Mindfulness and Depression and Letting Thoughts Go

We’ve spent a lot of time learning how to replace or modify our negative thoughts with CBT. Cognitive restructuring is one of the primary CBT techniques to relieve depression. When we’re depressed, changing our thoughts to make them less negative helps us feel better.

But one of the challenges with cognitive restructuring, especially when we’re depressed, is it can lead to an increase in negative thoughts. When we’re depressed, we tend to get stuck in our heads. We ruminate and dwell on our thoughts, and can get caught up in worrying. And this makes us feel worse.

Sometimes when we attempt cognitive restructuring, our negative thoughts are already so overwhelming that they are very difficult to modify or replace. And when we try to find different ways of looking at things, we just come up with new negative thoughts to add into the mix. And thinking about our negative thoughts in order to try to change them can encourage more ruminating and dwelling.

Mindfulness of Thoughts

Cognitive restructuring is still one of the best ways to manage depression. But there’s another way we can respond to our negative thoughts. Instead of trying to change the content of our thoughts to make them less negative, we can change how we relate to our thoughts. Rather than trying to modify or replace our thoughts, we can simply be mindful of our thoughts.

Since our Thoughts are not Facts, if we’re having intrusive thoughts unrelated to what we’re doing, we don’t need to pay attention to them. We want to be aware of our thoughts, but if they’re not relevant to whatever we’re engaged in at the time, we don’t need to do anything about them. We don’t need to try to change them. We don’t need to risk getting caught up in them, or to ruminate or dwell on them. We can just acknowledge these thoughts and then let them go.

Once we learn to acknowledge our automatic negative thoughts and just let them go, they lose their power over how we feel. They become like mental background noise. They come in one ear, and go right out the other, before they have a chance to negatively affect our moods.

Letting Go Of Thoughts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

We have tens of thousands of thoughts a day but most of them barely register. And the ones that we do notice often aren’t even related to anything we’re doing at the time. Usually the best way to deal with automatic negative thoughts is to not give them your attention in the first place.

They’re like a clickbait headline that looks like it’s gonna be really interesting, but once you click there’s really nothing worth seeing and the best course of action is to just not click on them in the first place. But sometimes we can’t resist and we click anyway. And then we find ourselves going down that rabbit hole and keep clicking on another and another and another, at which point it can take quite a bit of effort to pull ourselves back out.

And the same is true once we start following our automatic negative thoughts. A big part of mindfulness is about learning to let go of these types of thoughts and refocus our attention in the present moment. But that’s often easier said than done for a couple of reasons.

First we tend to believe that if we have a thought it’s somehow interesting or important and something we should pay attention to, so we don’t want to just let it go. But of our tens of thousands of thoughts every day, most of them are just noise in our head, mindless distractions that don’t need our attention at all. And once we come to terms with this it’s a lot easier to just allow these thoughts to pass from our mind without even thinking about them.

But secondly, the thoughts that we tend to notice are the ones that provoke an emotional reaction. And these are not as easy to simply let pass from our minds, because as we’ve seen once our thoughts and emotions start interacting together, they feed into and reinforce each other. And as a result thoughts that carry some emotional weight are much more difficult to just let go, as the emotion acts as a kind of magnet, and keeps pulling these thoughts back into our head.

One way to let go of thoughts is to treat them as if they were just sounds going on in the background. We generally don’t pay attention to these sounds or think about them very much, and we just allow them to pass in one ear and right out the other. And we can do the same sort of thing with our thoughts, not give them any undue attention and think about them or try to figure out what they mean, and just treat them like mental noise in the background allow them to pass into our mind and then right out again.

Another metaphor for this way of relating to our thoughts is to simply treat our thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky, noticing as a cloud or a thought passes into our field of awareness, sticks around for a while, and then continues to float through the sky or through our mind until it passes away.

Or sitting back and observing our thoughts as if we were at the movies and watching our thoughts being projected on the screen in front of us, not actively participating or getting caught up in the action on the screen that is our thoughts, and just sitting back and watching them as they unfold.

But often it’s not that easy to just sit back and watch our thoughts, and in the next video we’ll learn some additional strategies and techniques we can use to help us step back from our thoughts and let them go called cognitive defusion.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Changing Negative Core Beliefs

The video below describes how we can start modifying and changing our core beliefs to make ourselves less vulnerable to depression.

Changing Negative Core Beliefs in CBT

Core beliefs can be difficult to change and takes takes time. Progress is often gradual, but eventually, and often with the help of a therapist, we can at least modify even our most resistant beliefs.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page. And if you enjoyed this course and would like to support my work, please consider Buying Me a Coffee or joining my Patreon. And don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notified whenever I release a new video, and follow me on Twitter where I’ll post updates as I add content to this site.

Depression and Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion is an important concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and another way to relate to our thoughts mindfully. When we practice cognitive defusion, we let go of our thoughts without allowing ourselves to become “fused” with them. Or, if we’re already stuck in our heads and “fused” with our thoughts, cognitive defusion helps us de-fuse. Cognitive defusion is a great antidote for dwelling, ruminating and worrying.

Cognitive Defusion

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

There’s a type of mindfulness based therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy. And an important concept in acceptance and commitment therapy is the idea of cognitive fusion and defusion.

Cognitive fusion describes those times when we’re so tightly stuck to our thoughts that we become fused with them. We can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts and so our thoughts become our reality. And when we’re in a state of cognitive fusion we can feel removed from the world outside our thoughts, and from what we’re doing, and from the people around us, and it can be hard to pay attention to anything outside our head.

