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Depression: How Thoughts Affect Depression

The Power of Thoughts in Depression

People are always busy thinking. As one thought passes, there’s another thought ready to take its place. Most of the thoughts that people have are automatic thoughts that:

  • Pop up when a person isn’t even trying to think them.
  • Can be positive or negative. (It’s the negative thoughts that contribute to depression)


Thoughts Affect Depression

  • The way a person thinks affects the way he or she feels and acts.

For example, if SPC Murphy thinks he will perform well on a mission, then he’ll probably feel excited about that mission and do a good job. If SPC Jones thinks he won’t do well, then he might feel upset or get distracted and not do such a great job. Upset feelings can interfere with SPC Jones’ ability to do his best and succeed.

  • The way SPC Jones thinks (both positive and negative) is learned. Since negative thinking can cause depression, depression can be thought of as a learned thinking problem.

SPC Jones learned what he believes from his parents, his friends, society, and from the way he has been treated by others.

  • The good news is that because thoughts are learned, SPC Jones can learn to avoid negative thoughts leading to depression and instead enjoy positive thoughts that lead to happiness and health.


Role of Thoughts in Depression

When SGT Cox feels depressed, she’s likely to have negative thoughts focused on bad things that have already happened or that might happen in her future. Negative thoughts like these aren’t necessarily “true” or useful, and are often both causes and symptoms of depression.

Negative thoughts often center on three ideas. SGT Cox may be thinking:

1. "I am the cause of ______ (bad event)."

For example, “I failed the training because I’m not good enough.” Or, “I caused all the bad things in my life.”

2. One bad thing means everything is bad.

For example, “I failed my training and so my whole life sucks.” Or, “My boyfriend broke up with me and so all women are losers.”

3. Things will always be bad.

For example, “I failed my training so my future is hopeless.” Or, “This is never going to get better.”


Thinking Errors

Negative thoughts often distort or twist the truth, making things seem worse than they really are. Here are some common types of thinking errors:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in terms of either/or; black-and-white; good or bad; right or wrong.

  • A more healthy way to think is to look for a middle ground or gray areas. Rarely in life is something all-or-nothing.


2. Exaggerating or Minimizing: Exaggerating means making too big a deal out of a negative experience. Minimizing means not giving oneself or others enough credit for doing something good.

  • A more healthy way to think is to stop blowing things out of proportion and to recognize and value successes.


3. Mental Filter: Using a mental filter means only seeing the bad and not the good side of things. The positive is forgotten or ignored, and only the bad things are considered.

  • A more healthy way to think is to notice the good things and realize that they count as much if not more than the negative.


4. Not accepting the positive: People with this thinking error reject anything positive, especially positive information about themselves.

  • A more healthy way to think is to accept the positive without letting any negative thoughts contradict it.


5. Reasoning with feelings instead of logic or facts: Saying, “I feel like a loser, so I must be a loser,” is an example of using feelings instead of facts as proof of truth.

  • A more healthy way to think is to recognize the distinction between “feelings” and “facts.” Negative feelings can be useful signals that something’s wrong – but learn to distinguish them from facts that might lead to a different conclusion.


Don’t fall into these common thinking errors:

  • All-or Nothing
  • Exaggeration or Minimization
  • Mental Filters
  • Not accepting the positives
  • Reasoning with feelings instead of logic or facts
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