Every week until the winter solstice, I am going to write about living with the seasons and their affect on us. I hope it might help someone. Just know that I love you.
You know when all those people on social media, or well-meaning friends, say “Happiness is a Choice #blessed”?
Well that’s bullshit. Depression is a disease. Okay? Now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about the connection between thoughts, actions, and moods.
I don’t for a second believe that you are causing your own illness. I also don’t believe it’s as simple as a lot of people make it out to be. Depression (seasonal and other types) is biological – it happens in your body. Your brain is in your body. There is no separation.
It’s also social.You are a person, living in this world. You can’t be removed from the context of your situation.You have relationships, you may see medical professionals (or not), you might eat food grown in polluted soil, you might be under a lot of stress and pressure for social reasons that have nothing to do with your brain chemicals.
Except that external events can affect your brain.
How you react to these events determines your body’s response. Sometimes your body’s response determines how you react.
This is complicated and all blended together, there is no way to study people and control all these things. (flaws in research design is another topic I can rant about)
I think you get what I’m saying. And the benefit of this confusion is that we can address our illnesses from many different sides. We can take medication. We can also meditate. We can also exercise. We can also do talk therapy. We can also work on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques.
5 Lessons from CBT, Briefly
*Huge disclaimer that I am not a counsellor, doctor, therapist or any sort of regulated professional in this area, if you didn’t know. These are my interpretations of some of the themes from CBT.
You can do CBT techniques by yourself, for free, without having to get out of bed. For all these reasons, I want to tell you a summary of what I know and point you to other resources you can get to, for free, from your bed. You can also go to a therapist to discuss it, which is great, if you can afford it (free counselling for all!!) & if you can convince yourself to go.
1. The thoughts – actions – feelings cycle
This is the core of CBT: your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour all affect each other.
It may go like this: you wake up feeling blue, you don’t want to go to work/school –> you don’t go (action/behaviour) –> you think, wow I’m so lazy or why can’t I get any motivation? or I’m going to be depressed forever –> you feel worse –> and on…
If you can somehow interrupt this cycle, anywhere, then you can stop or slow down this chain of awfulness.
Ways to interrupt the cycle:
- Thoughts: Introduce positive or neutral thoughts [so hard, harder than it seems. This is why CBT takes practice.]
- Behaviour: Do ‘opposite action’ by doing the opposite of what your depressed self is telling you to do.
- Feelings/mood: If you have ways to reset your mood, they can work here like exercise, a bath, spending time with someone you really enjoy.
2. Cognitive distortions
There are 10 main ways your depressed mind might be skewing things so that you don’t see them in a realistic light. Read about all of them but here are a few that affect me a lot:
- Jumping to Conclusions & Mind-reading: This has been something I’ve worked on unlearning for many years, and I’m still working. Basically, if someone gives me a weird look, I think: she hates me. That’s mind reading. If you’ve been exposed to a lot of passive aggression, this can be a problem for you. Or if you’re a woman, because we’re taught to cater to everyone else’s need all the time.
- Emotional reasoning: “I feel like a failure, so I must be one” <— nope, not how it works.
- Should statements: This used to be a huge, huge problem for me, and I feel like it is less so now. But we are constantly told that there is a certain way to do things from our parents, friends, bosses, religions, etc. A lot of the time though, the way we internalized the message is actually not at all what they were trying to teach us.
3. Looking for evidence
In CBT thought diaries (see examples in the resources linked below), we are asked to come up with evidence for the way we see things.
For example, if I feel anxious about talking to my partner about something, I will try to think of evidence to back up my anxiety. How have they reacted in the past? Has there ever been a similar situation? Then I can determine if the evidence supports how I feel. Sometimes this helps in reducing anxiety if you are jumping to conclusions (see cognitive distortions). Or, you feel validated.
4. Acknowledging reality
This is my own interpretation of what CBT teaches. But based on the evidence you gather, you can then see things as they really are. That’s a really important skill in CBT and I think this is one of the most useful things I have applied to my life. Once you are able to acknowledge how things are, you are one step closer to accepting your situation and making changes.
5. Core thoughts
Another part of the thought diary asks you to find core thoughts/beliefs. By following your train of thought to the root, you can see what it is that you believe that is affecting you negatively.
With the example above about talking to my partner, if I follow the thought train, it might go: I’m anxious to talk to them –> they might be mad –> if they’re mad, they might break up with me –> I will be single (again) –> I’ll always be single because —> I’m unloveable.
Whoa! Heavy. Who knows where these core beliefs come from. Sometimes you can pinpoint it in talk therapy, or by self reflection. It could often be something that happened or your interpretation of something that happened in your childhood.
Once you know these core beliefs, you can start working on changing your relationship to yourself with affirmations, meditation, talk therapy, etc.
If you’re ready to give this a try or want to learn more, here are some places you will find resources for free:
Get Mind Over Mood from the local library
Complete Home Toolkit from AnxietyBC
Pacifica: an app with CBT tools
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