, artistic, and spiritual dimensions to learning. Rather, it complements the biomedical view by focusing on not only sickness and symptoms themselves but the holistic nature of the person. When people are invited to work with creative and artistic processes that affect more than their identity with illness, they are more able to create congruence between their affective states and their conceptual sense making. Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing. The more we understand the relationship between creative expression and healing, the more we will discover the healing power of the arts.

At Art It Out, we believe in the positive impact art, color, and creativity can have on a person’s outlook and wellbeing.

How Do I Learn More?

Potential clients – Give us a call today to find out more about Art It Out and our therapeutic services. Reach us @ 770.726.9589 or www.artitout.com


Professionals – Join Janet Burr, LPC for her upcoming CEU seminar THE ART OF ENCOURAGEMENT: CREATIVE INTERVENTIONS FOR POSITIVE GROWTH AND CHANGE on Friday, March 17th at Art It Out Therapy Center http://www.artitout.com/workshops/ or on Friday, April 21st at Ridgeview Institute http://www.ridgeviewinstitute.com/hosp_info_calendar_prof.htm.


  1. WHO report,  Mental and Behavioral Disorders, 28.
  2. NYT, Drugs Are in the Water. Does It Matter?
  3. American Psychological Association, School-Based Program Teaches Skills That Stave Off Depression, October, 2003.
  4. Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

The Mind/Body Connection, Part II: Exercise


African American family hiking.

Written by Laura Le, LCSW

This post is the second in a series on the connection between physical health and mental wellness. Look for future posts on this connection in the coming months!

A pervasive message in our culture is that Americans are not getting enough exercise—you and I aren’t, and our children aren’t. Even though most of us know we and our children should be more active, many of us struggle to do so. Below, find information on how exercise can help children cope with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD, as well as strategies for incorporating more exercise into daily life.

How Exercise Helps

The mental health benefits of exercise are well-researched and commonly accepted among most mental health and health professionals. Additionally, many Americans know that moderate physical activity releases feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Specifically, exercise creates new neurons in the brain and releases a specific chemical called GABA, which improves symptoms of both anxiety and depression. This link was most recently studied by researchers at the University of California at Davis Medical Center. Another set of chemicals that exercise can trigger are called serotonin and dopamine. According to John Ratey at Harvard University, these brain chemicals can have a similar impact on children as medications such as Adderall or Ritalin. For people who struggle with anxiety, the sensations of breathing fast and of a fast-beating heart that come with exercise can mimic the feeling of anxiety and panic that they experience. In that sense, exercise can serve as a way to expose children to these feelings in a safe way and help them practice having and managing these sensations. Additionally, several studies in the academic journal Psychosomatic Medicine by James Blumenthal linked exercise to improving depressed mood and preventing relapse back into depression.

While consistent exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression, a study widely reported (from the New York Times to Shape Magazine) in October 2016 found that exercising while intensely upset increased the risk of a heart attack by three times. These studies were done on adults, so there are no data for children; however, it is no longer recommended to exercise while mad. Rather, learning and practicing relaxation techniques throughout the day and week, when already calm, are a physically healthier way to manage anger, stress, or frustration.

How to Get Moving

So how can you help your child or teen reap the benefits of these brain chemicals and improve their mood, focus, attention, and well-being? Here are some ideas to try.

Match your natural rhythm

While exercising after school can be a good outlet after sitting in school all day, the afternoon is not the only option. One family I know wakes up a little early so that they can ride bikes or scooters before school. Regardless of what time of day works best for your family, try to keep the time consistent so that physical activity becomes part of the daily routine.


Exercise as a family. Walking around the neighborhood together can help facilitate conversation and allow families to reconnect after a busy day or to connect before encountering the challenges of the day. Research out of Stanford University shows that being in nature has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Several researchers are now studying the impact of time in nature on ADHD symptoms. On the weekends, try packing a picnic lunch in a local park to combine family time and exercise. If you have time for a longer activity, look up a local hiking trail at www.traillink.com.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Some parents struggle with their child or teen over screen time. Video games and YouTube videos are mentally stimulating and can be difficult to shift attention away from. Add to that a child or teen who does not like exercise, and increasing the amount of exercise can seem insurmountable. Some families in this situation embrace movement-based games like Pokémon Go, while others dust off their old Wii to encourage some physical activity for their reluctant exerciser.

