Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Welcome to Rose-Minded, a mental health blog and self-care brand supporting others through their journey. We love to encourage journaling, self-care, and sharing your story to promote healing and recovery. Continue reading below for guest writer Dr. Lindsay Israel's tips for mastering anxious and depressive thoughts!
Depression and anxiety have one major commonality; both conditions cause a change in the way you think. Negative and intrusive thoughts drive many of the associated symptoms of depression and anxiety. Thoughts that distract and disturb you.
These particular thoughts are known as cognitive distortions and lead you to have a negatively skewed, irrational outlook on reality. These automatic negative thoughts are ANTs. They can pop into your head and linger, causing you to repetitively think for long periods of time.
Here are 10 strategies to target and gain control of these thoughts and squish those ANTs.
1. Catch the thought first
In order to redirect your thoughts in a more rational, reality-based, positive direction, you need to first catch yourself having one of these ANTs.
You need to sense it creeping into your head.
You will likely have a negative, uncomfortable feeling, so this can be your warning sign that the ANTs are marching. Then you can take your opportunity to reverse them in their tracks and send them into retreat.
2. You do not have a crystal ball
If you find yourself having a thought that involves you predicting a negative outcome, then remind yourself that you and no one can predict the future.
When you assume there will be a negative outcome, it likely keeps you from making a better, more rational choice. If you can alert yourself to when you are having this type of thought, then you can more easily let go of it and think more clearly without jumping to any conclusions.
3. You are not a mind-reader
For example, when you pass by someone who is laughing, the negative thought could be “they are laughing about me.” The reality is that this is unlikely, but depression and anxiety want us to believe we can read people’s minds.
Reading people’s minds is not possible, and the 'rational you' knows this.
If you can catch yourself having a thought that would require you to be a psychic, then you know this thought is not based in reality and you can dismiss it.
4. Life is not black and white
Depression wants you to think in terms of all-or-nothing, good/bad, right/wrong. This dichotomous thinking causes you to only think in extremes, which are very biased and polarizing.
You will find yourself feeling very distressed by these thoughts as they are often conflicting. The reality is that in life, there is almost always gray in between the black and white.
“Black and white thinking is one of the hallmark distortions in depression thinking,” says psychiatrist Dr. Lindsay Israel, Chief Medical Officer of Success TMS depression clinics. “It becomes a self-imposed trap; if anything does not fall into the extreme positive side where all is perfect, then you conclude that everything must be negative. This is the bind of depression thoughts.”
Recognizing the grey in life will require you to challenge this and take into account another perspective or viewpoint on whatever the situation may be. This will allow you to not miss anything.
5. Ask yourself, “What are the chances?”
The reality is that the worst-case scenario does not always come true.
Are you having these worst-case scenario types of thoughts? If so, ask yourself if there is a high or low or even moderate likelihood of the worst-case scenario that you are assuming to come true, then you will likely be able to calm yourself and reason through the situation more reasonably.
6. Focus on reality, not the possibility
Here is another example of how an anxious thought can stir you up into a tizzy.
You can “what if” yourself into oblivion, thinking of all of the worst possible outcomes.
What if I get fired
What if there is a fire
What if I make a mistake
What if I am alone
What if what if what if…
These "what if" thoughts can trigger symptoms of anxiety such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, sweating, or panic. If your thought sentence begins with “what if,” change it to “what is,” and then finish the sentence. This will get you to redirect your thoughts towards a more rational way of thinking and assessing the situation.
7. Let go of the shoulds, shouldn’ts, always and nevers
Overgeneralization is another classic cognitive distortion.
If you think in terms of always and never, then you will constantly feel locked in, without any hope of escaping.
Along the same lines, if you put such confining parameters on yourself, such as, “I should be in this place by now” or “I shouldn’t feel this way,” then you create unfair expectations on yourself which can set you up for inevitable but undeserved failure.
If you can note to yourself when you are having this type of thought, then you can refrain from unduly putting yourself in a thought box and give yourself more freedom.
8. Follow the evidence
Let’s say today you have an automatic negative thought that consists of “I am a bad daughter.” Yet, yesterday you just called your mother’s physician to express some concerns you have about her health. Would this not be an example of being a good daughter?
When you have an ANT, try to follow the evidence that either supports your thought (which usually isn’t there) or discredits the ANT. Chances are, the evidence points to the contrary of the negative thought, which will get you back on a more positive path of thinking.
9. Don’t make it "all about you"
Personalization is a distortion that causes you to take the blame for anything and everything bad that has either gone wrong in your life or even someone else’s life.
Yes, taking responsibility for your choices is an important attribute, but you do not have to attribute everything bad that happens to yourself.
If you take a moment to question this thought and take a more accurate inventory of the role you played or didn’t play in a situation, then you can likely exonerate yourself and prevent any irrational, underserved guilt from setting into your thoughts.
10. Prioritize your worries
Catastrophizing is a common thought distortion related to depression and anxiety. You can easily overwhelm yourself if you believe the thoughts are all weighted the same.
The reality is not everything is a catastrophe ending in disaster. Not every situation or stressor is of equal value.
If you can set up a hierarchy in your head of what thoughts matter the most to the least, then you can better sift through these thoughts and manage stressors more strategically and rationally.
In summary, all of the above types of thought dysregulations require you to use one common strategy against them, Positive Affirmations.
You must penetrate and burst the growing negative thought bubble that is building in your head.
Whether you list 5 things you like about yourself or thank yourself for something you did each day or reframe a negative thought into a positive one, this important thought tool can be a magic bullet to burst that bubble.
The basic rule of thumb when you are getting bombarded with the thought storm of cognitive distortions is to fight through the thought.
Whether you think them to yourself quietly in your head or even say them out loud (which is perfectly normal and healthy), positive affirmations will help you to gain back control of your own thoughts and steer them in a healthier and rational direction that will lead you to feel more positively about any situation and yourself.
About the Author
Dr. Lindsay Israel is a board-certified psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at Success TMS. She specializes in treating depression with TMS Therapy. TMS is FDA-approved, medication-free treatment for depression that's covered by insurance, and more effective than meds. Helping 1 million patients beat depression is her ultimate goal. For more info please visit SuccessTMS.com.