Four Thought Habits That Worsen Depression

December 23, 2023

Four Thought Habits That Worsen Depression

Depression is different from the usual sadness we all experience. While it's common to have days of sadness, lethargy, or frustration, depression is characterized by persistent symptoms like fatigue and a lack of interest, lasting more than two weeks. Have you ever been trapped in a relentless state of lethargy and sadness for over two weeks? For those who haven't experienced depression, it's hard to comprehend the length and intensity of such periods. Why does depressive mood linger for more than a few days in some individuals, and why do these episodes recur throughout the year for others? To answer these questions, we need to explore why depression persists and recurs. This article will delve into four thinking patterns that can intensify depression.

Avoidance that Leads to Behavioral Inhibition

You might question why behavioral inhibition is discussed within the context of thinking habits. In depression, however, behavior and thought are inextricably linked. Physical activity is known to combat depression; for instance, one study showed that running twice a week for 16 weeks was as effective as antidepressants.

Yet, initiating physical activity when depressed is challenging due to the inherent lack of motivation in depression. This avoidance often stems from fears like "the world is hopeless" or "I am inadequate." People with depression might simply attribute their inaction to lack of energy (which is indeed a symptom), but a deeper analysis with cognitive therapists can uncover underlying beliefs such as "I'm destined to be lethargic all day" or "It will only make me feel more depressed," leading to avoidance of physical activity. This avoidance further disrupts hormonal balance, aggravating depression, and diminishes opportunities to engage in mood-lifting activities. As a result, depression deepens, avoidance persists, and the cycle continues.


When experiencing depression, individuals often ask themselves questions like "Why is my life like this?" or "What’s causing me to feel this way?" in an attempt to 'solve' their depression. However, this type of introspection, while seemingly productive, often leads to merely dwelling on negative feelings. Cognitive psychologists label this thought process as rumination. Research consistently indicates that rumination isn't beneficial; it acts more like a magnifying glass, amplifying negative emotions, exacerbating depression, and resulting in even more time spent ruminating.

Automatic thoughts

Individuals with depression often have unconscious, automatic thoughts, aptly named 'automatic thoughts.' These vary by disorder and individual but usually include distorted self-perceptions and pessimistic views of the future in the context of depression. For instance, people who think, "I am inadequate; I can’t do anything," often had normal or even above-average social performance before their depression onset, suggesting these thoughts are a byproduct of the depressive state.

These automatic thoughts act as a biased filter, allowing only information that aligns with the 'depressed self' narrative and disregarding evidence to the contrary. Consequently, those with depression increasingly view themselves as 'inevitably depressed,' reinforcing and intensifying this biased perspective.

Core Beliefs

Automatic thoughts in depression arise from core beliefs about oneself, others, or the world. These deeply ingrained beliefs, such as "I am a failure," "I am not enough," or "I am unlovable," shape our thought patterns and lead us to perceive information through a depressive lens. As long as these core beliefs are active, automatic thoughts that accentuate depressive symptoms will continue to emerge. Accepting these thoughts only reinforces the core beliefs, further perpetuating depression.

Understanding the various factors that contribute to the persistence and worsening of depression is critical. The essential task is breaking the cycle of negative reinforcement. While temporarily sad individuals might manage on their own, perhaps by deciding to "just go for a run," it's different for those with depression, who may think, "What's the use..." In such cases, professional help is crucial—medication to manage immediate symptoms and cognitive-behavioral therapy to address negative thought patterns.

Change won't occur overnight; if it were that easy, the prevalence of depression, affecting 10-20% of the population, wouldn't be as high. However, there are scientifically validated, evidence-based methods to break free from this vicious cycle. If you're struggling, seek help and commit to overcoming depression. It's important to start early, as the thought "It won't make a difference anyway..." might grow stronger over time.

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