Depression as a Thinking Problem
“How we can treat depression by changing our thinking”
How Thoughts Affect Our Mood
When we’re thinking unhappy thoughts, we will be unhappy. It’s really that simple. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s unbalanced brain chemistry causing negative thought patterns, or the other way around. What does matter is that, should we find a way to turn our thoughts around, our mood will improve.
Depression is the result of distorted thinking. We see the world not as it really is, but rather through the lens of a mind that isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Historically we humans tend to blame ourselves for our faulty, distorted thinking. If we’re prone to depression, we really need to stop doing this. Fact: I can no more control what thoughts come in to my mind than I can stop an avalanche, or a tidal wave. But I can control what I do WITH the thoughts that arise between my ears.
Our first step is to identify whether the thought(s) we’re experiencing are healthy and normal. If they’re not, they need to be effectively dealt with. So what does an unhealthy (or “distorted”) thought look like?
Who am I?
My name is Mike MacKinnon, and I’m a personal trainer, weight loss coach, and life coach in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. I also do personal training, weight loss coaching, and life coaching in Toronto, the GTA and beyond.
Many who are overweight struggle with comfort eating. They look to unhealthy foods to help soothe them in times of mental distress. Because depression – and anxiety – can often lead to weight gain, I believe it’s important that we find a way to cope with negative thought patterns.
A Look at Negative Thinking
Negative thinking is the root problem underneath depression. How do we deal with it? Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (or “CBT,” for short) offers an evidence-based framework that can significantly help to alleviate negative thought patterns.
CBT categorizes negative thinking in to different categories of what it terms “Distorted Thinking.” These categories vary somewhat between CBT systems, but for the most part are consistent. See if you can identify with any of the following:
“All-or-Nothing Thinking” – you tend to see things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
Blame or Personalization – you tend to either excessively attribute the cause of your troubles to others (“Blame), or to yourself (“Personalization”).
Jumping to Conclusions – there are two kinds: (1) “Fortune-Telling,” where you tend to predict a negative outcome re: events in your life (some call this “Playing God”), or (2) “Mind-Reading,” where you believe you know what others are thinking and you usually believe they are thinking negatively about you.
Magnification or Minimization –
where you either blow an incident way out of proportion (“Magnification”), or you do not attribute enough importance to it (“Minimization”). Some CBT practitioners refer to “Magnification” as either “Awfulizing” or “Catastrophizing.” Both are apt terms, I think.
Emotional Reasoning – when you do this, you “reason from your emotions.” You confuse feelings with facts. You know you’re doing it when you say things like “I’m stupid,” just because you’re feeling that way. We personalize the emotion, and then define ourselves by it.
Discounting the Positives – this happens when we insist that either our positive qualities, or our accomplishments, don’t count.
Labelling – where we identify with perceived shortcomings. We call ourselves “idiot,” “jerk,” “loser,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “lazy,” etc.
Overgeneralization – where we treat a single negative event as part of a never-ending stream of negative events.
“Should” statements – also known as “shoulding” on either ourselves, or others. We have a strong opinion on what either we, or others, “should” do in each circumstance. “Ought to” and “Must” are similar offending words.
Mental Filter – where we dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives in a situation. We “filter out” the positives.
Can You Identify?
Usually when I share these distortions with my clients, they can identify with most, if not all. I think all of us are guilty of at least some of them, some of the time. It becomes a problem, however, when these “distortions” become a part of our daily thought lives.
Oftentimes people don’t realize this is the case. They tend to think that this type of thinking is “normal,” and so they’ve come to accept it. Along with that, they’ve come to accept that depression – and/or anxiety – is just a normal, even necessary part of their lives.
Well, it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be. Challenging these distorted thought patterns and coming up with healthier “Rational Responses” to them, is the goal of CBT. Do this, and you can change your thinking. Change your thinking, and you can change your mood. It’s that straightforward.
So Now What?
Over the next few weeks I’ll be unpacking each “Cognitive Distortion” and will offer ways of resolving them. To resolve a distortion is to find a new thought pattern that’s positive, instead of negative. Stay tuned: I find these resolutions quite helpful in my own life. I’m willing to bet you will too.
In the meantime, if you’d like some more personalized help in this area, I’d love to meet with you to discuss how I could do that. 647-677-6025, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.fitin20.ca/Contact/ puts you in contact with me.
I’d love to explore how I could help. Give me a call: you’ve got nothing to lose, EXCEPT for the depression, anxiety and the weight!