Depression and the brain – the depressed way of thinking.

The depressed way of thinking.

 

People with depression can experience cognitive distortions [1]. Basically you think in a certain way about daily events (for this post I’ll keep it at that).

 

I do that. It’s not fun. It’s only now that I’ve discovered that my thinking can change. I feel a very clear distinction between ‘feeling good’ and ‘not-good’, feeling ‘normal’ and feeling depressed; having the ability of thinking more freely, more open versus more gloomy, pessimistic and negative.

 

I believe it is something that doesn’t change in a day, it comes slowly but when I notice it, it’s all too late and it’s like a switch. Lights on and lights out. Nighttime and daytime. (Just for small fun, this is my favorite bird and he explains it way better than I can).  

 

 

All jokes aside, there are a few ways depression alters your way of thinking.

 

  1. Selective abstraction is to focus on a single negative event or condition to the exclusion of other, more positive ones. For example I worry myself sick about the future and in the meanwhile I’m not appreciating the day of today.

 

  1. Dichotomous thinking is all-or-nothing thinking. ‘I will never heal’ and ‘I want to be exactly as I was before!’

 

  1. Catastrophic thinking is exaggerating the possible consequences of an event or situation. I think when I start the lawsuit against the decision of the insurance company, I’ll won’t be able to find a new job (my doctor told me so!) and the current regime will send me out of the country and I’ll lose everything. Catastrophic thinking is ruminating about irrational, worst-case outcomes [2]. My example  comes close to the definition, no? Other examples can be: you make a mistake at work, you go over the situation, you convince yourself that it is a really big mistake and you’ll get fired on the spot. Or when your partner doesn’t respond to a text or phone in a timely manner, they must have been involved in an accident or terrorist attack.

 

Why would we even think about the worst possible?

 

Because it helped (and still does) us to survive. To be alert in a certain situation, where it is needed, can save your life. When you meet eye to eye with an elephant maybe it is not the time to stay relaxed and wait it out if the elephant is hungry, upset, ill, afraid or none of that on that particular day. When you see your toddler climbing onto the dining table where you’ve put your hot tea, same, that is the time when ‘seeing all the bad’ makes us take action. Normally the tension drops after the (perceived) danger is gone and our thoughts can take a rest too.

 

With me that doesn’t happen, I stay in the loop where I keep worrying and since there is no solution, I worry myself into an unhappy state.  Can’t I just stop and why keep the train of worries going? This way of thinking can start or be strengthened due to a lack of sleep, extreme fatigue, loss of self-esteem, a traumatic event, an physical illness and so on.

 

 

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Overthinking

 

My thinking bothers me  and I’m trying to think myself out of a thinking problem. That is difficult to begin with. When noticing that you think too much what you’ll need to do is to ‘non-think’.

 

Step 1: Noticing when your thoughts don’t serve you well. You can see that time went by, you may feel anxious, your mood is down. Maybe your head feels tens. You can’t unwind the mind. I find myself brainless surfing the net for the best picture for my next (non-existent) post or looking very briefly at some little news or have the smallest peek at Twitter …. and boom, I feel bad. Not because of Twitter itself because – coincidence- I see that news/fact that will affirm my fears. And then the wheel of suffering starts again and again and again.

 

Notice the pattern and use the breaks. Take yourself out of the situation.

 

Step 2: Challenge the thoughts.

 

2.1. With catastrophic thinking, ask yourself “How bad would that really be?” I am not the only one in this situation, so we’ll see how it goes with the lawsuit. When I don’t find work, all I can do is to take care of me and look for a new job. And when they send me out of the country, well, I’ve changed countries already once in my life, I think I can handle something new. You may think this is foolish of me to think but it will be a better loop in my head or at best it is an even realistic one.

 

The second question is: “What are the odds?” We don’t know, the future is uncertain. That is the one thing we do know.  I have a 1 to 3 odds of winning the lawsuit. I can either find a job or not, that’s a 50% to 50%. When jobless maybe just maybe I can ‘use’ that time to be happy. As I established that the future is uncertain, it is rationally better to be happy for the day that is given. I can give it a try.

 

2.2. Dichotomous thinking: I have a lot ‘same same but different’ thoughts. ‘I can’t’,  ‘I can’t do this anymore’, ‘This is all too much’ and it goes very well together with the catastrophic thinking: ‘I can’t, better go and lay in bed, I surely won’t find work’ ….. I feel overwhelmed in that moment. I also tend to look for confirmation of that feeling, I just have a peek behind the laptop and it is all very clear that I’m not on top of things but under it all.’ I can’t do it all’  (already tired when I think about it) ànd the dishes ànd the laundry, still need to fold the laundry from the previous week! (shame, shame, shame …. Cercei and the walk of shame anybody?).

 

It makes me feel helpless, small and incapable [3]. Because I feel that way, I believe I am that way. The 1 million dollar question is: ‘What can I do?’ For the lawsuit I did everything I possibly could think of, the papers are done, I went to see my psychiatrist, I went and saw another doctor, I had a meeting with a lawyer, I went two additional times to the union (which is draining!) to fact check, I called work and I called my doctor again. I even posted my situation on a forum. The situation is still not clear but I did what was needed. No amount of self-punishing or worrying will change the future.

