Dealing with depression as a kid and teenager is confusing. All throughout elementary school and during high school I thought I was going crazy. In reality, I was dealing with crippling OCD and depression.
Outside of Adderall for kids in the school system who deal with low energy, low mood, and brain fog, there’s wasn’t much talk about mental health in my school.
Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered tons of different areas of research in the mental health field.
And although depression rates are on the rise in most developed countries, we are also living in a time with the most access to resources and information about depression and mental peace.
This abundance of information about improving our psychology is a blessing, but we need to learn how to use it. As much groundbreaking new research is being done, there is still a ton of bullshit about mental health online. We need to be really selective about who we listen to (if you’re still reading this article I’m flattered that you have a little bit of trust in my knowledge).
Anyway, here are 3 straightforward mindset shifts/ cognitive techniques that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in stopping myself from being flushed down the toilet of rumination, obsessive negative thinking, and a painfully low mood.
1. Thank Your Mind
This idea may seem insane and counterproductive, but many schools of therapy promote this strategy. Next time you have a burst of self-defeating and self-hating thoughts, pause for a second. Then, thank your mind for what it’s doing. Yes, thank your mind for trying to make you feel like shit!
The depressive cycle is partially a unhelpful survival technique that we picked up sometime in our early development to deal with the setbacks of life. So these self-defeating thoughts are just trying to keep us safe from perceived threats to our ego.
By thanking your mind for the specific thoughts, you can interrupt the typical downward spiral of depression. Here are few very common dialogues that go on in my mind.
Automatic Negative Thought #1: “I’m such a loser. No wonder I’ve never had a long-term partner. I’m pathetic and desperate.” (This is a really common thought for me, and a very painful one.)
Comeback: “Thanks mind! Thanks for wanting me to be successful in dating and to find a partner. That’s true, I haven’t had a long- term partner yet, but my mental health hasn’t been the best in the past decade which has made it hard to connect.”
Automatic Negative Thought #2: “If the future has been like the past, then there is no hope for me to ever feel good and be happy.”
Comeback: “Thanks mind for wanting me to be happy! I agree that I need to really work on my mental health to have a great future, but maybe there is a way to motivate myself without being so harsh.”
If I didn’t thank my mind in these situations, then I would get filled with rage at myself and then start to ruminate more. When I thank my mind for these thoughts it feels counterproductive, but it really helps level out my thinking.
2. Feel the Energy
If you’re like me then you likely beat yourself up for the negative thoughts that always come with depression. I’ll have a judgmental thought about someone else, and then I’ll beat myself up for being a ‘mean person’. Or I’ll feel a wave or rage and then condemn myself for being filled with so much anger.
As you know, this cycle of beating ourselves up because of negative thoughts just leads to more misery. Fuck this never-ending cycle.
One way to short circuit it is to let go of the story that we are telling ourselves, and instead pay attention to our bodies. Our bodies and mind are directly related, so we feel some type of uncomfortable sensation in our bodies when we’re caught in a cycle of pessimistic thinking.
I usually feel some form of tightness in my shoulders and jaw and feel short of breath when I’m feeling pissed off and upset. Going directly to our bodies gives us a more immediate and objective view of how we’re feeling and gives us an anchor to this moment so we’re not stuck in our head.
We don’t need to try to make these difficult feelings go away. Instead, notice the thoughts and feelings while being non-judgmental (this is really hard, so just try your best). Notice and interact with the painful thoughts and feelings gently- imagine a feather lightly brushing against a glass ball. That’s how gentle we’re trying to be with ourselves.
(Pema Chodron, a well-known American Buddhist nun, talks about this idea of thoughts just being energy in her book The Places that Scare You)
3. Evidence Based Thinking
This point is directly from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The idea is that when we’re feeling depressed, most of our negative thoughts are distorted. This means that the pessimistic thoughts we’re having aren’t realistic.
And even if they’re realistic, we’re not improving our situation by beating ourselves up with our internal dialogue!
When I’m feeling down a regular thought I have is “No-one likes me. All of my friends are in different cities making money and being adults, and I’m back in my hometown for the next 2 years while I finish college. This sucks.”
It’s true that I am living at my parents’ house again in my hometown, but there are at least half a dozen other people living at home that I’m friendly with and can hang out with. Also, my goal is to save and invest $20,000 in the next two years, which I wouldn’t be able to accomplish if I was still living on my own and making a my full-time income with eBay and Amazon.
Sure living at home does have some negative aspects, but there are also a lot of positive things about it that are easy to ignore. Learning to see your distortions will help you think more level and will ease your negative mood.
When you’re first starting to counter these depressive thoughts it’s important to write down the specific thoughts that are bothering you. By actually writing the thoughts down on paper and then refuting them with evidence from our lives, we can see the distortions in our thinking that have a big effect on our mood.
Next time you feel yourself going over the edge of obsessive negative thinking, take a step back and try one of these strategies.
I came across the first two points in researching and practicing meditation and mindfulness.
The idea of meditation is to not beat ourselves up for any thought. We can learn how to see thoughts, emotions and feelings as just another aspect of being alive without the need to control them (this is really really hard).
If you’re interested in learning more about meditation be sure to check out the app Headspace. It’s an app for guided meditation and has tons of simple, secular and straightforward practices that are guided, so you can follow along while meditating.
I used this app for about a year and had a really positive experience. The narrator is an British dude who was a Buddhist monk for over 10 years (he’s legit) and there are dozens and dozens of different of guided meditations. There’s even a specific section for meditation that helps ease depression- this make the app that much more helpful.
These are just 3 mindset shifts I’ve found that help me with depression.
What’re some of your favorite cognitive techniques that help stop the spiral of depression? Leave a comment below so other people can see!