Negative thinking - are you depressed?

22 - Oct - 2011

When the phone rings unexpectedly or when an unexpected letter arrives from the Inland Revenue do you expect trouble? Do you instantly start to think that something bad is happening? If you are feeling unwell do you find yourself checking websites and end up wondering if you have the most serious illness listed? When watching news items about difficulties in the economy do you instantly start thinking about losing your job? Do you recognise thinking like “I’m stuck in traffic its going to be a terrible day”.” I made that mistake again, I am stupid”.” I always fail at relationships I will never be happy”.” I am in debt, I cannot manage my finances.” Negative thinking is where you are constructing your everyday experience and situations as challenges and threats; you might also describe this as having a pessimistic outlook.

Having negative thoughts does not necessarily mean you are depressed but it can be an indicator of depression and left unchecked having negative thought patterns can lead to depression. Depression is an illness that negatively affects the sufferers’ physical, emotional and thinking experience. So depression is not just about negative thinking but it is clear that negative thoughts contribute to negative feelings and this puts us under stress, leading to anxiety and providing a strong basis for the development of depression.

The very first step to tackling your negative thinking and, or depression is to accept that recognising your struggle now means you can take action to improve your situation. If you have any physical concerns or symptoms visit your GP so that these can be either diagnosed and treated or discounted. This then leaves you able to start to deal with the emotional and thinking elements. It is time now to recognise that your negative thoughts and feelings suggest that you are experiencing a healthy response to a perceived threat. The task here is therefore not to stop thinking and feeling but to understand and challenge your sense of being under threat; doing this effectively will lead to a change in thinking and feeling.

It is important that you know that you do have the potential to change the way you think and that what you will need will be the right conditions to facilitate this. Having recognised what is going on you may be able to work through and find a solution and there is a quick guide on how to go about this at the bottom of the page. However your ability to do this on your own will depend upon the severity and length of time you have struggled. A common problem is that people can be being reluctant to seek help and this is often a wonderful example of negative thinking. “If I seek help it will mean that I am going to be a burden, a failure, pathetic, wasting people’s time or, I don’t have time or, I don’t have the money etc”. The reality is that everyone struggles from time to time and left unchecked negative thinking will only create a downward spiral, ultimately it must be argued that not seeking help to a recognised and treatable problem is a mistake. As soon as you realise that your own efforts are not succeeding seek help.

A quick guide for challenging negative thinking:

Write down the negative thoughts you are having and the situations in which they occur. What do you notice?

Do you remember the first time these thoughts occurred to you and if so what was going on for you in life at that point. Is it possible that there is a connection?

Consider whether you are being realistic in your thinking. Visualise how you would respond if a friend of yours came to talk to you with this problem – would your advice or judgement be any different to the way in which you are advising or judging yourself?

Now let’s get down to challenging those individual negative thoughts – pick the one that occurs to you first. Does the thought contain any element which is based on assumption and not fact? In the example I am in debt, I cannot manage my finances. The first part maybe fact but the second is an understanding and an assumption that is unrealistic. Now repeat this with other negative thoughts as they occur to you.