feeling depressed

How to Stop Your Thoughts From Making You Depressed

At any given moment, we are held hostage by something we seldom acknowledge—our thoughts. The things we think about the breakup of a romantic relationship, a fight with a friend, or even about something as miniscule as getting a parking ticket dominates our lives without us ever really recognizing it.

As humans, we have the unique ability to reflect on events and circumstances, and while that is a good thing, it carries with it, a risk– the way we think about things has a profound affect on how we feel. Negative thinking can adversely impact not only our mood, but our physical health, too. Therefore, it is imperative to examine what we are thinking and treat our thoughts as mere constructs that we have the power to harness with a little effort.

Analyzing our thoughts is particularly crucial for those of us who have the tendency to be depressed. This is because those of us who suffer from depression regularly form inaccurate thoughts that we convince ourselves are true. These irrational thoughts, which are repeated over and over again, are known to therapists who practice cognitive behavioral therapy as cognitive distortions. Mental health professionals disagree on whether cognitive distortions cause depression or whether depression causes cognitive distortions, but it is universally recognized that such patterns of thought make us feel terrible about ourselves.

Common Cognitive Distortions

There several different cognitive distortions or mind traps that we can fall into. Here are some of them:

Over-generalization: one negative thing occurs and you convince yourself that it is going to happen in all other similar situations.

Emotional reasoning: you feel a certain way, so you think it must be the truth.

All-or-nothing thinking: you see things in black and white. Either things are totally great or a disaster.

Mental filter: you only remember the negative things that have happened to you during the course of life and shut out all the positive things.

Should statements: you try to motivate yourself by dwelling on the things you think you should be able to do.

Mind-reading: you conclude that someone is thinking something negative about you.

Mental health professionals believe that there are about ten cognitive distortions to which depressed people repetitively subject themselves. But it’s important to note that you are not stuck and that these patterns of thought can be changed.

Changing Your Thoughts

One of the most helpful things you can do is to give all of your negative thoughts a reality check. For instance, if your partner has just ended a romantic relationship and you think that you will never be loved again, you can ask yourself, “What evidence do I have that I will never be loved again?” Since you’ve been in romantic relationships before this one, there should be no reason why you won’t find another partner who will love you when you are ready. In addition, you can think of all the friends and family members who still love you. In this way you can realize that you are committing the cognitive distortion of over-generalization because you are taking one event and magnifying it to apply to all situations.

Another way to battle cognitive distortions is to engage in reframing an event. Perhaps something negative happened to you, but you must ask yourself if anything positive came out of it. In the case of the end of a romantic relationship, you can tell yourself that you learned many new things from your ex-partner that have made you a much more interesting and well-rounded person and that you can bring this to your next relationship. If you can think along these lines, you might not feel as though you are at a dead end, but at the precipice of a new beginning.

Training your mind to challenge irrational thoughts and replace them with more accurate thinking is extremely difficult, particularly for people who suffer from depression. But the reward justifies the effort you will have to put into it. Instead of walking around feeling unhappy and that the world is out to get you, you’ll have a different outlook on life—one that will fill you with enthusiasm for the day at hand and not affect your mood when things don’t go exactly your way.

About the writer: Wendy Aron is the author of Hide & Seek: How I Laughed at Depression, Conquered My Fears and Found Happiness.

  • PLS

    You’ve hit on one of my pet peeves. There is a difference between feeling sad and clinical depression. You aren’t doing anyone a favor by promoting the idea that if someone is sad about a breakup, they are depressed and should just think happy thoughts and it’ll be all better. The confusion between sadness and clinical depression just makes it harder for those of us with clinical depression.

  • http://blog.neverthesamerivertwice.com Maria | Never the Same River Twice

    This is great, and important, advice. I’ve spent some time trapped by my own thoughts and it’s a lonely place to be.

    For a few months, I actually carried a pad of Post-it notes in my pocket and went through the process of questioning my thoughts every time they became too negative. It took a lot of discipline and mental energy, but it helped me reprogram my brain. I still have days where I struggle, but it’s MUCH better now.

    I would also that is cognitive training alone doesn’t work, there is no shame in getting medical help. In fact, you may have to get medical help 1st before being focused enough to do the other work.

  • Victoria

    Good article. There is one risk, though, of focusing intently on the negative thoughts that can lay at the root of “being down”. Sometimes, bad thoughts are just that. Focusing on them magnifies them far more than if you just accept them and switch your focus to something else.

    So the cognitive analysis is great for recognising the thought, but analysis can turn easily to a cycle of self-beration and wondering “what is wrong with me that I think in such a distorted way” for those who have depressive tendancies.

    I’d recommend “The Mindful Way Through Depression” for a good analysis and positive recommendations on this. It’s written by some very authoritative individuals with regards to both meditation and psychology, and a programme to overcome depression based on mindfulness (and the theories in the book, written by the same people) is now in use within the NHS in the UK to aid sufferers.

