Being Aware of Your Thoughts Can Lift Depression

person writing thoughts in notepad diaryThe way you think has an important effect on the way you feel and how you will act. Negative and pessimistic thoughts, such as, “I feel awful” and “I can’t cope” can become a cause of anxiety and depression, and make you feel more unhappy and anxious. Automatic negative thoughts are pessimistic; they seem to come from nowhere and automatically enter one’s mind. It rarely occurs to us that we have a negative thinking bias. This means that when we have the option of thinking of things in a positive or negative way, we lean towards the negative way out of habit. These thoughts may be causing us to feel emotionally down or even falling into depression.

If you feel that life stinks, and you’d like to think more positively about yourself, consider the ways you’d like things to be different, and why isn’t this happening? In other words, it’s unproductive to focus and dwell on your problems. Instead, try constructive thinking. Start to become curious about what might be keeping the problems there.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) suggests that a good way to look at your problems and what is keeping them problems is to conceptualize them. The process is to take all the things that are happening to you (thoughts, feelings, events, and behaviors). Then, instead of leaving them all in a big scrambled mess in your brain, sort them out and connect them, so you can see any connections between an event and a thought, or a thought and a behavior.

Here is an example of mapping out your thoughts:

Event: Receiving a rejection from a potential date you asked out.

Thoughts: “I’ll never have a good relationship and get someone nice to go out with me.”

Thoughts may produce these results:

  • Physical sensations: sickness, lethargy
  • Feelings: Depression, sadness
  • Behavior: Decide not to ask anyone out. Rejection is too painful.

We focus on these thoughts; they create feelings; and we react with specific behaviors. Writing out the event, you thoughts, and what these thoughts mean will help you understand how you react and act, and you can begin changing your thoughts. Using the model above, write in some alternative thoughts and actions to the above example. Can you see when you write out more positive alternatives, that they may be a good model for change?

Now try answering the following questions:

  • Does writing these models up give me a better idea of the connection between my thoughts and the way I am feeling?
  • Can I understand how my behavior and actions were a result of the way I saw and interpreted things?
  • Knowing what I now know, what might I do or how might I think a little differently to get an outcome that is at least marginally better?
  • Writing down a map of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is the first step to changing. Give CBT a shot and see if you begin to notice small changes in the way you interpret events.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Joanna Engelman LMSW, MA, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Leila

    July 4th, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    All of this is the perfect example of why it is so important to know who you are, track your thoughts and feelings and be mindful of how of this comes together to dictate how you are feeling from day to day and moment to moment. It may not completely lift your depression but being mindful of those feelings and knowing your triggers can go a very long way in helping you to make those life changing decisions that could help to lift your spirits. It might be the thing that will encourage you to see life in a whole new way or to even seek out treatment.

  • ronda

    July 6th, 2014 at 5:21 AM

    Why do you think that it goes so deep for some of us that we just don’t want to know these things about ourselves? Like our true self is what scares us the most?

  • Yvonne

    March 27th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    Many of us want to run away from our feelings because they stem from a deep hurt or wound; we do not want to re-visit pain of a traumatic event or phase/s in our life.

  • Roger

    July 6th, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    It might sound a little hokey but what always works for me is kind of like keeping a journal or a diary of my thoughts and feelings. It might not seem to be something significant right at the moment but if I can then give it a day or two and then go back and reread what I have jotted down over a period of a few days it becomes easier to get an idea of any patterns of behaviors and consequent reactions that are occuring so that I can get a better handle on what my triggers are and what I might be able to do a little differently to avoid them. It takes some time and I would not say that it is a quick fix or even an easy one but for me it allows me to get those thoughts out as well as look at some ways that I might can handle things a little differently in the future.

  • Libby M

    July 8th, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    YOu might have to dig pretty deep to get those answers but i think that you will discover that once you become more open and aware of thos efeelings, you can then have an easier time accepting them. When you are depressed there is this tendency to try to push everything away, you just don’t want to feel them or think aboutt hem anymore. Being aware of it will allow you to see more of the truth of who you are and become more in tune with the real you. This alone will go a very long way to helping you understand the things that are troubling you and may even give you insight into what you can contribute to improving this situation.

  • In Recovery

    February 26th, 2016 at 8:17 AM

    Great comment Libby M! While reading this I was reminded of past friends that would put negative thoughts in my mind. They would tease me for being positive or having optimism. I’ve learned to choose my friends more wisely, and similarly, I’ve learned to choose my thoughts and beliefs more wisely. Doing that came by facing and accepting all of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms, faulty beliefs, and inappropriate behaviours that were not healthy for me rather tHan stuff in or avoiding them, or just tryin to say no. I had to figure out the “why” of it all, and then make a decided effort to replace those thoughts/beliefs/actions with healthy ones. CBT was an invaluable tool in that effort. :)

  • Deborah Brautman,LMFT

    May 27th, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    What a great article! One of the best descriptions of cognitive
    behavioral therapy!

  • Sylvia J.

    October 9th, 2016 at 10:06 AM

    I have severe anxiety. My husband and my son’s death have left me lethargic and sad.

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