How I Use CBT When I Am Feeling Depressed
My life changed when I started using CBT when I am feeling depressed.
Until I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), my depression always controlled me but once I started applying CBT principles to my life when I was depressed I was able to control it.
Psychology Today defines CBT as a type of psychotherapy in which patients reframe negative thinking patterns into positive thoughts.
Before starting CBT, I had only used talk therapy as a means to try to deal with my depression, to little success. CBT worked and worked almost immediately.
Let me tell you how CBT works for me.
#1 – I define the source of my negativity.
For me, some days I just wake up depressed. Nothing specific has happened, my chemicals are just off. I use principles 4 and 5 below, positive self-talk and personal coping skills, to help me during those time. I remind myself that I am not a horrible person or a loser but that the depression is making me feel that way. And, while the Pad Thai might not cure my depression, it certainly makes me feel better for a while.
Some days, my depression is the result of something that is happening around me. And when that happens, I use CBT to help me manage it.
As an example, my ex-husband has a habit of not responding to my emails and texts. This drives me bonkers! I only reach out to him when absolutely necessary and that he doesn’t respond to me in a timely manner can bring me way down.
For many years, not hearing back from my ex would plunge me into a dark depression, one that was hard to pull out of.
#2 – I become aware of what the negativity brings up.
For many years, when my ex wouldn’t respond to my communications, I took it personally. I felt like, because he wasn’t communicating, he had no respect for me. He, who was my husband for 20 years, no longer thought enough of me to respond to my missives in a respectful, timely way.
I would obsess about the absence of the response. I would check my phone constantly, hoping that he had gotten back to me. I would compose long, scathing emails, ripping him apart for being so insensitive and disrespectful.
Because I was angry at him, other things, things that normally wouldn’t bother me, would start getting to me. I would be unable to work or be otherwise productive. I would take to my bed, feeling shitty about myself.
The combination of these things, like an eddy in a roaring river, would pull me down into a deep dark depression, one that was hard to crawl out of.
Once I started using CBT, I was able to identify the emotions and thoughts that occurred when I my ex didn’t communicate. I recognized that I was taking it personally, that I was hurt and that I felt disrespected. That I was no longer important enough to the father of my children to merit his attention.
I am a big believer that with awareness comes the ability to manage. CBT supports that belief of mine in a big way.
#3 – I reframe my negative thought patterns.
Once I became aware of what thoughts and emotions had developed because my ex wasn’t communicating with me, I started making an effort to reframe them. To think of them in a way that didn’t cause me pain.
The first thing I did was to recognize that my ex had never been great at getting back to me in a timely manner. He has always been very busy at work and he struggled to manage things as well as he could. As a result, he wouldn’t get back to me, even when we were married, so why would he change his behavior now that we were divorced.
Understanding this led me to realize that taking his lack of communication personally was ridiculous. He wasn’t getting back to me because of a lack of respect but purely because he was busy. I also recognized that many of the times that he didn’t get back to me had to do with money and money conversations are hard even for those who live in the same house.
By not taking his behaviors personally, by being able to look at them realistically instead of emotionally, I was able to reduce their power. I was able to shut them down before they brought me down into depression.
#4 – I practice positive self-talk.
Another part of managing my depression around my ex with CBT was by using positive self- talk.
I would remind myself how good I was at juggling multiple balls at once, something my ex really struggled with. I would remember that while my ex-husband, who walked out on me for someone else, might no longer respect me, I respected myself and knew that I had the respect of many other people. I reminded myself that I made a difference in the life of many people every day. I was an awesome person, whether my ex got back to me or not.
It is truly amazing how telling myself positive things about myself instead of ruminating about all the negative things that I, inaccurately, had associated with my ex’s absence of communication helped keep me from sinking into depression.
I was able to move past what happened fairly quickly and get on with my day. How great is that?
#5 – I develop personal coping mechanisms.
The final part of using CBT when I was feeling depressed was to create and practice personal coping mechanisms.
A few years back, when I was feeling really good, I made a list of things that I knew helped me when depression was settling in. Now, when I feel it coming, I refer to that list to help shut the depression down or carry me through it.
What kind of coping skills? Walking, eating pad thai, having sex, hanging out with friends, watching The Walking Dead, hanging with my kids.
All of these things are coping mechanisms, practical things that I can do for myself, to help me feel better when I am struggling in the world. They have made a huge difference for me, helping me get through the bad days.
Using CBT when I am feeling depressed has saved my life.
I also use CBT in many other areas of my life.
I use it when emotions with my siblings get high. I remember that each of us carry with us baggage from our childhood that rears it’s ugly head when we are together, that we all have our issues, both individually and with each other, that I can’t take their behaviors personally and that we will all love each other forever, in spite of what might be occurring.
If someone is rude to me in line at Starbucks I understand that that probably says more about what is happening with that person, like they just had a fight with their wife or are running late to work because of bad traffic, then it does about me. Not taking that rudeness personally but recognizing that it has nothing to do with me, allows me to let it go quickly and not let it bring me down.
Talk to your therapist about bringing the principles of CBT into your life. You will be glad you did!
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I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.