  • http://lastminuteacademic.blogspot.com lastminuteacademic

    This is a useful article, but there’s just one problem: there needs to be an articulation of just HOW HARD it can be to re-frame your thoughts.

    It’s a great technique, but many people would say that even getting that far is very difficult.

    What would be amazing is if someone could pin point exactly how we are to go about attempting to re-frame our thinking in order to have a more positive mindset. Just writing about it is probably as hard as doing it.

  • http://www.freedomeducation.ca Stephen Martile

    Hi Wendy,

    Depression and negative feelings have been known to be linked to physiology too; which is why people who are in depression tend to look down at the ground and shrug their shoulders forward (just like in the image of this article).

    Interestingly, when you look down to the right your accessing kinesthetic thoughts and when you look down to the left your accessing past verbal programming.

    A quick and easy way to get out of the negative-nanny mode is to use your physiology, sit straight and look up accessing visual cues. As long as you’re not making pictures of doom and gloom you could use this to get out of that funk that’s keeping you down.

  • http://www.lifemadegreat.com LifeMadeGreat | Juliet

    Hi

    I think this is a really good topic for you to have discussed. It gives those who have never experienced depression a glimpse into the minds of those who are in the throws of it, but, it also makes them aware of how some of their own thought processes can be improved.

    Juliet

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  • http://www.punintended.com/blog Bamboo Forest – PunIntended

    Thanks for the well thought out post. Our minds really do give us a tough times sometimes. But, we have to keep reminding ourselves that we can conquer our minds, with enough effort and wisdom.

  • http://www.ichoosechange.com/blog Jennifer Ryan @ I Choose Change

    Great post! As a Psychotherapist, I battle with what people have been told by other therapists in the past and the false belief that there are outside forces (even if it’s our own histories) that are creating how we feel.

    Your approach, which is also my approach in the counseling office, not just with depression, but with numerous symptoms (yes, depression *is* a symptom, I believe), sounds too simplistic. However, it’s the only treatment that works. Change your thoughts, change your feelings, change what you do.

    I had a client that I worked with once who, as he told about his history, became very emotional. He suffered from life-long depression. My suggestion was that he change his thoughts about his history, thereby changing his emotional feelings of depression. And he said, “But that’s my history. That’s what makes me, me.” I told him, “You have a choice to make. You either continue to feel how you feel, or you change your thoughts about your history and how you feel NOW, and then your emotions will change. He was so afraid of CHANGING, he held onto the thoughts about his history and his everyday. The outcome is just as you imagine – no change.

    I write about this topic abundantly; however, you’ve done a fabulous job here as well!

  • Abby

    What a great description of the many facets of depression. It is amazing just how powerfully our mind can control us. But when we learn that we can gently take the reins and control our minds and our thinking — we start to feel better.

    I’d suggest Free Mind Free Body by D.R. Boisse for anyone who wants to learn more about becoming conscious of the power of their mind and how to improve their lives. There are so many ways you can enhance your life through the use of the power of the mind.

  • http://www.affirmations-for-radical-success.com Paul

    This is a very important article. I fall into the camp of people who believe that thoughts create emotions. The key to positive emotion is positive thought. So now we need tools to change our thoughts. I’ve found that Affirmations and Entrainment work really well.

  • http://www.2knowmyself.com farouk

    this is very effective indeed, thanks alot

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  • http://www.newperspectivetoday.com/ Gwenrule62

    I completely agree that changing our thoughts changes our lives. It can however be extremely difficult with faced with loss. I have personally dealt with the loss of a child and my husband and numerous smaller losses such as moving away from family and friends, bankruptcy due to illness, etc. When we reach a place of hopelessness it doesn’t seem worth the effort. One thing that has often helped me is to tell myself that this is temporary. It will pass. It may be a long time but I have to remind myself that I will not always feel the way I may be feeling forever. Another useful tool is to stay in the moment. Whenever I am focusing on the past, ie, what I had and no longer have, or on the future, facing it with fear and dread, I can become more entrenched in fear. Thank you for your article.

  • Rimvi

    This is good, but I think there might be an easier way to end this all :] 
    I found that this seems to go beyond any thought at all :

  • http://www.aces-counseling.com/ DUI evaluation

    All of us encounter difficulty in life but it is our will and positive thinking that help us get through these trials. Without the help of family and friends, there are those of us who go to a dark path of depression if their problems continue to linger. With topics shared like this post, I do hope that more readers will be enlightened.

  • Dealing with Breakup Depressi

    If our emotional feelings hurted by some one special,the sadness and upsetness in life begin the depressions problems which is very serious problems,Thanks for sharing this post.

    Dealing with Breakup Depression

  • http://twitter.com/Beat_Depresion Overcome Depression

    when we become grateful for the good in our lives, depression falls away…..