Major depression is the most commonly occurring mental health disorder in the US. It can result in prolonged periods of low feelings and negative thinking.
Depression, as a medical condition, requires treatment. However, the stresses of daily life, and the challenges of the past few years marked by the COVID pandemic, mean many people struggle with feeling depressed and being weighed down by negative emotions.
A study by Columbia University found that in 2020, almost one in ten adults was suffering from depression. In adolescents and young adults, the figure was almost one in five.
Strangely, humans seem to find it much easier to adopt negative thoughts and indulge in negative self-talk than to think positively. But having negative thought patterns by default is a mental habit that can be changed.
Positive thinking has mental benefits for everyone, whether or not you're feeling depressed or suffering from anxiety. It helps you reduce stress, worry less, and have a greater sense of wellbeing. But what exactly is meant by positive thinking? And how can we all practice positivity?
Let's first look at what positive thinking is not. Positive thinking is not an attempt to negate or ignore life's challenges or dismiss negative experiences. It's not about pretending everything is great when it's not or trying to have a positive outlook all the time. And it's definitely not a way of suppressing painful feelings and trying to convince yourself you feel upbeat when you don't.
It would be impossible just to quit negative self-talk and never again have a negative thought. Positive thinking is about making a conscious decision to see the positive aspect of things and to focus on those rather than the negatives. It's about finding a middle ground and recognizing that life will always be a mix of highs and lows, but consistently choosing the sunny side of the street rather than walking in the shadows.
To think positively, you must start by paying attention to all your thoughts. Positive thinking is about creating new mental and physical habits so that choosing positive thoughts rather than negative ones becomes second nature. Like all skills, it takes practice. But positive thinking can be an extremely empowering tool. Even when life feels out of control, the power to frame your thoughts in a positive direction greatly supports your mental health.
You can utilize positive thinking to take steps towards your own happiness in order to decrease anxiety and depression, and it certainly does not happen overnight. Thankfully, there are some simple techniques you can do to improve your mental health - bringing more positive thinking into your mindset.
Whenever you catch yourself having negative thoughts, experiment with replacing them with positive ones. For example, suppose you're thinking, "I feel so miserable," or, "It's another boring day, same as yesterday," or, "I really don't want to go to work today!" You could instead work to reframe those thoughts to, "Yes, but it's a nice day, and I can go for a walk," or, "I can reach out to a friend, or find a new movie to watch," or even, "Maybe I can find a colleague to meet with for coffee this morning."
Re-framing is another technique for cultivating positive thoughts and consists of seeing your situation in a broader, more objective context. You could remind yourself, "I'm lucky I have a car and can drive to work," or, "At least I'll have free time when I get home." Both of these techniques are things you can try doing with a friend - you can then swap feedback and see how you're doing!
Finally, you can help stop negative self-talk by focusing on the present moment. Yes, your life situation may be full of problems, but perhaps right now, at this very moment, you're not in pain, you're breathing normally, the sun is shining, and you don't have to spend time thinking about all the things you're worried about. There may also be something you can do - have a cup of coffee, listen to music, have a shower - to feel better right now.
You should be on the lookout for negative beliefs that lead to negative self-talk. Spending time wallowing in gloomy thoughts just makes you feel worse.
Try countering thoughts like, "I have trouble making friends," or "I've achieved nothing in life," with positive self-talk. Think back to how you met the friends you currently have. Think about how you could make new friends if you wanted to - by joining a class, starting a new hobby, or even online - and ask yourself if you're taking action. Remind yourself of the things you have already achieved in life and what you are capable of.
Discovering that many of the things we tell ourselves are actually not objectively true is greatly empowering and gives a much more positive outlook on life and the future.
Shakespeare wrote in the play Hamlet, "...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." It's important now and again to get out of the mind and its mental narrative and focus on feelings or sensations in the body.
The mind loves to tell stories and blow things out of proportion. Maybe your car won't start, and you think, "What if the repairs cost hundreds of dollars? What if I can't get it fixed before next week, how will I go to work?" In most cases, these things we imagine never happen.
