An event (action) happens, we create a thought, a thought can become a belief, the belief becomes a feeling, and we act upon that feeling. This is the typical thought process, neither healthy nor unhealthy, simply a process. However, when dealing with depression, this often times becomes a very unhealthy process that one needs to monitor and interrupt. This visual will help to understand the process:
It is easy for one to create a negative thought to just about any event when depressed.
I’d like to share an example: Let’s pretend that part of Sam’s role is to provide peer reviews for articles at his place of employment. Now let’s say that one of Sam’s colleagues said to Sam, “That last review you wrote was quite a review”. Sam will then create a thought to that comment. If his thought is, “That sure sounded like he didn’t like it”. His belief attached to this thought may be that he feels that his reviews are no longer of high quality or respected. This may cause Sam to become discouraged and to feel sad and incompetent, perpetuating feelings that he was most likely already having due to his depression. Sam may then change his actions and choose not to review peer work any longer. In other words, the negative thoughts that Sam invented based upon a statement may very well change the entire trajectory of his job and career.
However, this entire scenario may have looked completely different had Sam had a different thought to the initial action. Again, let’s say that Sam’s colleague stated, “That last review you wrote was quite a review”. This time, however, imagine if Sam’s thought was, “Yes! Another review that’s receiving powerful, positive feedback”. His belief that he writes well would be heightened and he may be feeling more confident and proud of his writing. He may even offer to do more peer reviews than he had done in the past.
We have the opportunity to monitor and change our thoughts. If we have a negative thought, it’s important to try to stop the thought. The first step may simply be to say “Stop” to oneself. This may help one from continuing down the path of a negative thought that could become a rumination if not kept in check. One may take it a step further by asking themself what evidence is there to support the negative thought. Typically, there will not be evidence. When one is depressed, the thoughts we attach to statements people make and actions that occur are often powerfully negative and come with no evidence at all. I think it is also easy, when depressed, to create evidence that is not accurate. For this, it may be helpful to write down the statement, your thought, and the evidence. Once it’s in writing, one can evaluate it at another time, or better yet share with a trusted loved one who can help assess the comments and thoughts. These thoughts (and even the evidence) that we create when we are depressed are often not accurate and can cause negative beliefs, exasperating the negative feelings and changing our behaviors for the worse; often causing more withdrawal. Another strategy may be to ask yourself, “What would I tell a friend in this same situation, compared to what I’m telling myself?”. Many people are harsher, often times unreasonably harsh, when addressing themselves compared to how they treat others. It’s important to have self-compassion, particularly when depressed, and this is one way to indulge in that compassion.
Much of what I have described comes from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are many resources online to help oneself work through these thought processes. One resource that I found online that has several CBT tools is: Specialty Behavioral Health. There is even a tool that is specifically for challenging one’s negative thoughts. While it is likely much more difficult to challenge one’s own negative thoughts and to work through these thought processes when depressed, it is also all the more crucial.
As always, I encourage you to comment this post (or any other posts on my blog).
*Note: The graphic used in this post was not created by me. It was discovered on the internet, but I could not find the source.