Do you feel like you’re powerless or weak? That bad things happen and there’s not much you can do about it? That your situation is hopeless? Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself and your expectations for the future.
When these types of thoughts overwhelm you, it’s important to remember that this is a symptom of your depression and these irrational, pessimistic attitudes—known as cognitive distortions—aren’t realistic. When you really examine them they don’t hold up. But even so, they can be tough to give up. You can’t break out of this pessimistic mind frame by telling yourself to “just think positive.” Often, it’s part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it. Rather, the trick is to identify the type of negative thoughts that are fueling your depression, and replace them with a more balanced way of thinking.
Negative, unrealistic ways of thinking that fuel depression
All-or-nothing thinking. Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground (“If everything is not perfect, I’m a total failure.”)
Overgeneralization. Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever (“I had a bad date, I’ll never find anyone.”)
The mental filter – Ignoring positive events and focusing on the negative. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right. (“I got the last question on the test wrong. I’m an idiot.”)
Diminishing the positive. Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count (“She said she had a good time on our date, but I think she was just being nice.”)
Jumping to conclusions. Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader (“He must think I’m pathetic”) or a fortune teller (“I’ll be stuck in this dead-end job forever.”)
Emotional reasoning. Believing that the way you feel reflects reality (“I feel like such a loser. Everyone must be laughing at me!”)
‘Shoulds’ and ‘should-nots.’ Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do, and beating yourself up if you don’t live up to your rules. (“I should never have interviewed for that job. I’m an idiot for thinking I could get it.”)
Labeling. Classifying yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”)
Once you identify the destructive thoughts patterns that contribute to your depression, you can start to challenge them with questions such as:
- “What’s the evidence that this thought is true? Not true?”
- “What would I tell a friend who had this thought?”
- “Is there another way of looking at the situation or an alternate explanation?”
- “How might I look at this situation if I didn’t have depression?”
As you cross-examine your negative thoughts, you may be surprised at how quickly they crumble. In the process, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective and help to relieve your depression.