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Change Your Thinking - Control Your Depression




Excerpted from
Getting Your Life Back: The Complete Guide to Recovery from Depression
By Jesse H. Wright, M.D., Ph.D., Monica Ramirez Basco, Ph.D.

Do you have worries that stream through your mind and make it hard for you to feel good or to relax? Are you the type of person who puts yourself down? Do you tend to dwell on the negatives in your life? Are you more pessimistic than you would like to be? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the Thinking Key could give you some solutions for your problems. In this chapter, we'll help you understand how your thoughts can make you feel depressed and how you can lift your mood by changing your thinking. The first thing we'll do is to explain how negative or dysfunctional thinking can set you up for depression. Then you'll learn about specific self-help methods from cognitive-behavior therapy that you can use to develop a healthier and more positive thinking style. There are lots of exercises in this chapter, so make sure to have pen and paper handy.

How Your Thoughts Control Your Feelings

If we asked you what controls your feelings-what makes you happy, or angry, or sad-you might think first of the events or situations in your life that seem to trigger emotions. Examples might be "My boss makes me nervous when he calls me into his office" or "I get sad when the holidays come around." On the surface it might appear that it is your boss that is making you nervous or the holiday season that is making you sad. But, it is the thoughts that you are having about these situations that are actually stimulating the emotions.

To explain how our thinking processes control emotions, let's take a look at different ways one might think about being called into a boss's office. In the first scenario, you get a call from your boss and start to think "I've really messed up ... I won't know what to say or do . .. This is a total disaster." There's no question you would be nervous. In fact, you might be close to panic if you were having these types of thoughts as you opened the door to your boss's office. However, what would happen if you had these kinds of thoughts: "I know how to do this job ... He might want me to make some changes, but everything will work out if I buckle down . .. Listen to him and show that you are on top of the situation." It's likely that your mood would be much better if you went to see your boss in this frame of mind.

The environmentalist Karsten Heuer told in Smithsonian Magazine about how he controlled his emotions by getting a grip on his thinking during a scary night he spent in the mountains of Montana. Karsten was on a long hike in very rugged territory. One midnight a horrendous storm blew up and flattened his tent and campsite. He spent the rest of the night outside his tent wrapped in a tarp as he tried to withstand a torrent of hail, icy rain, and blistering winds. "I was shivering uncontrollably. I thought I might die of exposure that night. But I got through it by saying, over and over again: This is only temporary, this is only temporary.' And the next day dawned beautiful."

If Karsten had allowed his thinking to spiral down into despair, he would have had a much harder time getting through the night. Can you imagine what kinds of emotions would have been raging through him if all he could think about was "I can't make it. . . This is too much for me . . . I'll never see daylight. . . How will it end?" Fortunately, he was able to focus on a positive thought that helped him push away his fears and gave him the strength to cope with a very tough situation.

When people become depressed they usually have trouble thinking in ways that calm their emotions and help them solve problems. In fact, their thinking style often intensifies their sadness and interferes with their ability to manage life stresses. Unlike Karsten Heuer, they tend to dwell on their worries and fears. The people with depression that you have met so far in this book all had problems with negative thinking. Michelle got down on herself after going through a divorce. Tony began to think that he was a loser after his wife got a big promotion at work. In this chapter well show you how Michelle, Tony, and others used the Thinking Key to control their depressions. You can use the same depression fighting techniques to overcome your own problems.

The Scientific Basis of the Thinking Key

There have been hundreds of research studies that have been directed at understanding cognitive, or thinking, disturbances in depression. The results of these studies have been distilled into a specific form of psychotherapy for depression called cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). In this type of therapy, patients and therapists work together to reverse depressive thinking and the actions or behaviors that go along with a negative thinking style. Over the last twenty-five years, a great number of scientific investigations have shown that CBT is an effective treatment for depression. If you are interested in learning more about the research that has been conducted on this type of therapy, you can check the reviews listed in the references. The self-help methods we outline here for the Thinking Key are based on the proven techniques of CBT.

When patients ask us to tell them about CBT, we try to give them a shorthand version of how the therapy works. The basics of CBT for depression are learning how to: (1) recognize depressive thinking and behavior, (2) change the way you think and behave, and (3) build healthy attitudes. The Thinking Key will help you do each of these things as you work toward mastering your depression.



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