How Positive Thinking Drives You Into Depression

Depressed Brain Scan

Depressed Brain Scan – Thanks to MayoClinic.org

Ever heard “Think and Grow Rich”?

Think positive and you’ll attract what you want.”?

People ever tell you, “Just be grateful for all the wonderful things in your life”?

That you are depressed because you are thinking too negatively about everything?

So why don’t you just change your thoughts then buckaroo?  Quit complaining and start being positive!!!

And you try.  And try.  Try a little more.

But you’re still depressed.

Why is this?  Why is it hammered into our heads over and over again that positive thinking will solve our depression problems? Are these people crazy or are we just mentally weak?  Morally incapable?  Deficient human beings with character flaws?

The problem has nothing to do with positive thinking.  The problem has to do with a misunderstanding of depression.  Most people think that depression is a matter of cognition.  It is all “in your head.”  And if you are depressed and believe that, you are in for a long frustrating ride. If depression isn’t caused by your thoughts than what causes it?

More on that in a minute.  But first let’s take a look at Amazon.com and some of the best selling novels when you search “depression.”  There is a great book by David Burns called Feeling Good that teaches cognitive therapy.

But, as a reviewer of the Feeling Good Handbook pointed out:

When your head’s on fire, the book “Feeling Good” is only going to make you feel worse.

This book was a great read–when I wasn’t depressed or anxious. In fact, I recommended it to my clients all the time. I even attended a great workshop by David Burns, who–by the way–is a fantastic presenter.

The problem is that the book was useless when I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I’m not knocking cognitive therapy. It’s highly effective–as long as a person’s prefrontal cortex is working. But when your body aches, you can’t eat or sleep, and you wonder how you’ll get through another minute without ripping your skin off, this book is not going to help you. Save Feeling Good for when you’re feeling good enough to focus on it!

Mood Problems Is Like Your Head Is On Fire

Mood Problems Feel More Like Your Head Is On Fire Than Failing To Think Positive

When a person hears about positive thinking they go crazy with it. It usually begins with stuff like, “I’m awesome!” or “I’m a badass!” or “I am the most amazing delicious little dumpling that ever came out into this earth headfirst!”

Could repeating that over and over all day work?

Not if you are depressed.

There is a better way.

I found this person’s plea on Yahoo Answers:

I’m reading the Feeling Good Handbook right now, only halfway finished. it has some good stuff in it, but like other books I’ve read, it tells you that your thoughts contribute to your feelings…duh! but how do you get rid of these depressing thoughts…that is the million dollar question!

Positive Thinking Won’t Get You Out of a Deep Depression

Thinking positive is like using a supplement for weight loss.  When the nutrition and exercise is in place, the supplement can really help shed off those last few pounds.

But if someone is eating like shit and sitting on their ass all day, all the green tea extracts in the world won’t do a thing.

If someone is going to the gym two to three times a week, dialing in their diet, and allowing proper recovery, they have the foundation for weight loss.  These things will account for 80-90% of results.

This person shouldn’t even be worrying about raspberry ketones until they have the basic fundamentals.  The raspberry ketones by themselves won’t do a damn thing.

If you are in a deep depression one positive thought is not enough to change your brain chemistry.  Not only that, but isn’t thinking positive hard while depressed? Isn’t that a symptom of depression?!

I tried the Positive Thought challenge multiple times back when I had bad depression.  I even wrote extensively about it on an old blog that I had.  It was a lot of effort and just wasn’t sustainable.

Positive Thinking Requires Control of Your Thoughts

Positive Thinking Makes You Depressed

Sitting down to meditate is so basic yet so hard.

You can change your thoughts over time.

But consider this.

How many westerners sit down to meditate each day?

…read that again.

How many westerners sit down to meditate each day?

If we can’t even sit still on a chair and simply be aware of our thoughts for 5 minutes without being restless, how are we supposed to control our thoughts for the entire day when we are caught up in other activities?

If we can’t focus for 5 minutes in isolation, how are we going to focus for 18 hours on our thoughts when driving through violent traffic and working at our fast-paced jobs?

You Need to Change the State of Your Mind

Changing your thoughts can change the state of your mind…

But what about changing your state of mind to change your thoughts?