The opposite of cognitive fusion is cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion involves taking a step back from what’s going on inside our minds, and detaching ourselves from our thoughts. In this state of defusion we can observe our thoughts without getting caught up in or lost in them. And we can just allow them in and accept them and let them be and let go of them if we want.

One way we can practice cognitive defusion is to label your thoughts. Anytime you notice that you’re starting to become fused with your thoughts, you can simply take a step back from your thoughts by labeling them as thinking, or daydreaming, or worrying, or ruminating or planning—just labeling whatever type of thought you’re having with a one or two word description.

And doing this helps you take a step back from the thought and focus less on the content of your thought and more on just the fact that you’re thinking, or worrying, or daydreaming, or whatever the nature of your thought is. And this makes it less likely that you’ll get sucked in by those thoughts, or carried away by them, or become fused with them.

Or you can say to yourself: I’m just thinking, just worrying. And putting the qualifier just in front of the thought helps take away some of the power of that thought and makes it easier to let go. Or you can label the content of your thought as being “just a thought.” So if you’re thinking, “i can’t do anything right,” you can reframe this as “I’m just having the thought i can’t do anything right.”

Or if you’re thinking “this is going to be terrible” you can reframe that as “I’m just having the thought that this is going to be terrible.” Instead of “,nothing ever goes my way,” “I’m just having the thought that nothing ever goes my way.” And by prefacing our thoughts with the disclaimer that this is just a thought, we reinforce the idea that our thoughts are not facts. And every time we remind ourselves of this we take away some of the power that our thoughts have over us.

Or if you’re having trouble letting go of your thoughts you can imagine yourself writing down each thought on a balloon, and then releasing that balloon up into the air and just allowing that thought to float from your mind as the balloon floats away.

Now sometimes instead of just letting go of our thoughts, it can be helpful to look at the content of our thoughts, and just get a sense of how accurate or how biased that thought may be, and see if there may be a different way of looking at things and thinking about them that’s more helpful to you, which is something we’ll explore in the next video about reframing your thoughts and cognitive restructuring.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Problem Solving, Action Plans and Depression

In CBT, problem solving needs to focus on very specific and manageable problems that actually have potential solutions. When we’re depressed, there’s a tendency to try to solve the problems, “Why am I depressed?” and “How can I stop being depressed?” But these problems don’t have simple solutions. We can’t solve them all at once.

Trying to problem solve “Why am I depressed?” usually leads to rumination, thinking in circles getting nowhere, and making ourselves feel even worse. And trying to solve “How can I stop being depressed?” usually leads to similar results.

Treating depression involves a series of small steps and gradual changes in our behaviors and thoughts. This is why we start with behavioural activation and cognitive restructuring before attempting problem solving. Problem solving “depression” in one fell swoop doesn’t work.

Instead, we problem solve issues that arise from our attempts to modify our behaviors and our thoughts. In order for problem solving to be successful, we need to limit the scope of the problems we’re trying to solve. And then we come up with action plans to implement our solutions.

Problem Solving and Action Plans for Depression

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

One of the main premises of both cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy is that our emotional reactions start with a situation or event, that leads to certain thoughts and behavior, and it’s these thoughts and behaviors that are responsible for the emotion we feel. And we focus on changing these thoughts and behaviors in order to change the way we feel.

But if our thoughts are accurate and reflect reality, and our behavior is appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in, then there may not be much we can do to change our thoughts and behavior in order to help ourselves feel better. Or maybe our thoughts about a situation aren’t that accurate and we haven’t been acting in the most effective way to try to cope with things, but we’ve tried changing our thoughts and behavior and just haven’t had much success. So instead we focus on changing the situation that triggered these thoughts and behaviors in the first place. And we do this by problem solving and then coming up with an action plan.

So the first step in problem solving is to identify and then define or describe the problem or the situation that’s causing the problem. So for example, we’re feeling lonely or sad because we’ve just moved to a new city and we don’t really know anyone here yet. Now being lonely or sad in this situation is a natural way to feel, and so trying to change our thoughts about the situation probably isn’t going to be that successful or help that much.

And assuming our behavior isn’t contributing to the way we feel—for example we’re not just isolating ourselves and lying around on the couch when we’re not at work, we’re actually doing some activities and trying to meet people, we’re just not having much success—there may not be much about our behavior we can change that’s going to have an effect either.

So instead we need to engage in problem solving, and figure out a way to change the situation so we’re no longer feeling so lonely and sad. So the next step is to identify our goal in solving the problem and what needs to happen in order for us to start to feel better. And we want to keep the goal simple and realistic, and choose a short-term goal, because we want something that can start giving us some results right away.

Now if we think the solution is make lots of new friends here so I don’t feel so lonely all the time, well that’s a great goal, but it’s not something that’s going to happen right away. So instead, something like meet one or two new people here I can spend some time with. Then we come up with possible solutions or options to help us reach our goal. And we just brainstorm these, writing down as many things as we can think of without worrying about evaluating them yet.

And then we read over our entire list and select the best solution we’ve come up with. And if it’s not clear which option is the best solution, we can choose two or three and compare them with each other using a pros and cons list. So let’s say the solution we choose is to get involved with a group of people here with similar interests to our own and try to make some friends among them. So once we’ve chosen a solution to help us reach our goal we need to come up with a plan to implement that solution.

