Turning Negative Thinking Around
I think more people than ever have some awareness of depression, can recognize the signs in themselves and try to act on these. Taking control over your physical and mental health is a huge plus and in terms of depression there are a few things that can be utilized as part of a self-help strategy. One of the most significant is recognizing negative thinking and employing strategies to try and keep things in perspective.
Stressful lives have a way of feeding negative thinking. Negative thinking isn't just fixed on a particular point or issue, it's much more dynamic. If you find yourself on the receiving end of other people's irritation, for example, your thoughts quickly tap into situations from your past that caused you similar distress. This is how our mind works. It searches out similar situations from the past and looks for ways we dealt with it. Unfortunately, similar situations very often stir up similar memories and resentments. This feeds into negative thoughts about yourself and even your future.
Negative thinking locks people into a cycle of expectation they feel incapable of breaking out of. Although we can never eradicate negative thinking its more toxic effects can be neutralized with a little application and practice. In turn, this may act as a protective buffer against negative thinking leading to depression.
A sure sign of negative thinking is jumping to conclusions. How do you recognize this in yourself? Well, it takes a bit of honesty and personal insight but the key word here is blame. Negative thinkers evaluate situations very rapidly, or to put it another way, they have difficulty remaining neutral or considering other options. Blaming others or oneself is a form of quick and easy thinking. In truth, the reasons for something occurring may be way outside our control, or our knowledge of the total picture. Feelings and facts are different, but if you find yourself mistaking feelings for facts it's a sign of negative thinking.
Following this line of reasoning, the next question is, what's the alternative? Well, every situation has a number of possible interpretations, so it's really down to us to tap into these alternatives. If your first thoughts are negative, give yourself a bit of room to consider at least one possible alternative. This will help you develop a more rounded perspective. At first, this may feel like a very artificial exercise. You'll tend to evaluate your first thoughts as the most reliable and valid. When you construct an alternative thought it takes a bit of effort, so you'll probably view this as silly and contrived. However, this is an exercise in moving away from negative thinking. It's not about what's right or wrong, better or worse, valid or invalid. Over time, you'll find your alternative thoughts start to feel more plausible or more neutral. And it doesn't have to be an either/or exercise; feeling indifferent is perfectly normal.
I've mentioned perspective. The most common way of losing perspective is by over-generalizing and catastrophizing. Over-generalizing means reaching sweeping conclusions based on feelings or flimsy evidence. Catastrophizing refers to blowing things out of proportion. One way of checking whether you think catastrophically is to reflect on the language you use. Are things "always a mess", or "terrible," or a "total disaster?" It's unlikely to be true, and while it may add to the drama of a conversation it's also an indication that things are being blown out of proportion. True, it's also an indication of how you are feeling and people under stress often use more dramatic language to express their emotions. If you try using a more measured tone and describe situations more accurately in terms of how it makes you feel, you may find your start to feel better as a result.
It isn't easy to accept yourself as a negative thinker. And not everyone thinks negatively all the time. However, negative thinking is a strong characteristic of depression so if it can be challenged it's no bad thing. Changing a mind-set isn't easy either. You may be embarking on challenging years of seeing things in a negative light. Set yourself small and attainable goals. Big issues may need to be broken down and change doesn't happen overnight.