 

What can I do for me to make it better now?  Here I found – through therapy – an amazing skill, not to think but to act. When I notice myself thinking over and over again when and what I’m going to eat (and end up not eating) or when it will be the best time to shower, I see that particular thinking as a big mountain. I can’t see the horizon (yet)  but I’m on my way and I’ll walk around it. I just do it without the thinking. Amazing isn’t it? That my friend, is a life-skill.

 

Beware of questions like: ‘What if?’ ‘What will happen then?’ ‘What now?’ Those questions are prone to a negative outcome. What if I’m jobless? I’m too old to find a job, … Instead, turn them into a statement. ‘My name is Kacha, I’m 39 and I don’t have a job’. Ok, breathe. I will resign my old job first maybe that is a good step. (See some of the silliness here?) I can’t go back to that one for my health. I will look for a job that is more suited for me. My goal is to lead a happy life with energy, love and laughter because I’m already 39 and I missed all of that. I want to build a better future for me and that is how it all began actually. This is the factual thought process.

 

To recap for people like me who don’t oversee things or can’t remember because all of the other thinking of course! When you feel exhausted due to overthinking:

  1. Notice. Look for clues, like more tension in the body or the activities you’re undertaking. Use the breaks and step out of it. (you can do that literally by stepping away from the activity, put yourself in another room, another chair, …) I found an inspiring post on this here.
  2. See the mountain and walk around it. Do what you’re thinking about.
  3. When you are worrying too much, ask yourself those questions:
    1. How bad would that really be?
    2. What are the odds?
    3. What can I do to approach the problem?
    4. What can I do for me to make it better now?

 

Thank you for reading and thinking with me. Did you notice some difference in the two approaches? Can you imagine how life looks when you’re trapped in the negative loophole? It is hard but it is also possible to at least try to adjust that thinking. As all in life, things will go up and down and so will my exercise but I’ll start to walk the walk and not only do the talk!

 

 

 

References.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201206/depressive-realism

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-the-face-adversity/201103/catastrophic-thinking

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/201606/2-ways-stop-worrying-and-overcome-anxiety

Picture credits click here.

 

14 thoughts on “Depression and the brain – the depressed way of thinking.

  1. Great post, Kacha. An extension to your catastrophic thoughts, I sometimes feel anxiety since the stroke. In this case, the stroke is an event at a point in time. There was a “before” and there is an “after”. I have felt anxieties such as “what if the car breaks down?” when I am 100km from home. It helps me (I do not say I have an answer) to think back to the time when I was healthy. Did I have the same fear then? No So, what has changed? Nothing. My wife faces the same risk, so why is she not worried?I have found this helps me to not worry so much.

    Turning it on its head, it is fascinating that all these catastrophic “what if?” scenarios exist, and yet many people never spare even a moment to think about them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Last week my therapist forgot the appointment and I needed to come back in the evening, when everything is dark!! I realized I never had that fear before so I went and it was no problem at all. That helps for sure! I wonder how people are able to live such ‘happy’ lifes but I guess a healthy middle would be the best.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Still I think I can feel a difference between ‘me’ and ‘me with depression’, there is that point that you describe when your life shift in a big way but there is still a difference. A person is never his/hers illness I hope. So it makes sense for me what you suggest to do and I really appreciate the constructive thoughts 🙂

        Like

  2. Oh, Kacha, I love that you’ve highlighted some of the cognitive distortions used in CBT and one of my favourites is ‘jumping to conclusions’ where we tend to make irrational assumptions about people and circumstances. We, for instance, assume that something will happen in the future (predictive thinking), or assume that we know what someone else is thinking (mind-reading). How does anyone know what’s going to happen in the future?

    I would also suggest that when people are having negative thoughts, perhaps challenge them i.e. where’s the evidence for the thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a very good point, thank you! Challenging our thoughts, to attribute correctly where the thoughts spring from for both sides. Like I really don’t like my neighbours (I like them but they irritate me) but now I discovered that I’m a tat jalous because they live together and I don’t! On the other hand when people react crabby or weird, they mabe had a bad day and not me! But we know only one thing for sure; the future is uncertain! Thank you for your great comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know but still something needs to be done, you have to keep yourself in that illusion at all cost.
        The smallest hope can turn a moment around. I feel it helps me to be at least trying to so something. See, I am a very stubborn person. For once, it pays off 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have definitely experienced all of these cognitive distortions, but I never knew the terms for them. Thank you for teaching me! Having a label doesn’t completely stop a mental process from having power over you, but it provides a way to step out of that process to analyze it.

    Catastrophic thinking is my worst of the list. I have a tendency to think that if someone is late, it must mean they’ve died a horrible death, which has so far never been the case. Even lately, I’ve been getting into catastrophic thoughts about the outcome of an email I sent out. I’ll try your steps for diffusing those thoughts! I can already feel myself relaxing as I ponder that mountain ahead. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can help to know that is has a name and therefore exists. For me it helps to try to approach my thinking proces like that. It feels a bit like ‘unlearning’ bad habits and direct them towards something new. It’s not 100% fool proof as I sometimes find myself trapped on the merry-go-round of thinking but at least we can try, what gives relief in itself. I hope it can help you. You can always let me know if it did. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is sooo good to read! I’m really glad!
        I experienced that too, that when you think the same thing over and over again, you’re so ‘busy’ with the negatives, that you’re just not able anymore to think about more options.

        One step at the time … it will be better. And meanwhile we can sweep the floor with some nice music on 🙂

        Thank you for letting me know! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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