At times our thoughts can be so convincing that we do not question their accuracy; we simply accept them at face value. Whether we’re seeking a happier, more positive way of feeling or trying to cope with experiences of depression, we can make choices about how we feel and act by challenging the seemingly factual nature of our thoughts.
Many of our thoughts are automatic and occur outside of our awareness. When a thought occurs automatically we aren’t able to check its accuracy because we’re not even aware it occurred. There is a constant interaction between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. When we have negative thoughts, we tend to feel negative and our behaviour reflects that.
If we’re not aware of our thoughts, we’re likely not questioning them. Becoming aware of our thoughts and questioning them can have a profound impact on how we feel about life, particularly if we’re experiencing depression. We have an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day – that’s about 35-48 thoughts per minute!
Research indicates that information is processed more negatively in people with depression than in those without, and depression is often accompanied by decreased energy, fatigue, poor concentration and slowed thinking. For someone who is depressed, everyday situations revolve around negative thoughts about themselves (“I’m never going to be good enough”), the world (“Everything and everyone sucks”), and the future (“Nothing is ever going to change”).
Approximately 2.5 million Canadian adults, or over 10% of the population age 18 and over, will have a depression disorder, and depression doesn’t just affect adults. Approximately 5% of males and 12% of females age 12 to 19 have experienced a major depressive disorder. Depression is considered one of the most common mental health issues and is very treatable, yet many people are ashamed or afraid to ask for help. This is in part due to the stigma associated with mental illness, and may also be due to those negative thoughts that seem so much like facts.
Negative thoughts turn into beliefs and become habitual, which leads to a sense of feeling stuck. People experiencing depression often feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. These negative thoughts act like an inner critic, filling our minds with a steady stream of self-talk that convinces us we’re not good enough, will never be happy, and so on. The result is that we believe our negative self-talk is true when, more often than not, it’s not true at all.
Here are some everyday examples in which negative thinking can lead us to feel stuck: You see a colleague from work at the grocery store who doesn’t acknowledge you, and you think, “I’m always running into people who don’t like me.” An alternative perspective is that your colleague didn’t acknowledge you because she was so focused on getting home in time to relieve the babysitter that she didn’t even see you.
Another example: It’s time for your annual performance review at work, and despite receiving many positive comments about your skills, you focus solely on the one comment about an area that needs improvement. This leads you to conclude that you’re not very good at your job, and spirals into you wondering if there’s anything in your life that you’re good at.
Here are 7 questions to ask yourself when your negative thoughts are keeping you stuck:
- Have I confused a thought with a fact?
- What evidence is there to support or refute this thought?
- Am I jumping to conclusions or making assumptions?
- Does my thought contain words like always/never, everyone/none, everything/nothing?
- Am I concentrating on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?
- Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
- What would things be like if I didn’t believe this thought?
You might also consider using the “ABC” model to manage your thoughts and feelings:
A = Actual event or situation. State the actual situation that brought on the feelings you’re experiencing.
B = Beliefs. Describe your thoughts and beliefs about the situation that created the emotions and behaviors.
C = Challenge. Dispute the negative thoughts and replace them with accurate and positive statements about occasions when you’ve tried something new or accomplished what you tried.
Depression has a major impact on almost every aspect of your health and well-being, including your thinking. If you can recognize that your thoughts are negative, you can change them. With time and practice your thoughts can become positive and you will feel better. When you feel better, life is better.
And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t believe everything you think, especially if what you think is negative. Focus on becoming positive, and begin your positive change away from depression.
Let us know how you have worked to change negative thought patterns to positive ones.