The key to creating a good action plan is to break it down into as many small steps as possible, so that each individual step is manageable. The biggest reason an action plan fails is that at some point, one of the steps creates a barrier we just can’t get around. And often it’s the first step that’s the biggest barrier, so make sure the initial step is really, really simple and manageable, because if this first step seems at all overwhelming, we can end up procrastinating and never get around to even trying to start on our plan. And just initiating this first step, no matter how small, often brings with it a sense of relief, because now we feel like we’re finally starting to do something about our problem, and we no longer feel so stuck or hopeless.

And when we come up with a plan we need to be specific about what each step entails and when we’re going to do it. We also want to anticipate possible problems or barriers that might come up, and have strategies ready to overcome them if they do arise. Otherwise it’s easy to get stuck and then just not know what to do next, or become so discouraged that we set aside our plan and stop working towards our goal altogether.

So let’s create an action plan to meet one or two new people where we’ve just moved who we can hang out with sometimes. So the option we evaluated as being the best solution is to get involved with a group of people with similar interests. So maybe we like playing board games and would like to get into a games night group. Or maybe we like sports and want to join a soccer or softball league. So step one is choose an activity.

And step two is to do some research and see what’s out there. Tonight when I get home from work, I’m going to spend an hour looking at the various options available to me. And then step three might be, tomorrow I’m going to evaluate the different options I found and select the one that looks most promising, as well as two others I can use as backup in case the first one doesn’t work out—so anticipating solutions to possible barriers we might face.

And then the next step might be this weekend I’m going to get in touch with a contact person or organizer and find out information about what I need to do to sign up and participate. And then after I hear back from the contact person. I’m going to write out the additional steps I need to take based on what i’ve learned from them. Leading up to the step where we show up at the first games night or practice.

And maybe we have a couple of other steps about strategies to connect with people once we’re there, or if for some reason it turns out our first choice isn’t an option. But we anticipated this barrier so we already have two backup options ready to go so we choose one of these and go back to the step where we contact the organizer and carry on from there.

Now one challenge with action plans is that they can seem really trivial—like do we really need a plan to figure out how to attend a board games night? But at the same time, in a lot of cases, as simple as the plan seems ,there can be issues like anxiety that get in the way of being able to complete it. If we’re an outgoing charming extrovert and want to meet people, maybe we can just show up to a games night and start talking to people and connecting with them. But if we’re more shy or introverted, when we get to the show up step, that can seem like an impossible hurdle to get over.

So part of doing all of the small steps is that it can help us become comfortable with the idea of doing something we’re a little apprehensive about. Each step gives us some exposure to the thing we fear, which can reduce the anxiety we experience when faced with the steps later on in the plan, which is something I talk more about in my video on systematic desensitization. But often we’ll get to the last step and still find it hard to follow through.

So we need to anticipate this barrier and try to have a solution ready. So maybe we could ask a friend to come visit us the first time and go to the board game night with us, so we don’t have to show up alone and we know at least one person there.

Or if we have a lot of social anxiety, maybe we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, and before we can implement a plan to meet new people, we need to focus on an action plan to manage our social anxiety better. And maybe this entails working with a therapist for a while to learn strategies to overcome social anxiety, which as part of the therapy, could involve a plan to meet new people with the help of a therapist to support us through the steps.

And finally we evaluate the outcome and results of our action plan. And if it worked, that’s great. But if it didn’t, then we need to go back to step four and evaluate our possible solutions again and choose a new option, and come up with an action plan for that, keeping in mind the barriers we face this time, and trying to anticipate solutions to them so we don’t get stuck in a similar way next time around.

So action plans can seem really straightforward on the surface, but when it comes down to acting on the plan, it’s often not that simple. Let’s look at another example.

So let’s say we hate our current job, and the goal we’ve come up with is to find a new job. So we generate an action plan. What more do we need than step one, look at job listings; and step two, apply for jobs. But that’s a pretty common plan people use that often goes nowhere, because although it looks easy, just the thought of changing jobs can seem overwhelming, so we keep procrastinating. So we need to break it down into smaller more manageable gradual steps.

Step one: update my resume this Monday through Wednesday after work.

Step 2: Thursday and Friday after work find the best sites for job listings in my field.

Step 3: start looking at job listings this weekend and bookmark any that look promising and do the same thing every evening this week looking through any new job postings that come up;

Step 4: next week reach out to personal and professional connections to see if they know of any jobs available. I’m going to contact this person on Monday, and this person on Tuesday, and this person on Wednesday.

Step 5: I’m going to reach out to my references on Thursday and Friday next week.

Step 6: start applying for jobs I identified during the week. Apply for at least two jobs over the weekend, and at least two other jobs over the course of the next week.

And this is often where we hit a barrier. Maybe the idea of switching jobs is creating so much anxiety we can’t even bring ourselves to start applying. So then we need to come up with a strategy to manage our anxiety and realize that just because we apply for a job doesn’t mean we’re going to get it. And even if we do get it, that doesn’t mean we need to take it and leave our current job. And we can make that decision when we get there and we don’t have to worry about that yet.

Or maybe the thought of going to a job interview is too stressful and that’s what’s holding us back. So we need to back up and before we get to the apply for jobs step, we need a practice job interview step. So maybe step six, review potential interview questions, step 7 ask someone to do some mock interviews with us, and then step 8 start applying for new jobs.

