Some people talk about their depression and anxiety as if it were a pet—a little companion they keep around as an important part of their life. They say things like:
I have depression.
My anxiety is really acting up.
They view their experience of depression and anxiety as a fundamental part of who they are.
Instead of seeing mental illness as a permanent state of being, what if we talked about it like a temporary phase? What if we stop identifying ourselves as flawed or diseased, and took ownership of the healing process?
In reality, most of us have a hard time accepting our pain, owning it, living it, and then taking responsibility for our lives. It’s liberating and scary all at the same time.
Depression and anxiety can characterize a certain season of life, but they don’t have to stick around forever. If you are facing anxiety or depression, you need to know that you CAN heal and you CAN move past it. It takes work. It won’t be easy. It’s a process of taking care of your mind and your body. But you can do it.
To get started, it’s important to understand five common mindset mistakes that impact our mental health.
Mindset 1: Learned Helplessness
Learned helplessness makes you a victim in your own life, instead of the hero. It’s the belief that you are stuck in your depression or anxiety, that it’s a disease, and that it cannot be changed. Persistent negativity can lead to learned helplessness, which reinforces states of depression and anxiety.
Learned helplessness keeps you from taking responsibility for your life and reaching the goals that you want to achieve. It’s self-defeating and unproductive.
The antidote for learned helplessness is resilience. Martin Seligman, a psychologist, developed these three P’s to help people gain a resilient mindset.
- Permanence—Understand that what you’re going through won’t last forever. It’s a temporary setback. You can be optimistic about the future, instead of pessimistic.
- Pervasiveness—Just because you made a mistake at work doesn’t mean that you have to feel like a failure at home. Trust that good things are the norm, and that bad things are specific instances that you can face and overcome. They don’t have to define you.
- Personalization—Don’t blame yourself for everything difficult in your life. Acknowledge when you have been hurt by someone else, or the circumstances that are making certain things more difficult for you. Be realistic. It’s not always your fault.
Mindset 2: Exaggeration
If you’re facing anxiety and/or depression, you might see the smallest challenge as an impossible setback. Just getting out of bed can feel overwhelming. People with depression tend to exaggerate negative experiences or aspects of life. Instead of seeing someone’s behavior as rude, they interpret is as hateful. If they have a hard day at work, they might describe it as the worst day ever.
Exaggeration isn’t a realistic view of the world. It’s inflated. If you’re facing a season of depression and anxiety, remember that you might be blowing some things out of proportion because of your current mental state. Be on the lookout for exaggeration. Ask friends and family to give you honest feedback about the way you describe your life and various situations that you face.
Mindset 3: Dichotomous Thinking
Dichotomous thinking simply means viewing a partial failure as a complete failure. Say that you have an annual performance review at work. Your boss gives you feedback on five different areas of your job. She has glowing things to say about almost every area, but does have some specific critiques and suggestions for improvement in one of the five areas. Depression and anxiety will twist your perception of that conversation. You might feel like a total failure at your job, or that you’ve completely let down your boss. Neither are true.
Learn to compartmentalize your mistakes and let them stand alone. Don’t let them bleed into other areas of your life.
Mindset 4: Selective Abstraction
Selective abstraction is a mindset that uses only negative information to interpret events, instead of also seeing the positives involved. Poor Eeyore from Winne-the-Pooh has a bad case of selective abstraction. He assumes the worst about people and situation and fixates on only bad facts or possibilities.
Recognize that depression and anxiety will distort your view of the world, filtering out the good and leaving only the negative. If you want to keep the negatives from outweighing the positives, you have to be intentional about practicing gratitude and identifying the good things in your life. They are plenty. You just have to look for them.
Mindset 5: Overgeneralization
Overgeneralization is when a person with depression or anxiety lets negativity in one area of life bleed into other unrelated areas. If you had a fight with your spouse and said some harsh words, you might think thoughts like, I’m a terrible human being and horrible wife and mother. If you’ve ever thought like this, chances are anxiety and/or depression has distorted your thinking.
Don’t let your problems from one area bleed into unrelated areas. Your mistakes and setbacks are just a part of your reality—they don’t define it.
Deal with Depression by Changing the Way You Think
You can’t control what pops into your head, but you can control how long it stays there. You don’t have to let the same negative dialogue run around in your head all day. Take control of your thoughts by changing your mindset.
One way to help this process is to practice Metacognitive Therapy, which helps us understand how we think and why we think. It’s like the 30,000-foot view of how our brains process information. It gives you the tools to rise above your thoughts and change your mindset.
Your thoughts are just thoughts, not necessarily a reflection of reality.1 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is important too—that’s when you focus on specific thoughts and learn to replace the destructive thoughts with positive ones.
Just because you think you’re a failure doesn’t mean that you are a failure. Don’t be afraid to challenge your thoughts and detach from them.
Our therapists at Alleviant Health Centers are passionate about helping people understand what they think and why they think it. If you’re looking for some support on your mental health journey, request an appointment today. We’ll be honored to walk through the process with you. And if you are in Little Rock and would like to learn more about mindset and its connection to your mental health and overall happiness, join us for a free workshop on January 4th, 2020.