What if instead of trying to change our thoughts, we did something else that in turn affected our thoughts?

Lets look at the most popular method for treating depression in Western Society – antidepressants.

Antidepressants work because they change the chemistry and thus the state of our mind.  The most common antidepressant is an SSRI, which blocks the re-uptake of serotonin in our brain.  This means that our brain will have more serotonin floating around to use.  More serotonin changes our mood.

Changing our mood allows us to think clearly and think positively.

Suddenly we don’t feel like absolute shit.  Finally we are able to actually see the good in ourselves.

I took citalopram (Celexa) for a little over half a year and it definitely saved me.  At the time I needed it to lift the fog so I could simply function.  After a while, however, the effects slowly stopped working, but that is another story.

At the time no amount of positive thinking was going to fix the serotonin deficiency in my brain causing the negative thoughts in the first place!  It wasn’t until I took something that altered my brain that the negative thoughts began to fade to where I could see some light.

Fight or Flight Mode

Here is another great example of when changing our thoughts just isn’t possible.  Recently I spent many months of my life in fight or flight mode, aka “survival” mode.

The only thing I could think about was making the money I needed to survive.

Everything was a threat.  Everything made me nervous. I couldn’t relate to people anymore.

I literally could not escape that state no matter how much positive thinking I did.  I couldn’t relax using meditation or other methods like breathing.

I was in that state of fight or flight.

It wasn’t until I really took control of my financial life and taking supplements like Valerian Root to calm me down that I was able to escape it.  It wasn’t until I calmed down my “mind that was on fire” that I was able to start to use other techniques like positive thinking.

Once I started to finally ease out of that state, I started taking a few supplements, eating really healthy, and exercising again.

I finally tackled my sleep to where I was getting the rest I needed.

I began investing in my relationships and getting the support I needed from family and friends.

Now it is a totally different ballgame.  Changing my thoughts beforehand would not have worked. My mind was racing and there was nothing I could do.

But when I changed the state of my mind through nutrition and rest, my thoughts became more positive.

The idea that you can think yourself out of a deep depression is like telling a drunk person to think themselves out of being drunk.

Voda - A Depressed Person's Depressant

Vodka – A Depressed Person’s Depressant

What does it mean to be in the state of depression?

Imagine this.

You and your friend are sick of your jobs and Friday night finally hits.  Your friend comes home and surprises you with a nice bottle of vodka.  You don’t particularly like vodka but whatever, it’s Friday night baby!

Talking about your jobs you both realize maybe you have drank a little too much.  About 10 shots in you realize you are hammered.  You turn to your friend and say, “Think sober thoughts!”

Your friend is still going to be drunk no matter what he or she tries to think.

It isn’t going to happen.  Your friend is drunk.  The only way to get out of that state is to remove the alcohol from your friend’s body.

Why do people think depression is any different?

If you actually think that depression is different, look at the brain scan again at the top of the page. A depressed person’s brain is far less active than a not depressed brain.

If you have been hard on yourself because you feel like you have failed by trying to use positive thinking to cure yourself, take a step back.  Look at the brain scan again.  Sigh a breath of relief.

Now really think about what you need.

Ask yourself, “What is this depression telling me?”  Is another positive thought going to change an entire brain that has decreased activity? How is your food affecting you? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you focusing on the right actions? Are you getting the help you need?

Quit worrying that you are immoral or “weak” that you are depressed.  Use the depression as a signal that you need to take action in a certain area of life.

Maybe you are allergic to dairy and you’ve been drinking a half gallon of milk everyday and it is making you feel like garbage.

Maybe you need to use amino acids and vitamins to restore your nutrient levels so your brain can function again.

Do What it Takes to Feel Good

If you feel good, relaxed, and healthy, it is a lot easier to think positive.

When I feel that way I don’t even have to try to think positive –  it just happens on autopilot.

Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn the cognitive aspect of depression.

But if you’ve already learned it and are still depressed, there are many other areas you can tackle.  Don’t give up because you “failed” at positive thinking.

I’ll make every negative thought red and every positive thought black.