And remember that changing problem situations is hard so try not to get discouraged if your plans don’t always work out exactly as planned. And if you ever get stuck always look for a smaller intermediate step you can take, even if this step seems trivial and insignificant, because when we hit a barrier or start to lose momentum, the best way to get going again is with a really small simple and manageable step.

You can download the Problem Solving and Action Plan Worksheet in PDF or Word format. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Negative Core Beliefs and Depression

Core beliefs are our longstanding and deeply held beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people, and the future. The negative cognitive triad consists of three sets of core beliefs that make us vulnerable to depression:

  • Negative beliefs about ourselves as helpless, unlovable, and/or worthless
  • Negative beliefs about the world and other people as hostile or unfriendly or rejecting
  • Negative beliefs about future, comprised of hopelessness and pessimism

If we’re able to change our core beliefs and make them less negative, we become less vulnerable to depression. In this video we’ll learn what core beliefs are, and how to identify our core beliefs. Then in the next post we’ll learn how to modify core beliefs to make them less negative.

Core Beliefs and Depression

If you’d like to explore your core beliefs, you can download the Core Beliefs Worksheet in PDF or Word format. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Behavioral Experiments and Depression

It can be difficult to modify our thoughts or behaviors if we don’t have enough evidence to support new ways of thinking or acting. We might find new thoughts and behaviors that look good on paper and make sense intellectually, but we don’t believe in them because we don’t have experiences that back them up. And without this experiential knowledge, the new thoughts don’t resonate, and we’re skeptical the new behaviors will work. So instead of making changes, we revert to our habitual ways of thinking and acting.

Behavioural experiments are particularly important when treating depression. When we’re depressed, we can be so pessimistic that it’s difficult to believe anything is going to help. So we can have the tendency to write off any new ways of thinking or acting without even giving them a chance. And this can prevent us trying things that can help, such as behavioral activation.

But behavioral experiments give us the opportunity to test out hypotheses. Instead of just dismissing a thought like, “If I do something I’ll feel better,” or believing a thought like, “I feel too bad to do anything,” we set up an experiment and see what happens. And if the experiment fails to give us any data that we can use to help ourselves feel better, we can modify our hypothesis and/or experiment and try again.

Behavioral Experiments and Depression

You can download a Behavioral Experiment Worksheet in PDF or Word format.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Depression and Cognitive Restructuring and Reframing Thoughts

In CBT we use a technique called cognitive restructuring to modify our automatic negative thoughts and cognitive distortions to make them better reflect reality. With cognitive restructuring we’re not trying to engage in “positive thinking.” Positive thinking isn’t helpful because it doesn’t reflect reality either. Instead, cognitive restructuring involves reframing our negatively biased thoughts in order to see things from a more balanced perspective.

When we modify our thoughts with cognitive restructuring, we end up with alternate ways of looking at things that:

  • More accurately describe the situations we find ourselves in
  • We can believe because they make sense to us and aren’t just trying to force positive thinking
  • Improve our moods and how we feel because they’re not negatively biased or distorted

Cognitive Restructuring and Reframing Thoughts in CBT

Cognitive restructuring is one of the most important CBT techniques because it enables us to change the way we think, which, as we’ve discussed, is one of the keys to changing the way we feel. If you’d like to practice cognitive restructuring, you’ll find the questions from the video in the Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet (PDF):

In the next post we’ll look at the thought record, which guides us through the process of cognitive restructuring in detail. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Cognitive Distortions and Depression

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and negatively biased patterns of thinking that distort reality. They lead us to perceive or evaluate situations and experiences inaccurately. A lot of our automatic negative thoughts are also cognitive distortions.

The video below explains the following cognitive distortions, along with suggestions for how to break each pattern: All or Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filter, Discounting the Positive, Jumping to Conclusions (Mind Reading and Fortune Telling), Magnification and Minimization, Catastrophizing, Emotional Reasoning, “Should” Statements, Labeling, and Personalization and Blame.

Cognitive Distortions in CBT

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and negatively biased thought patterns that lead us to perceive reality inaccurately. They’re a way our minds have of convincing ourselves to believe things that aren’t really true. They show up all the time in our automatic negative thoughts, and they’re significant because our thoughts have such a big influence over how we feel and how we act. And when we treat these cognitive distortions as if they were facts, we end up feeling and acting based on faulty assumptions, usually in ways that contribute to things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, and countless other issues.

As we learn to identify cognitive disorders in our thought patterns, we become better at recognizing when and how our minds are leading us astray, which helps us see the ways in which our thoughts aren’t accurate; and makes it easier to reframe our thoughts and think about things in ways that are less likely to have a negative impact on our mood or mental health, and can help us start feeling better. So now let’s look at some of the most common types of cognitive distortions.

When we engage in all or nothing thinking we see things as black or white with no shades of gray in between. Something or someone is either all good or all bad. If we don’t do everything right we’re a complete failure. One bad thing happens and our whole day is ruined. Someone makes a mistake or disappoints us and they’re irredeemable.

All or nothing thinking is a hallmark of perfectionism. It leads to unrealistic standards for ourselves and others, which can negatively affect our motivation and set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. If you find yourself engaging in all or nothing thinking, try to start recognizing and acknowledging to yourself that things are rarely simply black or white, and start looking for the shades of grey in between.

Overgeneralization is when we see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of failure or defeat. You’re making dinner and you burn something and you think, i always ruin everything, i never do anything right. You’re in a rush to get somewhere and hit a red light and think, nothing ever goes my way.

