Depression and CBT: How to Change Your Thoughts to Improve Your Life

Thoughts are one of those things that we think we have little control over. Often, they’re completely automatic and, despite our wishes to the contrary, they may linger on things we don’t enjoy.

Thoughts can be unexpected and unpredictable – but they don’t have to be.

If you’re dealing with depression, you may scoff at this a little. Controlling your thoughts can be the last thing you feel you’re capable of. Yet, learning to change your thoughts in a positive way is the first step to improving your life.

You see, how you think affects how you feel and act. Negative thoughts make you feel bad and keep your depression going. Positive thoughts can interrupt this cycle.

But how can you possibly change your thoughts?

Recalibrate Your Thoughts with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Depression and CBT are closely connected. CBT is one of the best approaches to changing the negative thought patterns that exist in people with depression. In particular, the cognitive restructuring technique that is part of the CBT treatment addresses this matter.

Reconstruction takes place when you learn to recognize irrational and negative thoughts, challenge them, and replace them with more rational and positive thoughts. It requires systematically learning to think more logically and realistically, and putting matters in perspective.

Depression forces the perspective of “negative” on you by suppressing any positive emotions that you may experience. To avoid disappointment, it has you tell yourself things like “I know this good feeling won’t last.” In essence, it’s a self-protective mechanism.

The problem is, by trying to protect yourself, you end up isolating yourself from good thoughts and feelings and only make your depression and your life worse.

How can you change your thoughts to improve your life? 

Recognize your negative thoughts

Monitor your thoughts and put any negative ones down in writing. You can recognize them by the way they make you feel – negatively. Thoughts like “everything always goes wrong,” “I’m just useless,” “nothing will ever change,” or “it’s all my fault” are a few examples. And when you’re able to see these thoughts in writing it will make it easier for you to identify patterns and address them.

Challenge your negative thoughts

Review the negative thoughts you wrote down when you’re in a better mood. Consider if their distorted viewpoint is justified. Ask yourself: Is there any evidence that my thinking is sound? Am I jumping to conclusions? Are my thoughts based on fact or opinion? Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Am I making illogical and unfounded comparisons? Is there another way of looking at the situation? 

Write statements to counteract your negative thoughts

For each negative thought, write down a counter-statement. For example, instead of “I’m so happy” to counter the negative thought of “I’m so depressed,” you could say “it’s okay that my life has ups and downs, everyone’s life does.” It’s logical, it’s rational, and it’s more positive than your initial thought, but it’s not unrealistically positive. Once you’ve done this, memorize your counter-statements and repeat them to yourself whenever negative thoughts spring up. Little by little, you will change your thoughts from negative to positive by creating new associations. 

Practice more positive thinking throughout the day

At every opportunity, teach your mind to create new pathways of thinking. For example, instead of letting your thoughts immediately drift to something negative about a situation or place, you could quickly change your thoughts to more positive things about it. You could also take the time to meditate on the things you’re most thankful for in your life. Or, at the end of each day, you could ponder on the best parts of that day.

It will take time and effort, but developing the ability to change your thoughts to become more positive will make your life a whole lot happier.