Depression drains our energy and gathers momentum with repetitive thoughts, indecisiveness, and a gloomy outlook. The symptoms of depression are well known: too much or too little sleep, weight loss or gain, lack of motivation, fatigue and little or no sex drive. With depression, the lack of energy often makes it difficult to shake it off and make effective changes. Some people, however, have found a way to beat it. What’s their secret?
The key with the depression trap isn’t about getting out—it’s about staying out. People take medicine—and then stop. They exercise for a while—then give it up. They go to therapy—then take a break. People try many things to feel better and then slide back into old habits.
Research has shown that there are some direct ways to challenge these thought patterns and turn despair around. Those who don’t fall back into the trap have learned to master shutting down or turning around their negative thoughts.
Sometimes these thought patterns are automatic and happening just under the radar, and sometimes they are more noticeable and intrusive. If they are automatic negative thoughts, then you want to catch yourself in the act and be aware of them. If they are more invasive, you’ll want to question them right away. By noticing thought patterns, you become more conscious that the repetition is generated internally rather than by an event on the outside.
These thoughts typically fall into categories that cause you to blame yourself systematically or others, see everything as negative or catastrophic, jump to conclusions without enough evidence, or believe you know what others are thinking about you. The key to catching yourself thinking is to notice the repetition. A one-off negative thought isn't much of a concern—but a hundred of them are. Once you are aware you have a repetitive negative view, the goal is always the same: Challenge it as soon as you can.
In noticing repetitive thoughts, you've accomplished the first step in self-regulation and true change. If you can observe the repetitive pattern, it means the thoughts are something you experience—not who you are. This is important because getting some distance from these thoughts is essential. It gives them less power over you and sets the stage for challenging them.
Let’s say you often catch yourself thinking: “I’m not good enough.” Once you notice this is a pattern, ask yourself a question: "Am I really not good enough?" This does several things. At the very least, it slows down your thoughts by testing them, and, more importantly, it opens the door to the third step—to provide evidence to the contrary.
Don’t expect all of your negative thinking and depression to evaporate overnight. But you can make progress if you regularly challenge your repetitive thoughts.