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Negative Thinking - Cycle of Depression

The cycle of depression is a continuous loop of negative thinking. You must stop the cycle by identifying your problems.

Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can affect many things involving your life. It’s not just a case of low mood and it’s not simply a case of “snapping out of it”. Some people can live with depression for years before they actually learn to do anything about it. Depression has many faces and there are different types. Sometimes they occur after a major event like giving birth, or sometimes we just wake up feeling depressed. Ordinarily, if we are lucky, the feeling goes away, but in some cases we are stuck feeling depressed and it can be tremendously hard to actually ask for help.

When treating depression, CBT can help you to change negative ideas, unrealistic expectations and overly critical self-judgment, which can often lead to, or lengthen, depression. CBT will help you to recognize which problems are significant and which ones are minor. It can also help you to develop positive life goals and a more realistic self-perception.

You’re not alone

It’s scientifically proven that at some point or another, a number of people will suffer from some degree of depression and not even know it. Next, you will decide what the scale of your depression really is. This allows you to work it out and literally evaluate your mood for possibly the first time. By looking at how you feel, and what your problems are, you really are taking the first and most important step towards dealing with depression.

By “working it out” you can give yourself both a confirmation that you are depressed and also something to work from. Using this as a reference, you can gauge your level of depression and hopefully by working through your depression you’ll feel a lot better and for the first time in a while you’ll be able to see some progress and achievements towards overcoming depression. Even just making this self-diagnosis of depression is an achievement that you can be proud of.

Depression - a cycle of negative thinking

This figure shows the cycle of depression, which illustrates that depression is a continuous loop of negative thinking. What’s so important about negative thinking is that according to CBT, it’s not events themselves that upset you and cause your depression, but the meanings you give them. Your negative thinking can block you from seeing things that don’t fit with what you believe are true. In other words, you are effectively stuck in this self-perpetuating, continuous cycle of depression that will continue until you can get yourself out of it or reach out for help. Just by reading this article you have taken the first step and luckily CBT is one of best ways to break this cycle of negative thinking.



Depression - a cycle of negative thinking


Realistically, good times of life will lead to positive emotions and also, as you may have guessed, when bad things happen, they will make us feel bad. Part of the problem with depression is that we forget our feelings and even good things can make us feel bad. Depression effectively confuses our personal meanings and it ends up that we start to have unhealthy and negative thoughts, when in reality it’s not the event that is overly bad or negative, but simply depression that is making us feel bad about the event.

Take a look below for some examples of inappropriate thoughts that we all suffer from, from time to time.


Trigger

Reaction

Appropriate?

My friends came around and invited me for a drink. I want to be alone; I don't want to see anybody. No. Being alone just perpetuates the cycle of depression.
I got angry because I broke a cup. I can't even do anything right. I'm a failure. No. How can breaking just one cup make anyone a failure?
I didn't go shopping today. I can't be bothered. No. What happens tomorrow when there is no food?
There's no food in the refrigerator. It doesn't matter, I'm not hungry. No. Appetite loss is part of depression, but it doesn't mean that we can ignore the need to eat.


Stop the cycle by identifying your problems

One of the first steps you can take towards overcoming depression with CBT is to actually put your problems down on paper, and start to rank them based on how they affect you. At first this might seem difficult to you since maybe it’s not clear to you what’s causing your depression or it can be confused because of depression itself. But it’s really important that you dig deep into yourself and try to identify the problems that affect your depression the most, since knowing what it is will help you to cure, adapt or eliminate the problem. These problems can be physical, emotional or behavioral as in the example below, but in your worksheet you will write down problems that you perceive are contributing to your depression. This will be the starting point for making you realize that your depression isn’t just something abstract and like “an immovable mountain” but instead it consists of things that you truly can affect.


Problem

Rank

Feeling "low"

 

Fear (age, loss of job, no money etc.)

 

Anxiety

 

Addiction (gambling, drugs, alcohol, smoking)

 

Illness (arthritis, cancer, epilepsy, heart condition)

 

Disability

 

Social phobia (fear of outdoors, of people, of animals etc.)

 

Anorexia

 

Chronic pain

 

Feelings of guilt

 

Post-traumatic stress

 

Now it’s your turn to write down all your problems surrounding your depression.

Your most significant problems

Now, from your list of your problems, you are going to select the five problems that you think are most significant to you in causing your depression. This is important since it can feel overwhelming dealing with all the problems at once, but more importantly, by initially dealing with a few problems contributing to your depression, you will, over time, discover that what you have seen as big problems really aren’t problems anymore.

To get a better understanding of your five most significant problems you are going to break them down and take a look at the ongoing effects that these problems have in contributing to your depression. Look at the example below for some inspiration before you fill in your own top five problems and break them down.


1st Ranking: Feeling low
- I don't feel like doing anything. I don't feel like spending time with friends or family. I just want to be alone.
- I am having problems sleeping because I can't stop going over my thoughts and feelings.
- I find everyday chores like cleaning or shopping overwhelming.

When you have written down your top five problems which contribute to your depression, take a look at them and think about how one problem affects another and the impact that they have on your life. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

Do problems fall into one specific category?

Do problems overlap?

Your long term goal

Setting long term goals is very important in overcoming depression since it’s very difficult getting somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. When you’re depressed it’s common that you feel unhappy, emotionally distressed or caught up in a cycle of negative thinking. The difficulty is that you’re often so caught up in your depression that you’re unable to really understand what’s wrong. Hopefully by looking at your most significant problems and breaking them down you have now circumscribed what’s making you depressed.

You are now going to set up long term goals. By formulating goals for overcoming depression you will help yourself to pin down exactly what it is that you want to achieve, rather than just saying that you want to be free from your depression. This is so important since depression differs from person to person. By setting up specific goals for overcoming depression you give yourself signposting and above all you have something to compare with in the future.

When you formulate your long term goals for overcoming depression, imagine what you want to be able to do in, say, 6 month. Be as specific as possible since it will give you more guidance and it will be easier for you to follow up if you have reached where you want to be. When formulating your goals for overcoming depression use positive terms like “I want to be able to go to big parties I’ve been invited to”. (Don’t formulate a goal like: “I want so stop avoiding going to big parties” since it uses negative terms). You need to prioritize between your goals and a good idea is to proceed from your most significant problems that are contributing most to you depression.

Maybe you are still unsure what your specific goals are in overcoming depression. In this case you can go back and update your goals later on as you dig deeper into your depression. But at least try to set some long term goals right now. Remember, you have no control over other people’s behavior so the goals are only going to be about you. If you experience other people’s behavior as a problem, one goal could be learning to counter and deal with other people’s criticism. Read below for an example of one goal for overcoming depression that proceeds from the most significant problems one may identify.


Problem: Feeling low - I don't feel like spending time with friends or family. I just want to be alone.
Long term goal: The way to deal with this specific problem is to socialize more and therefore one of my goals is to meet friends or family at least once a week. Even when I don't feel like it and I prefer being alone I'll set up a meeting.
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