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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Depression: Stop Negative Thoughts
Depression is an illness that makes a person feel sad or hopeless much of the time. It's different from feeling a little sad or down. Depression can be treated with counseling or medicine, or both.
Healthy thinking also can help prevent or control depression.
The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.
The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated. There are several kinds of irrational thoughts. Here are a few types to look for:
The next step is to choose a more helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so you can write down any irrational thoughts as they happen. Then write down a helpful message to correct the unhelpful thought.
If you do this every day, accurate and helpful thoughts will soon come naturally to you.
But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.
If you want, you also could write down what kind of irrational thought you had. Journal entries might look something like this:
Stop your negative thought
Ask what type of negative thought you had
Choose an accurate, helpful thought
"I'm sad that I don't have many friends. People must not like me."
Focusing on negative
"I have some friends, so I know I can make friends."
"I should get married before I'm 30. If I don't, it means I'm a loser."
"There's no guarantee that I'll meet the right person by the time I'm 30. If I don't get married by then, I still have time to find a good relationship."
"I got laid off. I'll never get another job."
"Our company ran into financial trouble, so I got laid off. It may take some time to get another job, but I know I will."
"If I don't get a big raise at my next review, then it means I have no future with this company."
All or nothing
"I would love to get a big raise. But it might not be in the company's budget this year."
Other Works Consulted
Hart SL, Hart TA (2010). The future of cognitive behavioral interventions within behavioral medicine. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 24(4): 344–353.
Layous K et al. (2011). Delivering happiness: Translating positive psychology intervention research for treating major and minor depressive disorders. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(8): 675–683.
Lightsey OR, et al. (2012). Can positive thinking reduce negative affect? A test of potential mediating mechanisms. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26(1): 71–88.
McKay M, et al. (2011). Changing patterns of limited thinking. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 27–45. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
McKay M, et al. (2011). Coping with panic. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 85–104. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
McKay M, et al. (2011). Uncovering automatic thoughts. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 15–25. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Newman CF, Beck AT (2009). Cognitive therapy. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol 2., pp. 2857–2873. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of:
June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral HealthKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineSue Barton PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health
Current as of: June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral Health & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Sue Barton PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health
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