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Recognizing Depressive Thinking

(Please note, this Blog post has been adapted from a passage from the Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression, Chapter 4)

During the course of a normal day, we think thousands of thoughts…maybe even tens of thousands. The Psychologist William James used the term “stream of consciousness” to describe this seemingly uninterrupted flow.

When depressed, this stream can create trouble…focusing on unpleasant experiences, viewing yourself as a failure, looking at the future as bleak and hopeless, thinking of yourself as a burden to those around you…chances are that you are thinking depressively.

I often work with my clients to identify depressive thinking patterns in their lives and view it as automatic, meaning it does not represent a conscious choice. BUT — there is a choice hidden here…it is in the decision whether or not to deal with this form of depressive thinking and actively work against it.

In a depressed state of mind, people typically go inside their shell and think about all of the negative parts of their lives and reflect on how bad they feel. These thoughts usually focus on personal probelms, self-criticism/blame, helplessness, worthlessness and pessimism. Related states such as anxiety, shame, guilt and anger are often present as well. Many will catastrophize about their situation, which in turn exaggerates the negative and makes coping with stressors even more challenging. The things is…these depressing thoughts seem to be real…but they instead represent a distorted reality. As an example…if you tell yourself that you will “never” get better, that you will “always” be depressed…you are making an overgeneralization. That’s what we call a cognitive distortion. How could anyone possibly know the future with such certainty?

I do understand from working with my clients that feeling depressed can feel like something that will truly last forever. However, I also do know that for many people their thinking can affect the degree to which depression is experienced.

The list below is meant to help you recognize and identify if a thought is depressive…try to remember these clues:

1. A simple way to tell if a thought is depressive is by its outcome. Depressive thoughts often have excessive negative meaning…which serves as a springboard for painful sensations…which can deepen your sense of sadness.

2. If the thought sounds depressive, chances are it is! Examples are “I’ll never be able to get over this…I’m so pathetic…” sound depressive.

3. Depressive thoughts tend to occur over and over…you are likely to recycle the same thoughts.

4. Depressive thoughts have pessimistic undertones.

5. Depressive thoughts often represent an “all or nothing/generalized thinking” style, whereby you see life in only one way.

6. Depressive thoughts often have a demanding tone translated through words such as “should”, “ought” or “must” thinking.

7. Depressive thoughts are often circular…where a depressive mood reflects depressive thinking (and around and around…)

Remember…depressive thinking tend to be automatic and will continue until they are recognized and overcome.

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