It is not positive thinking that people with depression need, but flexible thinking.
Positive thinking can actually backfire in people with depression, because it can make them feel like they are not good enough or that they have to be happy all the time.
This is not realistic, and it can lead to more disappointment and frustration.
Flexible thinking is more realistic. It helps with coping and dealing with the kinds of problems that make people feel depressed.
Two kinds of flexible thinking are valuable as tools for improving your mood:
- Learning to think in shades of gray rather than in black or white terms helps keep your mood more stable by avoiding extreme highs (overconfidence) and lows (pessimism).
- Recognizing that your feelings and thoughts are not necessarily reality-based can help you step back from them and deal with them in a more objective way.
Both of these types of flexible thinking can be learned, and they are very helpful tools for managing depression.
Cognitive Distortions, Interpretation Biases, and Depression
Depression can be thought of as a pessimistic explanatory style that leads to cognitive distortions and negative interpretation biases.
People with depression tend to engage in more cognitive distortions than non-depressed people, including fortune telling (“I just know I will never find anyone who likes me”), mind reading (“She must think I’m an idiot”), labeling/”catastrophizing” (“I’m a failure”), and personalizing (assuming that others are talking about you).
People with depression also tend to show more interpretation biases, such as noticing the negative aspects of themselves or their situations while ignoring the positive ones.
They may focus on one negative detail, while ignoring everything else that contradicts it, like when they see a single dark cloud, but not the seven other ones that are also in the sky.
People who have a pessimistic explanatory style and negative interpretation biases tend to have more serious depression.
Cognitive distortions and interpretation biases can lead to depression because they cause people to ignore pleasant events, expect bad outcomes, view their situation as worse than it really is, and view their future as hopeless.
Common cognitive distortions include
- Magnifying negatives and minimizing positives
- Jumping to conclusions
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Mental filter
- Disqualifying the positive
- Fortune telling
- Negative self-talk
Possible Causes of Interpretation Biases in Depression
People with depression tend to interpret events in a negative way, and this is part of the reason they feel bad. If they can change their thinking and overcome their biases, they’ll likely see an improvement in their mood.
There are several possible causes for negative interpretation biases:
When you feel good, you’re more likely to see the good in things. People with depression often have low levels of positive emotion, which may make them more pessimistic and negative.
People who have a lot of negative thoughts and experiences may start to see the world as a negative place. They may think that most things are bad luck or that they can’t trust or rely on others.
People who are more prone to depression have a lower physiological response to stimuli, which may contribute to their negative thinking.
In studies, people with a lower body temperature also report feeling more depressed and pessimistic about the future.
People who have anxious attachments styles – who often feel insecure in relationships – tend to have more negative interpretation biases.
People who suffer from learned helplessness, which is feeling like you can’t control or change your circumstances, are likely to believe that whatever happens is out of their hands, and they may attribute failure to internal, stable causes instead of external forces that are changeable.
- Depression-related biases
People who are depressed may have interpretive biases that are specific to depression, such as the belief that social rejection is more personal than it really is.
Some people are simply more negative thinkers than others, and this may be due to their cognitive styles or how they were raised and educated.
People who are optimistic tend to see negative events in a more benign way, while people who are pessimistic tend to see positive events in a more negative light.
However, studies show that you can learn optimism by practicing cognitive restructuring.
People often engage in negative rumination – dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation – and this may contribute to their negative interpretation biases.
People who are more neurotic or self-critical tend to have more negative interpretation biases.
How Do Interpretation Biases Lead to Depression?
Interpretation biases lead to depression because they make people focus on the negative aspects of their lives while ignoring the positive ones.
When people only see the bad in themselves and their situations, it causes them to feel down and hopeless.
This can then lead to more depressive symptoms, such as feeling sad all the time, losing interest in things you used to enjoy, having problems sleeping, and feeling tired all the time.
Interpretation biases can also lead to problems in relationships, school, and work because people may start to feel like they are not good enough or that everything is going wrong.
This can then lead to even more depressive symptoms and a downward spiral into depression.
How Can You Reduce the Impact of Negative Thinking in Depression?
There are some things that you can do to reduce the impact of negative thinking in depression:
When you notice that you are having a cognitive distortion or negative interpretation bias, take a step back and ask yourself if that thought is really accurate.
Is there any evidence to support it, or are you just assuming things?
- Seek out positive experiences
Make a point of spending time with friends and loved ones, participating in activities that you enjoy, or simply taking some time for yourself to relax and recharge.
These positive experiences can help to disprove the negative thoughts that come up in depression.
Being too hard on yourself can lead to negative thinking, so try to be kinder and more understanding towards yourself when you make mistakes or fail at something.
This will help you to feel better about yourself rather than worse which will, in turn, reduce depressive symptoms.
- Stay connected with others
Try not to avoid social activities or isolate yourself from your loved ones. When you have supportive people around you, it is easier to challenge the negative thoughts that come up in depression.
If you find that your negative thinking is impacting your life in a significant way or if you are struggling with depressive symptoms, it may be helpful to seek out professional help.
You could talk to your primary care physician, see a therapist, or consider taking medication.
Although it can be difficult to take that first step and reach out for help, the benefits of getting help far outweigh the costs.
Interpretation biases are a common occurrence in depression, and they can lead to a number of negative outcomes. However, there are things that you can do to reduce their impact.
Challenge your thoughts, seek out positive experiences, practice self-compassion, stay connected with others, and seek professional help if needed.
With time and effort, you should be able to reduce the impact of your interpretation biases on depression.
Hope this article was really helpful for readers interested in depression, anxiety and negative thinking.