Depressed thinking

Your thoughts and beliefs about a situation determine how you feel about it, and how well you can cope with it. Unhelpful or negative depressed thinking habits help depression to flourish. Check these common types of depressed thinking…

Thoughts are powerful

Our thoughts have a very powerful effect on how we feel and behave. Think about what happens if you hear a noise at night and believe someone is breaking in to your house – you immediately feel highly anxious and your body goes into fight or flight mode. But what if you hear the noise and think that it’s just the cat? Very different feelings in response to the same event.

There are a number of common depressed thinking habits or ‘thinking errors’ which help depression to flourish – and which in turn are reinforced by depression. Can you identify in yourself any of these unhelpful ways of thinking?

Tunnel vision

Most depressed thinking habits contain an element of mental filtering or ‘tunnel vision’, where only one part of a situation is focused on and the rest is ignored. The tendency is to focus on the negative aspects or interpretations of a situation and to ignore alternative ways of seeing things.

All-or-nothing thinking

Some people pride themselves on being ‘all-or-nothing’ people, believing that this represents strength and certainty. However, a strong habit of all-or-nothing or rigid thinking offers a wide open door to depression. Examples:

  • “I’m not totally in control” = “I’m chaotically out of control”
  • “I’m not perfectly safe” = “I am unsafe and insecure”
  • “I didn’t come top of the class” = “I’m a complete failure”
  • “I’m not liked by everyone” = “I am horrible”

But the reality is that reasonable levels of safety or some measure of control are possible, there are different levels of success and it is unrealistic to expect universal popularity – there is almost always a ‘middle ground’ to be found.

Tackling all-or-nothing thinking is important because it forms an element of most depressed thinking habits. Other all-or-nothing thinking habits include:

  • Thinking about suicide (a dangerous all-or-nothing solution to a temporary problem)
  • Perfectionism (setting unrealistically high standards, leading to a sense of failure, procrastination and self-bullying)
  • Over-generalisation (eg. predicting the future based on one negative past event, “I never..”)
  • ‘Control freakery’ (rule-bound thinking based on unrealistic expectations for control)
  • Jumping to conclusions

Emotional reasoning

This way of thinking makes the mistake of seeing the way you feel as ‘evidence’ about the reality of a situation.

For example, thinking that feeling bad means that you are bad, or that feeling anxious is evidence that something bad is going to happen. Other forms of emotional reasoning include superstitious thinking (eg. an irrational belief that because you allow yourself to hope your hope will be dashed) and disappointment insurance or cynicism (believing that expecting the worst will protect you from disappointment).

And many more…

More about ‘control freakery’ and other depressed thinking habits linked to control are described on the ‘Anxiety and anger’ page. Another important group of depressed thinking habits is explained on the ‘Self bullying’ page. Learning how to identify and challenge all of these depressed thinking habits is one of the best longer-term strategies for becoming more resistant to depression.

Next: Anxiety & anger

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Identifying depressed thinking
Depression psychology
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