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