Overgeneralizations are often stated in terms of always, never or nothing. If you find yourself overgeneralizing, look for exceptions, and try replacing words like always never or nothing with words like sometimes or some things. And this can help you see that one negative event doesn’t define everything, and helps make your thinking less negatively biased and more accurately reflect reality.

Mental filter refers to filtering out positives and dwelling on negatives. A mental filter is like one drop of ink that discolors a whole glass of clear water: that single drop of something negative colors everything. We pick one negative detail and dwell on it exclusively.

You get lots of positive feedback from your boss with one suggestion about how you could improve, and your takeaway is that you’re no good at your job, and you dwell on that one comment all day. You make a YouTube video that gets twenty positive comments and one person says how much they hate it, and you’re so discouraged you never want to make another video again. If you find yourself operating with a mental filter, learn to start asking yourself if there are any positives or even neutral things about the situation you’re overlooking, and then adjust your filter to let those aspects through as well.

Discounting the positive is similar to a mental filter, but instead of filtering out anything positive, we dismiss it and tell ourselves it doesn’t really count. We get a compliment or some praise and tell ourselves, well that doesn’t really count they’re just trying to be nice to me. Or we succeed at something, but it doesn’t really count because we tell ourselves anyone could do that, i just got lucky.

If you find yourself discounting the positive, take a moment to ask yourself, why doesn’t that count, what reasons do i have to just dismiss that? And most of the time we won’t be able to come up with a good answer. Which makes it harder to discount everything positive. And we can start giving ourselves at least a little credit when things go well. And there’s an exercise called three good things that i talk about in my video on depression that can help you stop discounting the positive, and you’ll find a time stamp link to that exercise in the description and pinned comment.

Jumping to conclusions involves interpreting things negatively without any facts to support our conclusions. When we mind read we make assumptions about what someone’s thinking based on their behavior without confirming with them what they’re actually thinking. If our partner is being quieter than usual we assume it’s because they’re upset with us. If we text a friend and they don’t reply fast enough we assume it’s because we’re not important to them or they don’t like us anymore.

We make these assumptions about what’s going through other people’s minds based on no conclusive evidence, it’s just our interpretation of their behavior, usually mixed in with projecting our own emotions into the situation. We’re feeling insecure about a relationship or friendship, and so we assume that their behavior confirms what we’re feeling and that they’re upset with us.

With fortune telling we predict the future, and that things are going to go badly, without any real evidence to back up the prediction. Again these predictions say more about how we’re feeling ourselves than they do about the actual reality of the situation. Fortune telling is a hallmark of the worrying that comes with anxiety or the hopelessness of depression.

If we find ourselves jumping to conclusions the best thing we can do is to simply ask ourselves, what are the facts of this situation what actual evidence do we have to support this conclusion? Is there any way to interpret the evidence to support alternate conclusions? Or is there any evidence we’re overlooking that suggests a different conclusion? And the goal isn’t to try to predict the right conclusion, but to recognize that there are lots of possible outcomes and we just don’t have enough information yet to know which one is going to come true. And so any conclusion we draw is going to involve jumping to conclusions.

With magnification and minimization we give greater weight to our perceived weaknesses and failures and to the strengths and success of others; and we give less weight to our own perceived strengths and success. It’s like looking through binoculars from each end. We look at our weaknesses and failures through the magnifying side of the binoculars, making them seem bigger and more significant than they actually are.

And then we reverse the binoculars when looking at our own positive attributes and successes, making them seem smaller and less significant than they actually are. And if you find yourself engaging in magnification or minimization, try imagining a friend or loved one in your shoes and see how you’d regard their qualities or results, and then see if you can’t be as generous to yourself in your assessment as you would be to someone else that you care about.

Catastrophizing is related to jumping to conclusions and magnification, and it’s typically what we do when we worry. We’re predicting the future and jumping to the worst possible conclusion no matter how unlikely it is. And we’re magnifying the consequences of this outcome and imagining it’ll be unbearable.

Catastrophizing often unfolds as a series of what-ifs: what if i made a mistake what if my boss finds out? What if i get fired what if i can’t find another job? What if i can’t pay my rent? And if you find yourself catastrophizing try asking yourself the following questions: you’ve already been asking yourself what’s the worst case scenario. So make sure to also ask yourself what’s the best case scenario? And then what’s the most likely scenario? And this helps you get a more balanced perspective and can help prevent you from automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

And then ask yourself, if the worst case scenario did happen, how would i be able to cope with it? How have i coped with similar situations in the past? And this can help limit magnification of the consequences that so often goes along with catastrophization.

When we use emotional reasoning, we think the way we feel reflects reality. So we view ourselves and our situations based on how we feel, rather than on any external evidence. I feel this way therefore it must be true.

If we feel like an idiot that means we are idiots. If we feel anxious we know something bad is about to happen. If we feel depressed and hopeless we convince ourselves this means there is no hope. Or we feel angry so that means we must be being treated unfairly.

But the world doesn’t revolve around how we feel, and if we find ourselves engaging in emotional reasoning, we need to remind ourselves that just because we feel a certain way about something, doesn’t make it true and not to confuse feelings with facts.

The type of should statements we’re referring to here are the arbitrary rules we set for ourselves and others when we tell ourselves that things should be a certain way. I should make everyone happy. I shouldn’t make any mistakes. People should always be on time. When we use should statements we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. When the should statements are directed towards ourselves we set ourselves up for guilt disappointment and frustration, and when we apply should statements to others we can feel let down disappointed or angry.

