When you feel depressed, your mood is the headline. However, the story of melancholia normally includes multiple negative emotions. Does shame shadow you? Do you feel straddled by apprehension? Is your tolerance for frustration low? Do you fume over little things?
If you have depression, the chances are that you’ll have at least one other unpleasant emotional condition. About a 40% -60% of the time, people with depression had anxiety first. When depressed, you may also experience anxiety. Between 30% - 50% of the time, anger accompanies depression. Shame, guilt, and low frustration tolerance are common.
You can use Albert Ellis’ ABC method to overcome harmful, negative, emotions. Let’s look at mixed anxiety and depression first, and then how to use the ABC approach as a self-help method.
The Rational Express
What bothers you the most? Is it an unrecoverable loss? Is it a series of setbacks? Is it the unpredictability of when depression will come again? Is it depression itself? If so, you may experience a lack of controllability over these conditions. That doesn’t mean that you have no control over yourself.
How you see your situation influences how you feel, but not the whole of you. For example, when depressed, you may hold to negative, irrational, beliefs about your depression.
When depressed, you may have a confirmation bias. For example, if you believe that you are powerless to overcome depression, you’ll exclude evidence that counteracts this belief. Alfred Adler, the founder of the school of Individual Psychology, was aware of this bias: “A person does not change his behavior patterns but turns, and twists and distorts his experiences until they fit it.” The idea is to break from this bias.
Irrational beliefs have the power to promote depression. For example, you believe that your self-worth depends on thinking and acting perfectly in every way and at all times. That’s a formula for feeling stressed. As you might guess, perfectionism and depression are sometimes connected.
After recognizing beliefs that stir emotional troubles, your next step is to learn to contest them. Let’s say that you experience a mixed anxiety and depression. You believe that you are powerless to cope. Here are two thoughts on powerless thinking: (1) Powerless thinking in anxiety links to an imagined threat and unpleasant arousal. (2) When depressed, you feel lethargic. You may believe you are powerless to stop what you see is an endless misery. When you critically think it out, you discover that powerless thinking is irrational in both instances. It’s a belief, not a fact. It reflects a feeling, not a global reality. It’s an exaggeration, and exaggerations are contestable.
Albert Ellis devised an ABCDE way to defeat harmful irrationalities. Let’s see how to apply his approach to powerless thinking, which is a primary form of disturbing thinking.
A is for an activating event or adversity with the power to trigger an emotional reaction. This can be anything from a rejection to an illness to a divorce. Let’s do the unusual and say that the adversity is your depressed mood.
B is for your beliefs about the adversity. Ellis divides them into two types. A reasonable belief is that your depression is unpleasant—perhaps handicapping. Tell yourself that you are powerless to do anything to overcome your depression, and that’s an irrational belief. It doesn’t conform to reality. You might also catastrophize (making a bad situation worse) about your future. That too, is irrational. By isolating irrational beliefs, you can get a better idea about what is going on in your mind that adds to the emotional commotion.
C is for the emotional and behavioral consequences from your beliefs. A belief that depression is unpleasant and handicapping, may lead to a sense of acceptance and tolerance. You may then have more resources available to overcome your depression. However, believe that you are powerless to change, and you may feel a deepened despair. Catastrophizing about powerlessness can ignite anxiety about an already tough situation.
D is for disputing harmful irrational beliefs systems. I’ll show how to disable powerless thinking by raising four questions and giving four sample answers:
1. Is powerless thinking helpful or detrimental? Sample answer: “You can tell the effects of a belief by its results. Powerless thinking is demonstrably detrimental.”
2. Does my belief, that I’m powerless to act, fit with reality? Sample answer: “If I can shower, dress myself, and walk, I’m not powerless. I may not be able to switch off a depressed mood on command, but that doesn’t mean that I’m powerless to do other things.”
3. How does a depressed mood prove that I’m powerless to act? Sample answer: “A depressed mood is proof of itself but not that I’m powerless to do anything to help myself change the mood.”
4. How can an unfortunate situation be any worse than it is? Sample answer. “Reality is what it is, not what I imagine it to be. It may feel natural to exaggerate the significance of a depressed mood; this excess exists only because I think it does. This irrational thinking is changeable.”
E is for new effects. The effects result from disputing irrational thinking. They can include a realistic perspective and less tension because of less powerless thinking.
Activity is a remedy for depression. Here are four antidepression activities: (1) Exercise is a sound antidepression action. (2) Resolving relationship troubles and conflicts correlates with a reduction in depression. (3) Omega 3 is marginally associated with a reduction in depression. (4) Improved sleep patterns are associated with a reduction in depression. Ellis might give behavioral assignments, as the above, to help reduce depression.
For more information on combatting depression, listen to my free podcast CBT Depression Workshop. To learn multiple ways to deal with depression and its coexisting conditions, get The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression (Second Edition). If you feel depressed and put off self-help activities, click on procrastination technology to defeat depression.
This blog is part of the Pioneer of the Mind series to celebrate the contributions of Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behavioral therapy and the grandfather of cognitive-behavior therapy.
Albert Ellis Revisited (Carlson & Knaus 2013) is the Albert Ellis Tribute Book Series centennial book. The publisher, Routledge, offers a 20% discount on the book. Control click on this link: Albert Ellis Revisited. Type the code Ellis for the discount. The book qualifies for free shipping and handling. Bill Knaus’ royalties from this book go directly to the Denan Project charity. When you buy the book, you are helping yourself by learning ways to live life fully, and you are helping bring irrigation, crops, and health care to destitute areas of the world.
Special to this blog: Image of Depression PhotoArt image by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art & Design, Fayetteville NC.
© Dr. Bill Knaus