Challenge negative thinking

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 remind yourself that this is the depression talking. 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. Just telling yourself to “think positive” won’t cut it. Often, they’re part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it.

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 I fall short of perfection, I’m a total failure.”)

Overgeneralization – Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever (“I can’t do anything right.”)

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.

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. I really am no good!”)

‘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.

Labeling – Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”)

Put your thoughts on the witness stand

Once you identify the destructive thoughts patterns that you default to, 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.

When to get professional help

If you’ve taken self-help steps and made positive lifestyle changes and still find your depression getting worse, seek professional help. Needing additional help doesn’t mean you’re weak. Sometimes the negative thinking in depression can make you feel like you’re a lost cause, but depression can be treated and you can feel better!

Don’t forget about these self-help tips, though. Even if you’re receiving professional help, these tips can be part of your treatment plan, speeding your recovery and preventing depression from returning.

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