And importantly, even if things don't go your way, the only way to stay miserable is to keep listening to the narrative in your head about how bad things may get. You can turn it into a positive by deciding what practical steps to take to deal with the situation instead of projecting if, buts, and maybe's into the future.
A depressed mind has an aversion to positive thought. And depression won't help you overcome challenges or solve problems. Your mind may say things like, "It's no use, I can't do it, it's too hard, it will never work, that's a ridiculous idea", and so on, ad infinitum.
The positive self-talk would be things like, "OK, I can handle this, there must be a solution", "I have the coping skills to deal with this," or, "I'm not sure what the answer is, but in the meantime, I can at least do something."
Positive thinking is closely linked to positive emotions. It will help overcome anxiety in the face of problems and in turn, brighten your mood.
It is important to stop thinking you need to be better than you are - being wrong sometimes is part of life. Depression can lead to thoughts of inadequacy, which in turn can make you want to withdraw and isolate - more habits that are bad for mental health.
Judging or criticizing yourself is just another form of negative self-talk. With practice, you can catch yourself enabling such thoughts and choose to revert to positive thinking.
Writing down how you feel is one way to gain clarity, and putting thoughts and concerns on paper can help get them out of your system. Journaling is one way of doing this. Making lists is another. You can write down all your worries and divide them into two columns - things you can control or do something about in one column and those that you can't do anything about - at least not just yet in another.
You can also write down things to motivate yourself - things you're enthusiastic about, future plans you can get excited about. Depression can make it difficult to find the motivation to take positive action - but it's important to be proactive and purposeful in doing things that are good for you and that you enjoy.
This is a good exercise to do towards the end of your day while you reflect on it. As you write your journal entry, think back over the good things that happened, and try and pick out the positive things in the day you are grateful for.
Writing a gratitude list in your journal can be particularly powerful when you're depressed and sad - and when gratitude is the last thing you're feeling.
This is not about trying to fake it and forcefully create gratitude. It's about looking for things, even small things, in your day or your life that you can acknowledge as positive. You can recognize them as things to be grateful for. And, as you continue with the writing process, you may find you actually start to feel a little gratitude, which research shows is a very healing emotion. In fact, according to an article published by Harvard Medical School, "gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness."
Many people find that on most days, positive thinking helps them feel good, at least for a while. But, just like the weather, there are days when thoughts and emotions feel a little stormy. In such moments it's important to remember that the doom and gloom won't last forever. It's also an important time to be extra vigilant - you may find negative thoughts are more persistent than usual. But there's no need to imagine your depression is getting worse - keep focused, and the clouds will pass.
It's possible you already have wholesome living habits and a healthy life, but depression can cause people to get complacent and lazy about making the effort to keep up healthy habits. Exercise is a great way to improve your mood almost at once, and if you do it regularly, it has an immediate effect on mental health. According to one paper, clinical trials have verified that exercise can "counter depression and dissipate stress", and can be used to "treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression."
It is also important to eat well, rest well, and do anything else that makes you feel happy and good.
Positive thinking isn't just about finding the good in situations or things - seeing the good in what you accomplish, and celebrating small successes in coping with anxiety or depression, are also positive thoughts.
If depressed is how you're feeling, so be it. But thinking you 'shouldn't' be depressed because, for example, you have lots to be grateful for, or being ashamed of having fallen into depression, will just drag you down further. You can notice and recognize your depression, but turning it into an enemy, or feeling guilty, can actually reinforce it.
Far better to simply look at it squarely and find positives. You could tell yourself, "my depression is making me really miserable, but it's forcing me to keep a close watch on my thoughts and weed out the negative ones. I am becoming more self-aware, and I have the power to choose positive thoughts." Feelings of depression can help you take responsibility for your mental health.
Positive thinking is a skill anyone can learn with the right focus and mindset. But depression is a very challenging condition, and depressed thoughts can really pull you down. It can be hard to find the energy or motivation to self-generate positive thinking, and if that's the case, professional support is invaluable.
At GIA Miami, we use cutting-edge technology and evidence-based treatment to help people become work through their depression and lead the happy lives they're entitled to.
From Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we can design a treatment program tailored to your individual needs.
It doesn't have to be a lonely road. Reach out to us today, and begin your journey back to wellness.
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