When I’m feeling depressed my thought process looks like this, “I should’ve done way more yesterday.  I probably won’t ever amount to anything.  What’s the point if we are all going to die anyways? Joe is annoying, plus he dribbles a basketball weird as hell. Money is evil.

When I’m feeling good, my thoughts become, “I’m awesome.  I’m feeling great.  I wanna call Joe and take advantage of his weird basketball dribble.  I want to travel.  I’m worthless.  I want to start a business.  I think I might go for a run tomorrow.”

Did you catch the negative thought?  It is pretty easy to catch those thoughts and turn them around when there are few of them. As far as the first scenario, it is pretty hard to change a whole army of negative thoughts when you are deep down the rabbit hole of depression.

And if you ever felt a little weird trying to pump yourself up with thoughts like, “I am amazing,” I did too.

Now I just stop and question the reality of statements.  “No girl would ever want to date me.”  Is that true? Am I actually unattractive to ALL women? Even though this girl liked me, this girl liked me, and this girl liked me…?  Maybe some girls do like me… Glad I kicked Joe’s ass in basketball this morning.

The Solution – Take Action Towards Finding the Root Cause of Your Depression

Negative thoughts can be a symptom of feeling like shit.  Negative thoughts can make you feel like shit. Positive thoughts can be a symptom of feeling good.  Positive thoughts can make you feel good.

If you are depressed, you should be spending your time figuring out what the root cause of your depression is.  If you feel like crap everyday despite thinking positive, something else is wrong.

You need to see if you have any vitamin deficiencies.  You need to check your thyroid, sex hormone, and mineral levels.  You need to see if you have enough Vitamin D.

You can restore your neurotransmitters naturally with amino acids.  You can start sleeping again with natural supplements and by eating right.
And you can start waking up without feeling like your head is on fire.

You can change your state and actually fix depression instead of trying to think positive and faking like you are alright.

I hope you enjoyed this article and realize that positive thinking isn’t the big solution we make it out to be. If you’re struggling to find real advice on how to recover from depression without medication, click here to sign up for daily emails that give you truthful and actionable steps to feel like your old self again (plus a free bonus).

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  • mysunnyspirit

    Having perfect, sunshine rainbow optimistic thoughts all day works for me! But mine sparkle too 😉 Loved reading your post!

    • http://www.facebook.com/tj.nelson.9256 TJ Nelson

      Haha I’m telling you you need to bottle up your optimism and sell it.. I’ve never seen someone come into work SICK and still be bubbly 😉

  • Juhena Begum

    I loved this article, thanks helped a lot. Keep posting.

    • TJ Nelson

      Thank you for the kind words! Comments like these give me more fuel to keep putting out content :).

  • pk

    brilliant article, makes me feel so much better havnig done about 10 weeks of CBT and psychotherapy and for the most part feeling only marginally better. now i dont feel like a failure anymore, although the next step, of actually working out what is causing my depression, is a big one 🙂

    • TJ Nelson

      That’s what I’m here for 🙂

  • Bootsie

    This article is right on. The articles that keep saying you have to change your thoughts to get out of depression are BS. Must be coming from the premise that it is the thoughts and the lack of motivation that causes the depression rather than the other way around. In my experience it is the depression that causes the negative thoughts and the lack of motivation. So you are going along motivated, positive thinking and then blam………the depression takes hold. Obviously it was not negative thoughts or laziness that cause the depression. What is it then that causes the depression..I’m talking about the kind that is not situational or appropriate sadness. I’m talking about DEPRESSION.

    What you said about being in a flight or fight mode struck a chord with me. That sure can screw up the brain chemicals if continued for long periods of time. I’ve been finding myself deeply fatigued, not able to concentrate, forgetting too many things, did I say very tired, in a fog, making too many mistakes, not wanting to see people, the simplest tasks feel like huge mountains. T

    hen realized I’ve been in that flight or fight mode for the last 8 months dealing with an abusive person and their gas lighting. During the time I stayed positive, self-affirming, didn’t get hooked..I thought, .but my stomach was in knots, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the irrational things they said, go over the twisted things they said. The thing is I stayed there about 8 months longer than I should have before saying, “Enough!” And now am dealing with a profound depression , maybe even some grieving, –even though my thoughts are positive. Even though it takes a huge effort to put one foot in front of the other to get through the day. Even though I can not think well. My brain is fried. Does that resonate with anyone????

