Challenge negative thinking
Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself, the situations you encounter, and your expectations for the future.
But you can’t break out of this pessimistic mind frame by “just thinking positive.” Happy thoughts or wishful thinking won’t cut it. Rather, the trick is to replace negative thoughts with more balanced thoughts.
Ways to challenge negative thinking:
- Think outside yourself. Ask yourself if you’d say what you’re thinking about yourself to someone else. If not, stop being so hard on yourself. Think about less harsh statements that offer more realistic descriptions.
- Keep a “negative thought log”. Whenever you experience a negative thought, jot down the thought and what triggered it in a notebook. Review your log when you’re in a good mood. Consider if the negativity was truly warranted. For a second opinion, you can also ask a friend or therapist to go over your log with you.
- Replace negatives with positives. Review your negative thought log. Then, for each negative thought, write down something positive. For instance, “My boss hates me. She gave me this difficult report to complete” could be replaced with, “My boss must have a lot of faith in me to give me so much responsibility.”
Socialize with positive people. Notice how people who always look on the bright side deal with challenges, even minor ones, like not being able to find a parking space. Then consider how you would react in the same situation. Even if you have to pretend, try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.
Challenge cognitive distortions.
All-or-nothing thinking – Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”. Few aspects of human behavior are so absolute.
Overgeneralization – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations.
Mental filter – Focusing exclusively on certain, usually negative or upsetting, aspects of something while ignoring the rest, like a tiny imperfection in a piece of clothing.
Disqualifying the positive – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary, ad hoc reasons.
Jumping to conclusions – Assuming something negative where there is no evidence to support it. Two specific subtypes are also identified:
Mind reading – Assuming the intentions of others.
Fortune telling – Predicting how things will turn before they happen.
Magnification and Minimization – Inappropriately understating or exaggerating the way people or situations truly are. Often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negative characteristics are understated. There is one subtype of magnification:
Catastrophizing – Focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable.
Emotional reasoning – Making decisions and arguments based on how you feel rather than objective reality.
Making should statements – Concentrating on what you think “should” or ought to be rather than the actual situation you are faced with, or having rigid rules which you think should always apply no matter what the circumstances are.
Labeling and Mislabeling – Explaining behaviors or events, merely by naming them; related to overgeneralization. Rather than describing the specific behavior, you assign a label to someone or yourself that puts them in absolute and unalterable terms. Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
Personalization (or attribution) – Assuming you or others directly caused things when that may not have been the case. (When applied to others, blame is an example.)