How Our Thoughts Create Depression & Anxiety

In the 1960’s and 70’s when the baby boom generation was coming of age the motto was, “If it feels good do it”. During that time of awakening, a whole swath of society, got in touch with feelings. Unlike the more repressed generations that came before, this cohort, and those who have come after, often rely on emotions as the primary guideposts in their lives, using them to make decisions, shape relationships and determine self-worth. Though being in touch with emotions is important, this approach can also lead to problems.

Problems start when we believe the negative self-talk that often loops in our brain. From this dark script our feelings about the world and ourselves are created. We tell ourselves that that our situation is hopeless or that we never do anything right when we make a mistake. We see the world in black and white and catastrophize when things go awry. These cognitive distortions are what contribute to depression and anxiety. Then, we often act on those feelings. Our poor choices, made in the midst of fear and sadness, perpetuate negative thinking and the cycle continues.

How we think about our situation, ourselves and our lives really does dramatically affect mood. Much clinical research has pointed to the idea that even hearing or reading negative words or seeing negative images can subtly color our feelings and thus our behavior. So imagine what it is like to have blaming, shaming, guilt-inducing self-talk cycling inside our heads 24/7.

Most of my clients know exactly what I mean when I explain about negative self-talk. It is that insidious voice in our heads that tells us only perfection is worthwhile, so if you can’t do something perfectly, the first time, why bother. It tells us that since something has happened a certain way once, it is bound to happen that way again.

This voice only focuses on our negative attributes and mistakes and blows them way out of proportion. The clever and successful things we have done shrink to nothing in comparison. This part of us believes it can predict what will happen next, and knows without a doubt what other people are thinking and why they do the things they do. This part of us shouts constantly about all the things we should be doing and tells us that if you feel something such as guilt or shame you must be guilty or shameful. This voice often keep us locked in habitual ruminating about the past or planning and plotting about the future, so we can never enjoy or be fully present right now.

These cognitive distortions or thinking mistakes can cause a great deal of pain and suffering. They erode self-esteem and confidence and create or worsen depression. So, what can we do to begin changing this thinking and feel more positive about ourselves and our lives? The first step is awareness. To begin changing anything we must first notice what is happening and when it is happening. Much negative thinking is habitual and almost unconscious. But with patience and awareness we can begin to unravel it.

Start by carrying a small notebook in your purse or pocket (or use the memo function  in your phone) and begin recording the negative self- talk you are aware of. What are you telling yourself? How do you talk to yourself internally? When something goes wrong what do you decide is true about you or your situation? Do you believe that when bad things happen it is always your fault? Do you call yourself names such as, “stupid”, “lazy” or “fat”? Write these thoughts down. Don’t worry about capturing every single negative thought, just write down the ones you notice, and jot down the situation you were in when it crossed your mind. You don’t have to do this perfectly.

Visit my blog again next week when we explore how to use the thoughts you have recorded to talk back to the tyrant in our heads and begin repairing and rebuilding self-worth and lessening depression and anxiety.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Categories

  • Archives