    • TJ Nelson

      Yes, I was there for a very long time.

      I had to really focus on healing my body and fixing what was wrong until I started feeling better. That was going at my health from all angles, correcting deficiencies, etc.

      • Bootsie

        Glad to hear someone say it like it is. I ended up taking a ritalin from an old prescription which gave my depleted dopamine a boost. Feeling calmer. Then went out to get some 5HTP. Might take some of that until I can use my own resources again. It is almost as if it becomes a vicious circle where you feel like you are drowning and NOTHING helps until it passes.

        • TJ Nelson

          The drowning feeling is the worst. It may last a day or two but it feels like months.

          • Bootsie

            I’ve tried antidepressants but they never worked. I am looking at neurotransmitters, diet, etc. I have ADD, probably have my flight or fight stuck on the go position and get depressed so am wondering which of these supplements I would need and how to find out. Do you or anyone here know anything about that?

          • TJ Nelson

            It really depends on the individual, it it hard to tell you exactly what to do without knowing more about you.

            Diet is always number 1. It is the foundation for everything. If you haven’t already got that really tuned in, focus most of your time there.

            Supplements will be different based on your symptoms. Probably would go for the calming supplements, magnesium if you are deficient, and for ADD try things like l-phenylalanine.

            Have you subscribed to the email list?

  • Dave Risner

    Great article. It makes total sense to me.

    • TJ Nelson

      Glad you enjoyed it.

  • MisterG

    This is really a Great Article! It tells the truth which seems to be totally lacking in so many areas today! And it is Reality and Refreshing! Thank You! Thank You!

    • TJ Nelson

      Thank you!

  • Julia Goryn

    Awesome article… I have situational depression and anxiety right now and am not wanting to take any medications. I did just order some Mood Support and some Holy Basil…can these be taken at the same time?

    • TJ Nelson

      Yes, they can be taken at the same time. Mood Support actually has Holy Basil as one of its ingredients 🙂

      • Julia Goryn

        Sorry, one more question. I just started taking both yesterday. In your article you said you have taken it for a month and had a positive attitude. How long before you started feeling effects? I am sure it needs to get into your system. Also, I have ordered Natural Vitality Natural Calm from your link and the Feeling Good book you mentioned. Hoping to calm my mind and anxiety soon. I have forwarded your site to a friend of mine who is struggling with depression and has no insurance. Thank you.

        • TJ Nelson

          Hi Julia, it will vary based on each person. I could feel the effects pretty quick, but it might take another person a few days to a week to feel anything.

  • LoneSoldierRyan

    so i thought that happy relaxing music would help me and constantly telling myself in my head to think positive, but in the end i couldn’t sleep i couldn’t focus and felt even worse than i did coping like i regularly do, negative music, negative art, negative thoughts…the negative music makes me feel better, but that relaxing shit doesn’t…Ive grown so numb to the pain that i feel like shit yes but feel twice as bad while trying to combat it with positive thoughts which my friend swears he beat his depression doing…but like you said i am just too deep down the rabbit hole to do that…and he doesn’t understand he wont, he cant…i need to feel relaxed to even begin the positive thinking, because as you said my brain chemistry is different than non depressed people…so i cant just think the problem away, which is what i was trying to tell him…

    • TJ Nelson

      Exactly. If you are in that state, you have to change the state. Don’t get me wrong, controlling thoughts has its place.

      I compare it to this, if a friend was drunk and you told him, “Hey! Just snap out of it! Use your thoughts to not be drunk!” what would he say? That’s right, he’s stuck in that state and can’t think it away.

      Same thing with actual depression and not just “sadness”. Depression is a STATE, just like being drunk, that needs to be changed in order for the broken brain to actually be able to think in the first place.