Often we try using should statements for motivation: i should go to the gym more often; i should stop eating junk food. But presenting these as shoulds can drain our motivation when we fail at something we think we should do, because we feel so bad about it. And should statements can make us rebel, because nobody likes to be told what they should and shouldn’t do, even if we’re the ones telling ourselves what we should do.

If you find yourself engaging in should statements, try rephrasing them with less judgmental terms like I’d like to, or I’ll do my best, or it would be nice if. That way we’re still acknowledging to ourselves what we’d like to do, or how we’d like other people to act, but we don’t have to feel guilty if we don’t, or as angry when people don’t behave the way we think they should.

Labeling is a form of all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization where we judge and label ourselves or someone else, usually in a very negative way, based on a single event or behavior, or attribute that doesn’t really define who we or they are. We knock our coffee off the table and it spills and we label ourselves an idiot. We try to make plans with friends and no one’s available and we label ourselves a loser. When someone has to reschedule a meeting and we label them a selfish jerk. Or they make a mistake at work and we label them useless.

When we use labels we don’t take context into account we don’t consider anything beyond what’s in front of us at this moment. We’re just reflexively assigning a negative label and using it to define the totality of ourselves or someone else. When we apply these labels to ourselves it hurts our confidence and self-esteem and can leave us feeling depressed. And when we apply them to other people it increases hostility and leaves little room for communication. The antidote to labeling is to recognize that one act isn’t defining: just because i made a mistake doesn’t make me an idiot; if someone disappoints us it doesn’t automatically make them a selfish jerk.

Personalization involves holding ourselves personally responsible for a situation that’s not entirely under our control. We take total responsibility for an external event that occurs and ignore any other important factors. As a consequence we end up completely blaming ourselves when something goes wrong, even when we may be only partially responsible, or not responsible at all for the results. Our kid gets sick and we blame ourselves for letting them sleep over at their friend’s house. We’re late for dinner because our partner isn’t ready on time, and we blame ourselves for not making sure they left work earlier.

Or instead of personalization, we can blame other people for things that aren’t totally their fault while overlooking our own contributions to the situation. If you’d reminded me about dinner tonight i would have been ready on time. If you weren’t always working all the time i never would have cheated on you. If you find yourself engaging in personalization and blame, take a moment to ask yourself if there are any other factors you’re overlooking that contributed to the outcome. And recognize that just because you have some responsibility for how something turned out, you’re almost never going to be in a position where you’re 100 to blame.

And if you have trouble accepting that it’s not entirely your fault, you can try using a responsibility pie, where you write down all of the factors that may have contributed to a situation, and then make a pie chart assigning a share of responsibility to each of these factors to help illustrate how you’re not fully responsible for the way things turned out.

And for some more tips on how to combat cognitive distortions check out my video on cognitive restructuring and reframing your thoughts and please like and subscribe and check out my other videos for more tips on how to manage negative thinking.

Since cognitive distortions are negatively biased, they negatively affect our moods and how we feel. Cognitive distortions are a hallmark of issues such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and anger.

Learning to recognize cognitive distortions is important in CBT. Cognitive distortions are inaccurate in well-defined ways. As a result, they don’t take as much effort to modify as some thoughts do. We can treat all thoughts that fall into the same category of cognitive distortion in a similar fashion. And this makes it easier to reframe these thoughts in ways that help us feel better.

If you’d like to explore how you use cognitive distortions in your own thinking, the Centre for Clinical Interventions has a nice PDF worksheet (they refer to cognitive distortions as “Unhelpful Thinking Styles”). If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Am I Depressed? How Do I Know If I Have Depression?

How do you know if you’re depressed? What does it mean to have depression? If you’re wondering if you’re “technically” depressed, as defined by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), you’ll need to consult your doctor or a mental health professional. But in the video below, we’ll look at the symptoms of depression, as well as the symptoms of depression with anxious distress. Anxious distress is a subtype of depression that also involves symptoms of anxiety.

Whether we’re feeling depressed, or actually meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, getting to know these symptom can help us understand what’s going on and make sense of how we’re feeling. And then in the videos coming up, we’ll look at how to manage these symptoms and relieve depression so we can start feeling better.

Am I Depressed? How Do I Know If I Have Depression?

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

So how do we know if we’re depressed? This video isn’t going to be a quiz you can take that will diagnose whether or not you have depression, that’s a little more complicated than we can cover in a video and should involve a conversation with your doctor or mental health professional. Instead we’re going to focus on the various symptoms of depression—what they mean, and how they manifest themselves or what they look like in everyday life—to help you understand depression a little better, and to explore what you might be experiencing if you are depressed. And then in videos that i have coming up, we’ll look at various ways to manage these symptoms that can help relieve depression.

Now let’s look at the symptoms of depression. The two main symptoms of depression are a depressed mood, and a diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities. And we need to experience at least one of these two main symptoms most of the day nearly every day.

So what does a depressed mood mean? It’s defined as feeling sad empty hopeless or appearing that way to others. And sometimes we may not even feel sad because when we’re really depressed often we don’t feel much of anything, we’re just kind of numb and detached from our emotions, and so we may not even feel sad because we’re not really feeling anything at all.

