In the last blog some lifestyle choices were highlighted as possible positive contributors to supporting recovery from depression. This blog will continue in a similar vein by exploring the mental dimensions to supporting recovery.
One of the challenging aspects of feeling depressed are associated negative thoughts. A mutually feeding downward spiral between feeling depressed and negative thoughts sustain each other. Feeling low can generate negative thoughts which heightens the depressed feelings, resulting in more negative thoughts that in turn sustain the depressed mood. So an important component of recovery is to address these self-defeating thoughts.
Trying to get rid of thoughts is somewhat futile, so saying something like “I’m not thinking that thought ever again” just won’t work because if you resist something it will only persist. Tackling negative thoughts involves not becoming so identified with them, that is, not completely believing what the thought/s are saying. Easier said than done, but like lots of things it’s a skill that requires practice.
Ultimately a thought is just a thought; something that passes through our mind like a cloud that crosses the sky. By watching the thought we disengage from it loosening the identification. By adopting this perspective it becomes easier to work with negative thoughts.
A mind that feels depressed will have plenty of negative thoughts that are usually self-critical in nature and it these thoughts that require some attention.
Say for example we notice a thought that says “I’m useless”, (a common one to have when you are depressed because low motivation can result in not getting things done), and we categorically believe this thought. It can be quite devastating, making us feel worse, which continues to perpetuate the belief “I’m useless”. It’s not possible to get rid of this thought once we have had it, but we can challenge its veracity with reality checking and self-compassion. The reality checking could entail thoughts that challenge this belief by noting areas in your life where you are skilled and competent. The compassion comes by acknowledging to oneself that you are experiencing a difficult period and it’s understandable that life is challenging at the moment.
The trick with negative thoughts is to catch them as cloths that you don’t have to wear and decide to get something else from the wardrobe of your mind that is more appealing, comfortable and attractive to oneself.
When the depression feels really thick and there seems to be no respite from the darkness focusing on a positive memory such as a holiday or an interaction with a loved one will bring associated positive feelings, which can give some alleviation from the depressed feelings.
To summarise, it’s possible to unshackle the chains of negative thoughts through challenging their truth and seeking more positive alternatives. However, if you find yourself not coping with your depression please call Lifeline, 13 11 14 for immediate help or contact one of our therapists for counselling support.
May this day find you well.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Team