  • Julie

    I suffer from major depression recurrent, SAD, PTSD, and anxiety. I agree with this article on the idea that Positive Thinking can’t cure your depression. My current treatment plan: phototherapy,
    pharmacotherapy, augmentation, and EMDR(Eye Movement Desensitization and
    Reprocessing therapy). I am giving you this information because I was where you are at. I tried to treat my depression on my own with self help books and positive thinking, trying to control it myself. The more I tried the further I fell. It was a viscous cycle until I hit the ground. At first it was extremely difficult for me to come to the realization that I have no control over the fact that I will have to be medicated for the rest of my life. It sucks! So back to positive thinking. I can’t get away from the human side of me, I do have a choice to suffer or not. I choose not and part of the not is that I have incorporated positive thinking in my life. This not a new outlandish idea. The Toltics of southern Mexico knew this thousands of years ago. So do you want to suffer your destiny or enjoy it? The choice is yours. God blesses you.

    • TJ Nelson

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you are attacking your depression from so many angles 🙂

  • Steven

    I think the title it’s not right! Positive Thinking does not drive you to depression. What drives you to depression is series of past experiences that’s sitting in your subconscious with depressive conclusions. These depressive conclusions from negative thinking over times leads to depression of not arrested or contracted.

    Just positive thinking alone is not effective. Like the article shared, it is both identifying the root cause, challenging the negative conclusions (stored as lessons in our subconscious) and using positive thinking to correct the negative lessons.

    Many of the negative lessons if not corrected continues to play automatically subconsciously in your mind. Over time too many untruthful negative lesson weights you down and you feel depressed without you been conscious.

    Steven

    • TJ Nelson

      Hi Steven, you’re right, positive thinking doesn’t drive you to depression in the literal sense. What the article aims to achieve is show people how trying to keep thinking positive when that isn’t the actual problem, when the problem is actually a physiological problem, will make you more depressed.

    • Louise S

      Steven you are so right. All the trauma of my past has been festering in my sub concious. I just got on with life and put it to the back of my head. It took a breakdown after a 9 year relationship ending to bring back all my sub concious though to the front which included a lot of neglect from family. Misstrust from a passed marriage. The death of my sister. Feeling unloved when i was a child and my sisters sexual abuse from a stepfather. Having 2 off my kids taken from me by their father just for financial gain. My children came back to me once they found out what their father was like. It was hard for them and even harder mentally for me.
      I have been referred to a phyciatrist to try to put all this in perspective.

      Louise S

  • Balls
  • codswollop

    i used to be extremely depressed for years and years. eat properly, think properly, and it will make you happy. i am the most postive, happy person i have ever met now. this article is rubbish!

    • TJ Nelson

      Did you actually read the article? The primary aim of this site is to get people to eat right and then thinking properly will work.

  • Tomspy77

    OK, Fine at least this article is not full of crap but imagine you’re me and you have no income, no food, no car and have been waiting two years on a disability case, your last therapist dropped you for not putting in the work, you past was full of abuse and so on and aon and on…how I can I get out of here and how can it be today? Because if the thoughts continue today there will be no tomorrow…

    • TJ Nelson

      Take every small step you can in the direction you need to go.

      • Tomspy77

        I try but it seem to do very little with the crippling depression I feel. Meanwhile I am destroying what I did have around me. Of course I also have CPTSD and anxiety and health issues so as much as the ‘cure’ may be a combo, so in my case was the affliction.

  • Kenny Lee

    Apart from the slightly miisleading title, I’ve nothing much to complain about the content. Positive thinking doesn’t lead you to depression. But when you’re depressed and having your closest friends preaching positive stuff to you is definitely frustrating.

    I agree with shifting the state of the mind as I personally tried out myself. Hypnosis and energy clearance works for me although it needs to be constantly worked on.

    A fan of meditation myself, I actually discouraged practicing meditation alone when we are all stressed out and on the brink of mental breakdown.

    • TJ Nelson

      Hi Kenny, this article was primarily written for people that have physical problems that is causing their depression, hence why positive thinking would be frustrating, because it won’t fix the physical problems.

      This article explains the difference between physical and biological depression: http://dominatedepression.com/situational-depression-versus-biological/

      • Kenny Lee

        Thanks for the clarification.

        I agree that positive thinking won’t fix physical problems. The same goes to visualization, and those that only works on the mental/emotional factor.