Can You Relieve Depression?

A woman wrote to Adam Khan:

I am a lady of 35 years and quite moody and get depressed often. I had a emotionally disturbing childhood. Six years back I had a major depression and was treated medically for it. My mood fluctuates frequently and I make some wrong decisions accordingly. My depression increases during the afternoon time and I feel very miserable at that time. I am basically very straightforward and any dishonest and cunning behavior of people affects me immediately and I take everything to heart. Besides I get angry fast.

I am getting scared that my depression will affect my health and the happiness of my family. Please help me.

Adam responded:

Your message was one of the most straightforward, to-the-point notes I've ever received. You can do something about your condition, but it will require work. If you do the work, you will see real progress.

The main task is to change your mental habits. Do not try to think positive. Do NOT try to think positive. If you try the method I am about to suggest, you may slip into a habit of trying to think positive, but it will not work for you very well. The thing for you is a vigorous anti-counterproductive-thinking training.

You have habitual ways of thinking you formed to deal with an emotionally disturbing childhood. The childhood is over, but the habits remain. You must change those habits.

Your depression will definitely affect your health and the happiness of your family, but you can change it. It will take time and regular effort. The effort is simply sitting down with paper and pen every day and going through an exercise. The exercise, done every day or nearly every day, will retrain your mind, it will change your mental habits, and negative moods will become less and less frequent.

Now maybe you believe your problem is a chemical imbalance. And you may in fact have a chemical imbalance. But changing the way you think will change your chemicals, just in the same way that when you think someone has deliberately wronged you, your bloodstream is pumped with adrenaline and cortisol, even if you were mistaken and find out later they did not deliberately wrong you. It was only your THOUGHT that caused that assault on your heart and nervous system.

What I am advocating is not to fool yourself into thinking everything is great when it isn't. All of us make certain kinds of mistakes in our thinking, and those mistakes can have devastating consequences, making us feel defeated, hopeless, helpless, depressed, angry, and so on, all perfectly unnecessary. It's just a mistake. The problem is, our thoughts are often quite automatic. They happen almost without our awareness.

The process I suggest is simple: When you feel any negative emotion about something, sit down and write down what you're thinking. You can do this with me over email at first if you'd like to get a clear idea of what I'm talking about. So you write down one of your "negative" thoughts. Now get a different colored pen and look at that negative thought. What's wrong with it? If you were taking a stand against it, how would you argue with that thought? Does it make ungrounded assumptions? Is it an overgeneralization? Does it have more certainty that you could really justify with your evidence? Look at the thought and write out all the arguments against it you can think of.

That's it. That's the exercise. If you did that every day, spending maybe a half hour or so at it, you could change the way you think over time. You'll find you make the same kinds of mistakes, and often you'll argue against the very same thought on different days. Your thoughts are habitual, and it takes awhile to change a habit. But when you do, what will happen? Many of the overly-pessimistic thoughts you now have that make you depressed or angry will stop occuring. So the negative feelings they regularly give you will become less frequent or less intense, or both.

I also have three books to recommend to you:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated
by David Burns

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
by Martin Seligman

Good Mood: The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression
by Julian Simon

They will give you some good insight into how depression works and what needs to be done to make it happen less often or less intensely.

And I hope you use me as a resource as well. Depression is a miserable thing to live with. So let's get rid of it if we can. Write back to me. Ask me questions. Argue with me. Give me your negative thoughts and let me help you learn to argue against them.


Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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