Negative thinking is a common cause/symptom of depression. I say cause/symptom because it is hard to determine what caused what. It’s like the chicken and egg conundrum, which one came first? An argument can be made that either the depression caused the negativity or that negative thinking caused the depression. Most likely it’s some of both; they feed off each other and result in an “endless cycle”. When you feel a little down you tend to see things in a negative way. Then you start to think things like, “This always happens to me”; “Nothing good ever happens to me”; or “Whatever I try fails.” This kind of thinking makes you feel even more hopeless and depressed. The more depressed you feel, the more negative and defeatist your thoughts become. Thus begins the pattern of a downward spiral.
The only way to stop slipping further down is to pull yourself out of this spiral. It’s as if you are caught in a riptide pulling you away from shore; experts say the way to survive a riptide is to swim parallel with the shore until you are out of the current. It’s useless to try to swim against the tide, you aren’t strong enough; instead you have to swim across it until you are out of the current, then you can make it back to the shore. Similarly you can’t turn 180 degrees and pull yourself straight up out of this spiral, but you have to pull yourself off to the side so you aren’t dragged down any further.
Breaking the pattern
How can you do that? First you have to notice that you are in this negative pattern. If you have been in this downward spiral many times before, it may be an automatic reaction to a bad event and you may be well into the spiral before you even notice it. Once you are able to notice it you need to break the pattern. One way to break the pattern is to do something that you have to concentrate on, like a puzzle, a complicated task or even adding a series of numbers in your head. If you have to concentrate hard on a task you won’t be able to continue your negative thinking. Another option is to shock yourself out of it by doing something totally unnatural for you, shout something out loud, jump up and start moving around. If you want to be more subtle you can try wearing a rubber band around your wrist and snap it to snap yourself out of your brooding behavior.
Changing how you think
Now that you have stopped the negative thoughts you need to analyze them and dispute them. It would probably be a good idea for you to keep a journal about throughout this process, that way you have a record to remind yourself what you did that was successful and those things that weren’t as successful. So write down your negative thoughts in your journal, and then begin to argue with them one at a time. For example, if you think “Nothing ever turns out well for me.”, ask yourself if that is really true. Think back and see if you can find an example of a time when something did turn out well. It will be hard in your negative state to do this, when you are depressed you will be more likely to find examples that support the negative state. Keep trying until you find at least two examples of things that have turned out well. Write those things down. Then look back at your negative statement and think about how you could revise it now that you have information that disputes it. It could be something like: “This particular incident didn’t go so well, but I’ve learned something from it and next time I will handle it better.” Complete this process with all your negative thoughts.
Negative events can turn out to be good events for you if you learn something from them that will help you deal with similar situations more successfully in the future. Spend some time writing down what you’ve learned from the difficulties in your life. Writing things down not only helps you analyze them but also keeps a record so you can remind yourself of the best way for you to handle being stuck in your depressive state.
Practice makes perfect. As with everything, the more you practice it the easier it becomes and eventually it will become automatic. As you continue to practice these good habits you will find that your negativity and depression will become less severe and less frequent over time.
I’m writing more articles on the topics of negativity and depression, be sure to check for more and keep working to improve your mental health.