Reversing the Cycle of Depression

upward spiralIn a previous post, we looked at the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) model of the vicious cycle of depression involving thoughts, feelings, behaviours, memories and physical symptoms. One of the first steps in overcoming depression is to put and end to this vicious cycle, and gain some momentum that can help you cycle in a positive direction.

Just as automatic negative thoughts result from and contribute to depression, by engaging in more neutral and balanced ways of thinking, we can begin to stop the vicious cycle involving negative thoughts and depression. Cognitive therapy provides an effective tool to help break out of negative patterns of thinking. As our thoughts become less negative, we begin to feel less depressed, and as we become less depressed, our thoughts about ourselves, our lives and our future become less negative, and so on.

We can experience similar reversal in these vicious cycles in other areas of our lives that are affected by, and affect depression. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help change behaviours that result from and contribute to depression such as reducing level of activity and withdrawing socially. Changes in diet, exercise, sleep habits and self-care can help alleviate the distressing physical symptoms associated with depression and lead to more energy and motivation.

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The Vicious Cycle of Depression

depression cycleIn the cogntive behavioural therapy (CBT) model of depression, one of the reasons that breaking out of depression can be so difficult is that depression generates vicious cycles involving a number of aspects of your life. Once you get stuck in these vicious cycles, they can be hard to break.

According to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), when you’re experiencing depression, you will tend to have automatic negative thoughts about yourself, the world and the future. This pattern of negative thinking you deeper into depression. This brings about further negative thoughts; which lead you to feel even more depressed; bringing about more negative thoughts; and so on.

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Cognitive Therapy and Challenging Negative Thoughts

When we’re feeling distressed about something or going through a difficult emotional experience it can feel like our thoughts are running out of control. Our minds start racing and we find ourselves dwelling in the past, worrying about the future, or just spinning our wheels trying to think ourelves out of our problems.

At times, our thoughts can become so powerful and consuming that it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Reading, being productive at work, or even just carrying on a conversation seems impossible. The thoughts become so persistent that nothing can distract us from them and nothing else can hold our attention, and it can feel like there isn’t anything we can do to slow down these thoughts or get some peace of mind.

Because it’s natural to want thoughts like these to go away and to have some control over what’s going on inside our heads, we often wind up trying to will these thoughts away and shut them out completely. But just like we can’t control our emotions, nor suppress our emotions, neither can we control or suppress our thoughts.

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Cognitive Defusion and Letting Go of Thoughts

In a previous post we looked at some ways to practice letting go of thoughts, but it can often be difficult to let of thoughts because they have such a powerful pull, especially when the thoughts are related to a strong emotion.

In this post we’re going to look at some things you can do to get some separation from your thoughts when your emotions are particularly strong and you’re having some thoughts you’re finding hard to let go.

Steven Hayes, who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), coined the term “cognitive fusion” to describe times when we are so tightly stuck to our thoughts, we become “fused” to them. When we’re experiencing cognitive fusion, we can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality. We feel removed from the world outside of our thoughts, removed from our senses, from what we’re doing, and even from the people around us.

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Watching Thoughts and Letting Them Go

cloudsIn a recent post we looked at how mindfulness can help us let go of our thoughts when we get caught up in ruminating or worrying or just thinking in circles. Letting go of thoughts is never easy, however, and in this post we’ll look at how simply watching our thoughts can help us let them go.

Thoughts pop into our heads all the time, and usually we don’t pay any special attention to them: they enter and leave our minds all on their own, just like a car that drives into our line of sight, remains in our field of vision for a few moments, and then drives along and passes out of our line of sight again.

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Letting Go of Thoughts Mindfully

racing thoughtsIt’s easy to get swept away by our thoughts, especially in the face of strong emotions. We get stuck ruminating and dwelling about the past, filled with guilt or regret. Or our minds start racing and we can’t stop worrying about the future and imagining all the things that could go wrong. Or we replay conversations over and over again in our heads, trying to make sense of them or figure out what we could have said differently.

When our minds get going like this, not only is it exhausting; these patterns of thinking tend to make us feel bad, intensifying the emotions we’re already feeling and generating additional negative emotions as well. Because this experience is so unpleasant, it’s natural to want to these thoughts to stop, and to be able to prevent yourself from even having them in the first place. We often wind up trying to make these thoughts go away, and shut them out completely and make sure they don’t come back. But just like we can’t control our emotions or suppress our emotions, neither can we control or suppress our thoughts.

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STOPP and Be Mindful

 
 

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety or distressing emotions, it can be diificult to know how to manage these feelings.

Often we allow our stress and anxiety and emotions to build and build all day without doing anything to calm them, trying to just ignore them and hoping they’ll go away. Then, when we finally can’t take it anymore and start feeling overwhelmed and desperate, things have often accumulated too much and begun to spiral downwards and it can be so hard to get any relief.

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Downward Spiral of Depression

downward spiralIn another post, we looked at the vicious cycles involving thoughts, behaviours, feelings, memories, and physical sensation that contribute to depression. When you’re experiencing depression, all of these aspects of your life interact with each other, generating a downward spiral bringing you deeper into depression. Negative patterns of thinking often have a adverse influence on behaviour; distressing physical symptoms often effect our feelings, leading to sadness and despair; and so on.

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Core Beliefs in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are closely related. Our thoughts affect how we feel and what we do; our feelings affect the way we think and act; and our actions affect our thoughts and feelings. CBTFor instance, if we’re feeling anxious, we’ll think the worst is going to happen and act in ways to avoid doing anything that could provoke anxiety. If we’re feeling depressed, we tend to have very negative thoughts and withdraw from others, and these thoughts and behaviours make us even more depressed.

Cognitive therapy, also known as cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, utilizes these relationship between your thoughts (also called cognitions), your actions (or behaviours) and your feelings or emotions. Because our thoughts, our feelings (or moods or emotions) and our actions (or behaviour) are so closely linked, making changes in any one of these areas tends to bring about changes in the others.

In cognitive therapy (CBT), we start by examining our patterns of thinking, recognizing how they are affecting our moods/emotions and our actions, and learning how to evaluate and adjust our thinking patterns, which in turn leads to changes in our moods and our behaviours.

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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Cognitve Therapy in Theory and Practice

cbtCcognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or cognitive therapy, focuses on the relationships and connections between our thoughts, feelings, actions, and our body. This sounds simple, but what does it mean?

In the CBT/cognitive therapy model, we recognize that we are each affected by the environment in which we live. This environment involves both our current situations (family, friends, job, culture, various stressor and supports, etc.), as well as our past (our family history, past relationships, previous successes and failures, etc.).

Within our environment, there are four elements of ourselves that interact with each other:

  • Cognitive: thoughts, cognitions, beliefs, self-talk
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