In this blog I am revisiting the unhelpful thinking styles identified in Part 4. Here you can find suggestions for beginning to change depressed thinking and behaviour that you may have recognized. These are simplistic examples but they illustrate contrasting ways of seeing things. Perhaps you could focus on one area every week to see what difference it will make?
When you are depressed you tend to catastrophize – focusing on the worst imagined outcome, even if it’s irrational. For example, if you are made redundant, don’t allow yourself to become convinced that you are on the scrap heap. Problems can be sorted out when you take action, one step at a time. Instead of thinking, ‘I’ll never get another job’, you can say to yourself: ‘I will get another job. It may just take some time.’
Reflection can be a good thing as it may help you find solutions, but rumination tends to maintain the problem. Recognise when you are ruminating and do something – distract yourself, meditate, or redirect your thoughts to something helpful.
Crystal Ball Gazing
No one has the ability to predict the future and our worst predictions rarely come true. Rather than worry about what might happen, it’s more helpful to stay in the present where you are less likely to blow things out of proportion.
Dwelling on the Past
You can’t ever change what has already happened. It is gone. Instead of wishing for a different outcome and perhaps replaying past events (a sign of rumination), it is more helpful to accept that you made the best decisions you could have made with the information or resources you had at that time.
As humans we are social creatures. We all have networks of people and relationships around us and they provide the opportunity for support. Remember those basic emotional needs I mentioned in Part 3 of this blog? You probably already have a team of ‘supporters’ around you but you don’t recognize them as such right now. Think about those official posed photos of sports teams for example – standing beside the athletes you can see the coach, the trainer and other staff members – all the people who support the athletes and help them to perform well. Putting yourself at the centre of your own imaginary team photo – who would be there with you? When you start reconnecting with people, you can begin to feel understood. You allow yourself to get positive advice and encouragement and it’s often done in activities that end up being fun. Staying home alone will maintain the depression. Getting out with other people – even a little bit – will lift your spirits.
Even when you don’t feel like it, set an alarm and get up at the same time every day. Eat meals regularly at set times. Avoid lounging around during the day, as it will probably prevent you from sleeping well at night. Even if you’re unemployed or feeling down, it’s really important to set and establish a daily routine as best you can. This provides a sense of regularity that can help lift a depressed mood. Include socializing in your routine too.
All or Nothing Thinking
It’s important to recognise that your thought patterns can get you into a rut or keep you there. When you feel low or sad, this negatively affects the way you think about yourself. Thinking in extremes can paralyze you – stop you from doing the things that will make you feel better. Instead of thinking in black and white terms, look for the shades of grey. Instead of thinking ‘no one loves me’, think ‘there are people who care about me’.
Reality Check your Thoughts
A depressed mind state breeds negative thoughts. However, they are rarely grounded in reality. Once you’ve identified a negative thought, begin to challenge your thinking. For example, ‘Where is the evidence that I’m the worst person in the world?’ It‘s not helpful to keep sabotaging your happiness with untruths. To accept something as true, you have to come up with some really solid evidence to back it up, not just guesswork.
Choosing Unrealistic Goals
When you want to achieve something, select a few simple, straightforward goals you can easily set and follow. Realistic goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Time-limited. For example, if you are job hunting you could make a plan to post three CVs to companies who are hiring before the end of the working week.
Giving Up Everything you Enjoy
Are you aware of what you have stopped doing that you used to enjoy? It’s helpful to write down all the things you used to like doing that you’ve stopped because you’re sad and feeling low. Perhaps it’s going out somewhere in particular, playing a sport, socializing with friends, or simply going for a walk and enjoying nature. Start with the easiest activity and one by one, start adding them back into your life, even if you’re feeling unenthusiastic about it. Begin to focus on tasks that give you a sense of mastery or accomplishment, whether it’s a household chore, doing something creative or even paying an outstanding bill.
When you accept that depression has taken hold of you, you begin to relieve the suffering. If your present situation is terrible, then denying it will only make things worse. In general, knowing and accepting that you have depression will allow you to take steps to make it better (with or without the help of a therapist), rather than pretending that everything’s okay.
Treating Yourself Badly
Have you noticed the language you use when you think about or talk to yourself? Compare it to the way you talk to other people. If there’s a difference, decide to treat yourself in a kinder, gentler way. We can often be kind and compassionate to everybody else but we beat ourselves up. Don’t bully yourself.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) recognizes that our thoughts, feelings and behaviour all work together. When you learn to change the way you think about things and the way you act in certain situations then it is inevitable that your feelings or emotions will change too. Over a number of weeks a therapist can help you to challenge your negative thoughts and subsequently change the way you act and behave. If you are suffering with depression, please consider getting professional help. Your doctor can help refer you to a therapist or you can seek help directly. I specialize in working to help people overcome depression and anxiety and I’m based in #York. If you need some help I can be reached via my website at: www.mindmakeoveruk.com/contact.html
If you are in the UK and need to talk to somebody as soon as possible:
Samaritans UK – 08457 90 90 90
Samaritans ROI – 1850 60 90 90
In Part 6 of this blog on depression you can read about changing the unhelpful thinking and behaviour which maintains that depression.