An important part of managing your depression is managing your thought patterns. Seeing oneself as a hopeless or bad person, feeling responsible whenever something goes wrong or dwelling on worst-case scenarios are all examples of exaggerated, negative thought patterns. This kind of distorted thinking can spiral downward until you’re unable to see or imagine anything positive.
Negative thinking is a hallmark of depressive illness. But you can minimize the impact your negative thoughts have by practicing specific strategies for thinking more constructively.
Acknowledge your thoughts. To avoid passively giving in to negative thinking, learn to identify your thoughts as they occur to you. Say them out loud or write them down. The goal here is not to try and eliminate them, but simply to see them for what they are – just thoughts. Some therapists suggest picturing your thoughts as headlines in a newspaper, or imagining placing a telephone call to yourself to relay each thought, or creating some other mental device to bring your negative thoughts into focus.
Challenge your thoughts. When you identify a negative thought that occurs to you frequently, argue with it. Challenge the accuracy of your thoughts. For example, when thoughts such as “I am worthless” arise, counter them with more realistic thoughts such as “my kids need me” or “my employer values my work.” Each time you counter exaggerated statements (“Everything I do is wrong”) with facts (“I walked the dog today,” “my boss complimented me on my report”) , your negative thoughts lose more of their power.
Interrupt your thoughts. Again, use your imagination to create a device to help you stop your negative thoughts as soon as you recognize them. Some people visualize a stop light or stop sign, or imagine hearing a buzzer or alarm.
Walk away from your thoughts. Sometimes the best approach is to change the subject or create a diversion or distraction. Take a walk, call a friend, read a magazine or tackle a chore. Whatever provides respite for you – even temporarily – will allow your brain to break the cycle of negative thinking.