Challenging depressed thinking

Following on from identifying your depressed thinking habits you are in a position to start the work of challenging them. Challenging depressed thinking is vital for building resistance to depression.

Testing the validity of your beliefs

Challenging depressed thinking is about becoming a detective to find the evidence to test the validity of your beliefs, and then using reasoning skills to modify them and develop more helpful attitudes in their place.

‘De-fusing’ from your thoughts

It can also be helpful to realise that it isn’t possible to prevent unhelpful thoughts from occurring. Once you have done what you can to challenge your thoughts and have reduced your level of belief in them you can learn to just notice unhelpful thoughts when they arise and and ‘let them go’ without attaching any energy to them.

Questions to ask yourself

Use the following list of questions to help you test the validity of your thoughts and bring a wider perspective to bear. It is useful to consider whether other people would agree with your beliefs or whether there is hard evidence to support them ie. evidence that would stand up in a court of law:

  1. What’s the evidence for this perspective?
  2. What evidence is there for a different point of view?
  3. How did I get into the habit of thinking this way? (Take into account personal history and also evaluate wider social and cultural influences)
  4. What other explanations could there be?
  5. How realistic are my expectations and beliefs?
  6. Is it helpful for me to see things this way?
  7. What would be a more positive way to see this?
  8. What would I say to a friend if they were thinking this?

Using all of these questions you can re-evaluate your thought and replace it with a more balanced, helpful belief. You can return to your ABC record and re-rate the intensity of the emotion that you first identified. If you challenged the thought successfully you should feel the negative emotion less intensely.

Find out more

The strategies described here come from something called ‘cognitive-behavioural therapy’ or CBT for short. Find out more about this effective form of therapy by:

  • Reading the excellent book Overcoming Depression: a self-help guide using cognitive behavioural techniques by Paul Gilbert (see ‘Books’).
  • Practising this strategy using the best-selling workbook Mind Over Mood (see ‘Books’) or online using computerised CBT (see ‘Online help’)
  • Finding a counsellor or psychologist who is trained to help you learn these techniques (see ‘Types of counselling’)

Self compassion

The most effective way to challenge your depressed thinking is to do so with self compassion.┬áThe types of thinking error that lead to depressed thinking are a normal part of how our human brains work, and are related to our evolutionary stress response (see ‘Modifying stress levels’).┬áChallenging the unhelpful habits of thinking that depression has got you into needs to be done with kindness and understanding – not harsh self criticism.

Next: Modifying stress levels

Take Action

Thought challenging worksheet


How depression works
Check suicide & self harm
Practising mindfulness