If you’ve ever experienced depression, you know it can be a black hole of self-doubt and distorted negative thinking. It can be hard to figure out which came first—the depression or the self-defeating thoughts.
That’s because depression is likely to have many causes. It can arise from biological or cognitive roots; it can be triggered by life events, or it might result from some combination of these factors.
Ultimately, there’s more than one way to treat depression, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Sometimes medication is necessary, but other effective treatments include talk therapy, changes in lifestyle and habits, and adaptation to negative thought patterns.
If you’re suffering from depression, the best way to find the right treatment is to meet with a mental health professional. Your family doctor may be able to make a referral, or organizations such as NAMI and SAMHA can help you locate resources in your area.
Because depression and negative thinking typically go hand-in-hand, some professionals believe that these negative thoughts are actually the causes of depression, not just a symptom. One way to combat depression is to learn how to change these negative thoughts and self-defeating beliefs.
When treating depression by changing thought patterns, the first step is to recognize some of the common types of negative thinking that are associated with depression. These negative thoughts and false beliefs lead to feelings of helplessness and wring the joy and optimism out of life.
Filtering – You make a mental habit of seeing the bad side of things—the faults, the downside, the risks—and disregard the positives.
All or nothing thinking – You see the world in black and white. Something is either good or bad. You’re either right or wrong. You don’t allow for imperfections in yourself or others.
Overgeneralization – You make assumptions based on one or two examples. You notice that you describe your choices with words like always, never, all, none, everyone, nobody.
Mind reading – You assume everyone else is just like you and you base your conclusions on your own interpretation of other’s behavior. If a friend doesn’t call, you assume he doesn’t like you. If your wife is frowning, you assume she is mad at you.
Personalization & self-blame – You assume that you’re at fault when things go wrong.
“Shoulds” – You have hard and fast rules about how things should be done and you can be very judgmental of yourself and others when these rules are not upheld.
Overestimating the power of change – You believe that others can and should change to make you happy.
Emotional reasoning – If you feel bad, you assume you are bad.
Seeing only the mistakes – You ignore the positive things you’ve accomplished, minimize your good points, dwell on mistakes and label yourself a loser if you’re anything less than perfect.
Once you learn to see your negative thoughts for what they are, you can begin to take note of when they crop up in your daily life and write them down. The next step is to challenge them with logical thinking. A negative thought like “I’m a failure at everything” can be countered with examples of other things you’ve been successful at and replaced with a more accurate thought, such as “I may have made a mistake but I’ve been successful too”.
As you use this technique, you begin to retrain your brain. With practice, you’ll be able to see that your interpretations of the world are just that—interpretations. Over time, you learn to see new possibilities and gain new perspectives.