And although this isn’t part of the official symptoms of depression, we often feel our moods and emotions in our bodies. And so when we have a depressed mood we often experience specific physical symptoms or sensations. For example, if you were to ask me how i know that I’m feeling sad, i think the main way is that it’s just this feeling i get in my body that’s kind of hard to describe, but when I’m sad i usually have this feeling. And even if I’m not particularly aware of being sad if i notice this feeling in my body it signals to me that, oh i guess i am feeling sad right now.

And so when we’re feeling sad or have a depressed mood there are a number of common physical symptoms or sensations we might feel in our bodies such as: a lump in our throats that never seems to go away; or feeling choked up; or a feeling of dread or heaviness in the pit of our stomachs; or an uncomfortable feeling in our chests, the sort of thing that might be described as a broken heart. And these are just a few examples but it’s really common to feel our depressed moods in our bodies, whether it’s one of these symptoms or one of countless others.

And while we’re talking about emotions, i also want to mention irritability and anger, which aren’t technically symptoms of depression in adults. But often when we’re depressed we can feel really irritable. We don’t have a lot of patience and we may be quick to anger or have angry outbursts that we don’t have when we’re not feeling depressed. And this can often be a sign of depression in men, or anyone who isn’t used to expressing sadness, and their depressed mood comes out in irritability and anger instead.

And then the other main symptom of depression is diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities. Things we used to like doing and look forward to just don’t interest us anymore. We don’t feel like hanging out with our friends. And activities and hobbies that we used to enjoy seem pointless. We don’t want to do them anymore, and when we do do them, they’re not as enjoyable as they used to be.

Now there’s an important distinction to make here between lack of interest in these activities and lack of pleasure from these activities. When we’re depressed we’re often not interested in doing anything, because we feel so lousy so unmotivated so fatigued and maybe even just the thought of doing something is overwhelming: it’s too much effort; it’s just going to make me feel worse. But often these activities still do give us some pleasure. It may be diminished pleasure but usually doing something feels better than not doing anything at all.

and this is a really important point because one of the most effective treatments for depression is called behavioral activation. And this involves very gradually at a pace that isn’t overwhelming taking part again in activities that used to give us some pleasure. And when we do this we usually find that they still give us some pleasure more than we expected even if it’s not as much as they used to. And I’m not going to talk more about this here but it is a focus of some of my other videos about how to treat depression.

And the next symptom is significant weight loss or weight gain. We can often lose weight when we’re depressed. We can lose our appetites and we just don’t feel like eating. And some of this is related to what we just talked about: food just doesn’t interest us anymore. We don’t enjoy eating, and we don’t want to have to make anything or even decide what to order. We just don’t care. We don’t want to bother.

On the other hand we may start gaining a lot of weight. Maybe we’re not that active and we don’t burn as many calories as we used to. We can spend a lot of time just sitting around in front of the TV eating out of boredom. And emotional eating is common we start eating to try to make ourselves feel better. And maybe sometimes it helps a bit but it doesn’t last, so we eat more. And a lot of our comfort foods are high in calories, so it’s easy to gain weight when we’re depressed.

The next symptom is insomnia or hypersomnia. When we’re depressed it can be difficult to sleep. And there can be a vicious cycle between insomnia and depression. Insomnia isn’t just a symptom of depression, if we’re not getting enough sleep it can lead to depression. And even when we’re not depressed lack of sleep has a negative impact on our moods, and it makes everything harder. And so if we’re already depressed, not getting enough sleep just makes everything worse and contributes to our depression.

Or we can experience hypersomnia, which involves either excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged night-time sleep. When we’re depressed we can be tired and sleepy throughout the day. We can feel like we need to take naps all the time, sometimes even in the middle of work, or even in the middle of a conversation with someone. We’re just too tired and we need to sleep. And when we wake up we may not even feel any less sleepy than we did before.

Or we can spend a lot of time in bed and when we wake up go right back to sleep again. Either way hypersomnia can make it hard to keep up with regular routines and schedules, interfere with our ability to work and maintain relationships and friendships and just make it hard to get through the day.

The next symptom is psychomotor agitation or retardation, psychomotor just being a fancy term for movement. Psychomotor agitation refers to feeling really restless, fidgety, unable to sit still, pacing, hand-wringing, leg twitching and so on. Whereas with psychomotor retardation we’re slowed down and lethargic. We’re really sluggish and our speech can be really slow. It can take much longer to just get up from a chair and make our ways across a room. And it can take for ever to get a sentence out.

And then there’s fatigue or loss of energy. When we’re feeling depressed it’s not just our moods that are depressed but our energy levels as well. We can really feel our depression physically. We can feel like there’s a big weight on us and everything feels so hard like it’s just so much work to do anything. And this fatigue and lack of energy can feed into a loss of interest in doing activities . We’re just not up to it; it’s too much effort; we’re too tired; we don’t have the energy. And one of the reasons behavioral activation, which i mentioned earlier, is helpful is that when we feel so fatigued and have no energy doing, just a little bit can help give us a little more energy. And so behavioral activation counters not just our lack of interest or pleasure in activities, but it can help get our energy levels up a bit.

Next are feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt. And these feelings are generally accompanied by lots of negative thoughts: I’m worthless; I’m useless; I’m such a loser; I’m a stupid piece of crap; you’re such an idiot; you’re just a waste of oxygen. Or I’m just a burden. I ruin everything. Why did i do that? I shouldn’t have said that. It’s all my fault. I’m a terrible person. I make everything worse. I can’t do anything right.

