Feeling Depressed? Train Your Brain to Do This, Instead
Why you may be unintentionally making your life miserable.
Posted May 01, 2017
As a psychotherapist, I have the privilege of hearing stories every day. Hour after hour, I marvel at the resilience of people. Certain people, that is.
When you work with depressed and anxious clients, you appreciate the courage and trust that goes into the therapeutic journey.
You also realize that some people come to therapy without the goal of changing something about their personality. You also take note of certain behavioral patterns that contribute to psychological malaise.
Here are three common mindset traps that keep people mired in depression:
- Living in the past.
- Avoiding the truth.
- Trying to change another person.
It is possible to train your brain to think, feel and do differently. Here are three healthy mindsets that can help you heal:
1. Make peace, not war, with the past. One characteristic of depression is believing that life is fated. You falsely think that because things are challenging right now, that life will always be this way. Resignation and hopelessness develops from not feeling as though you have control over your life. Why bother changing?
The problem is you end up repeating the same arguments with the same people, with the expectation of getting a different reaction. Reliving, recreating, and rewriting the past means squandering the present’s precious moments. Intentional focus on what’s happening now can empower you to make the necessary steps to change how you react to stressful situations and difficult relationships. Click here for a resource on mindfulness.
2. Pay attention to the truth. As the saying goes, 'If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.' Denial is a defense mechanism that keeps the truth hidden from consciousness. The problem with turning the other cheek may be born from mindlessness, but in time, your issues grow bigger.
People can be acutely aware of what they pay attention to and remarkably blind to what they do not. In real life, to be sure, casual denials of bad behavior require more than simple mental gymnastics, but inattention is a basic first ingredient. —Dan Ariely, researcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Another byproduct of not coming clean is the tendency is to inflict your pain onto those around you. But the short-term relief from exacting revenge on another person only causes long-term grief for you, and a fractured relationship for both of you.
Acknowledge your fears, pain, and suffering. Life is not meant to be easy, and safety and certainty are not guaranteed. Denying the truth takes a lot of energy, but not as much as living your truth.
3. Change your thinking to change your life. Some people come to therapy with the goal of changing another person. While your mother, or older brother, or ex may very well need to change—they are not in therapy with you. The key to dealing with difficult people is accepting them for who they are; detaching from their unacceptable behavior, and defining boundaries around healthy relationships. For a step-by-step article about developing healthy thought patterns, click here.
At the end of the day, another indisputable fact remains: It’s your story, and you get to choose its ending.