When we are low or depressed, our thoughts are frequently very negative in content. The thoughts seem very “real” or true mainly because of the way they seem to match our mood.
Knowing about this thinking bias, one way to manage our mood is to check out and challenge the accuracy of our thoughts, offering ourselves a more balance perception of events and situations.
How to challenge the content of thoughts
Using a 7 column thought record like this you can record the situation you are in (column 1), rate the level of your mood (out of 10 or as a percentage – in column 3), and the thought (column 2) that relates to this emotion. For example, you may notice yourself feeling depressed and you rate this at 60% (100% being the lowest you have ever felt). The situation could be realising that none of your friends or family have called you that day. You notice the thought you are having is “nobody cares about me”. In column 4 you record the evidence for this thought, which might be “no one has called me, my friends call less frequently than they used to”. In column 5 you record evidence against the thought, which might be “Mum and Dad care, they call every day to see how I am. When my friends call I often don’t answer because I have nothing to say. I know my two best friends have been really busy with other things in the last couple of days, but when I speak to them, they always want to know how I am”. In column 6, bring together the original thought and evidence for and against it in order to develop a more realistic, balanced thought. The most important thing is to ensure this new thought rings true with you. In the example given this might be “sometimes people don’t call because they have other things to do and I feel lonely and uncared for. But I know they do care because they do ask how I am and they do keep calling, even when I’ve not been good at answering the phone for a while”. In the last column, you can re-rate your mood when you are able to hold the new thought in mind for a while.
- Make sure the thought is logged in column 3 as soon after you experience the emotion as possible (otherwise you might forget what the thought is).
- If the thought expressed is in the form of a question, write the answer to the question. In the example above, you could have written “does anybody care about me?” in column 3. But because you were feeling depressed, the likelihood was you had already answered “no”! (If you had answered with an unqualified “yes”, the chances are you would not have felt so depressed). So the answer to the question is “nobody cares about me”.
- Make sure the thought matches the emotion. For example, if you had experienced anxiety rather than low mood, the thought “nobody cares about be” would have made less sense. Anxiety is always future focussed, while this thought is present focussed. Ask yourself what thought are you having that makes sense of the anxiety. For example, your initial thought may have led to another, anxious thought, “when my parents die, I will be all alone and I won’t be able to cope”, which is future focussed.
- Make sure you have expressed an emotion (feeling) in column 3 and NOT another thought. Negative emotions include anger, anxiety, depression, guilt and shame. “I feel unloved” is not an emotion but “I feel sad because I think I am unloved” is.
Practise, practise, practise
The purpose of the thought record is to help you to counter the natural negative thinking bias that occurs when you feel depressed and to provide yourself with a more balanced perception of events. If you use a thought record frequently you will become increasingly good at noticing “what just happened” to the point where you may become proficient at catching and altering you negative thinking as it happens.
If you have any questions about managing depression, or anything else in relation to the Achieving Balance therapy practice, please contact Martin who will be happy to discuss these with you.