Embrace a range of activities

Brainstorm with your child or teen about what “counts” as exercise and physical activity. Be creative. Just be sure your heart rate increases and you breathe harder, and sustain that effort! Some ideas? Gardening. Shopping. Sweeping/mopping/vacuuming (plus, you get a clean house!). Shoveling snow. Jumping on a trampoline. Hula hooping. Walking the dog. Doing a yoga or Pilates class or video. Jogging. Mowing the lawn. Playing an organized sport. Swimming. Dancing. Playing tag. Riding a bike or scooter. Using equipment at the gym. Playing at the park. Shooting hoops or playing catch in your driveway. Washing the car. Taking an exercise class at the gym. Raking leaves. Just be sure your child or teen enjoys the activity so that he or she continues to stay active.

Exercise alone is not a sufficient approach for someone struggling with anxiety, depression, or ADHD so much that it interferes with daily life. If your child or teen is having trouble, contact us to get support on integrating exercise into other effective treatments.

The Mind/Body Connection, Part I: Sleep


Written by Laura Lê, LCSW

This post is the first in a series on the connection between physical health and mental wellness. Look for future posts on this connection in the coming months!

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on how much sleep children and teens need. Sleep is a requirement, one that ensures our minds and bodies are functioning properly. Lack of sleep can lead to behaviors that mimic mental health issues like anxiety and depression, or difficulty with impulse control, focus, and frustration management. Lack of sleep is also tied to physical problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. For parents who are concerned about their child’s focus, impulse control, depression, or anxiety, supporting a greater amount of sleep can make a large difference in their child’s life.

Life is increasingly designed to keep us and our children from getting the sleep we need. Homework is demanding and time-consuming, and in an effort to ensure an appropriate amount of exercise, many children participate in sports several times a week. Add family dinner, play time with friends, and other extracurricular activities like music lessons and clubs, and its easy to squeeze out time for sleep. Below are the National Institutes of Health Guidelines for how much sleep people need, by age:

  • Newborns:  16-18 hours
  • Preschool-aged Children:  11-12 hours
  • School-aged Children:  At least 10 hours
  • Teens:  9-10 hours
  • Adults (including older adults):  7-8 hours

For children and teens who wake up at 6am for school, they should be falling asleep at 8pm at the latest. Likely, their bedtime routine should start around 7:30pm. If that sounds unattainable for your household, here are some strategies to try:

  • Prioritize activities. If your child (or children) are rushing from one activity to another, consider which activities you can drop. Being rested allows a child’s brain to absorb information and learning better, so consider quality over quantity. Being a part of many activities can make a child appear well-rounded, but if his or her brain is not primed to get the most out of it, the activity or lesson may not be the best use of time.
  • If you have several children involved in activities that prevent an early bedtime for both or one of them, consider finding help. Perhaps a neighbor can help with childcare or the bedtime routine while the other finishes. Many local colleges can also recommend students who are interested and available for affordable, part-time childcare. An extra set of hands might help make an earlier bedtime more realistic for your family.
  • If your family has achieved a balanced schedule but your child struggles to fall and stay asleep, maintaining what’s known as “sleep hygiene” can help. The CDC defines sleep hygiene as “the promotion of regular sleep.” Some often-stated tips include:
    • For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Don’t use the child’s bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
    • Go to bed at the same time each night, and rise at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
    • Follow a bedtime routine that is calming, such as taking a warm bath or reading.
    • Sleep in a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
    • Limit foods and drinks that contain caffeine. These include some sodas and other drinks, like ice tea. Chocolate also has caffeine.
    • Don’t exercisejust before going to bed. Do exercise earlier in the day — it helps a person sleep better.
    • Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
    • Help your child use the bed just for sleeping — not doing homework, reading, playing games, or talking on the phone. That way, he or she will associate the bed with sleep.
    • Don’t watch scary TV shows or movies close to bedtime because these can sometimes make it hard to fall asleep.

In fact, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends all screens be turned off at least 30 minutes before bedtime and suggests keeping televisions, computers, smartphones and other screens out of kids’ bedrooms. This recommendation can sound unrealistic to parents, so one strategy is working with your child or teen to generate a solution that works for both parties. Be open to your child’s suggestions, as long as they accomplish the goal of turning screens off 30 minutes before bed time. Instead, use the 30 minutes to build a calming and relaxing routine that works for both of you.

If these strategies are not effective and you are concerned that your child sleeps too little or too much, consult your pediatrician.