These feelings of worthlessness and guilt and the related thoughts are symptoms of being depressed but they also contribute to depression. It’s hard to stop feeling depressed when we’re constantly berating ourselves with all of these negative thoughts and telling ourselves all of these horrible things about ourselves. And so one of the main ways we treat depression is to target these thoughts and change the way we’re thinking so it’s not so negatively biased. And when we do this we start to feel better and less depressed. And i have a number of videos that cover techniques to help us do this and again you’ll find all of them in my free self-help course for depression.

And then there’s a diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness. When we’re depressed it can be hard to focus on what we’re doing. We lose track of conversations. We watch TV but aren’t really paying attention and can’t follow what’s going on. If we try reading we end up going over the same page again and again without taking anything in. And doing work or studying can seem impossible: it’s too hard to think; we can’t concentrate; and we just can’t get anything accomplished.

And decisions can be agonizing. We go back and forth for what seems like forever, repeatedly changing our minds, asking other people what we should do ,and constantly seeking reassurance. And in the end we often can’t bring ourselves to make any decision. Or if we do make a decision we keep second guessing ourselves, and changing our minds, and not wanting to commit to anything because we’re so worried we’re going to make the wrong decision. And even trying to make the smallest decisions can seem overwhelming.

And the final symptom is recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide. When we’re depressed thoughts of death can seem comforting. Maybe we can’t stand feeling this way any longer and we feel so hopeless and helpless the thoughts of death are the only way we can imagine all of this pain finally being over. And so the idea of dying and thinking about death can bring us some relief.

And so we can have thoughts like: i just wish i were dead; everyone would be better off without me; if i don’t wake up tomorrow it would be a relief. And while thoughts of death shouldn’t be taken lightly, they’re extremely common when we’re depressed. And while general thoughts about death and dying like these usually aren’t dangerous, if you have any concerns that you might harm yourself you should share them with someone who can assess your risk.

Now suicidal ideation involves thoughts or ruminations about self-harm and the possibility of ending our lives. And in terms of level of risk of suicide, suicidal ideation can range from just general thoughts about taking our lives without a specific plan; thoughts about ending our lives with a specific plan but a plan we don’t have the means to carry out right away; and thoughts about ending our lives with a plan that we could carry out now.

so most people who have suicidal thoughts don’t go on to make suicide attempts. But suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously. And especially if you’re having thoughts about taking your life and have a specific plan, then you should share these thoughts with someone who can make sure that you’re safe. And if you’re ever concerned you might harm yourself please call a crisis support line or emergency services or go to the hospital or urgent care.

So that’s the end of the list of symptoms of depression. But depression is often accompanied by a lot of anxiety and so there’s a subtype of depression called depression with anxious distress. And depression is accompanied by anxious distress somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of the time. And so it’s more common than not to experience anxiety along with depression.

And the symptoms of anxious distress are: feeling keyed up or tense; feeling unusually restless, which is somewhat related to the psychomotor agitation symptom of depression; and then there’s difficulty concentrating because of worry. And we’ve already noted that difficulty concentrating in general is one of the symptoms of depression. And the fear that something awful may happen, which is a common symptom of anxiety: when we’re anxious we tend to worry a lot and we imagine the worst case scenarios. And finally there’s the feeling that we might lose control of ourselves.

So these are the symptoms of depression and depression with anxious distress. If you have some of these symptoms you may be depressed, or you may just feel depressed without meeting the specific criteria for a diagnosis of depression. But let’s talk about diagnosis for a minute. For a lot of people getting diagnosed with depression can be a relief. It’s reassuring to be able to put a name on how we’re feeling, and it’s an acknowledgement that what we’re experiencing is real: there’s a reason we’re feeling this way; and it can be a validation that what we’re going through isn’t all in our heads.

Depression is an actual medical condition that happens to be highly treatable, but sometimes people are devastated to learn that they have depression, partially because of the stigma of mental health issues, and also because it can make us feel like failures for letting ourselves get depressed, or weak because we can’t just pull ourselves out of it. We’re crushed because we’ve never thought of ourselves as someone who would have mental health issues.

And so if we fall into the second group we need to try to not see depression as a label on ourselves and who we are as people, but just as a label that describes the collection of symptoms we’re experiencing. Because that’s what a diagnosis of depression is. It’s a name for this group of symptoms that are commonly found together but whether we’re technically depressed or just have symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of Depression

  1. A depressed mood (feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or appearing that way to others)
  2. Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  3. Significant weight loss or weight gain
  4. Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or hypersomnia (daytime sleepiness or prolonged sleep at night)
  5. Psychomotor agitation (feeling restless, fidgety, can’t sit still) or psychomotor retardation (feeling slow or sluggish)
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  8. Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt or a plan to commit suicide

Additional Symptoms of Depression with Anxious Distress

  1. Feeling keyed up or tense
  2. Feeling unusually restless
  3. Difficulty concentrating because of worry
  4. The fear that something awful may happen
  5. The feeling that we might lose control of ourselves

Just because you have some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you’re depressed. We can often feel depressed and have symptoms of depression without meeting the diagnostic criteria for depression. So if you think you’re depressed and would like a diagnosis, consult your doctor or mental health professional. And if you’re suicidal or think you might harm yourself, please talk to someone who can help. And if you’re in need of immediate assistance, please call a crisis support line, emergency services, or go to the hospital or urgent care.

If you have any questions or comments, you can leave them on the YouTube video page.