When you’re depressed, the last thing you want to do is think positive thoughts. But as someone who was trapped in depression for months, I’m telling you: it’s necessary to think positive thoughts when you're feeling depressed.
When you begin to think positive thoughts, you radically shift both your psychology and your physiology. This is what will ultimately lead you to freedom from the depths of depression.
This article isn’t going to just tell you to think happy thoughts. I’m going to give you tangible ways to begin to think positively no matter what you’re going through.
- What does positive thinking do for you?
- Do positive thoughts have the same effect on people with depression?
- 5 ways to think positively when depressed
- Wrapping up
What does positive thinking do for you?
Why bother trying to think positively when you feel depressed? I know that’s a question I asked myself when I was battling depression.
But the research has some strong arguments for why it’s worth your while. So before you write off the idea of positive thinking, let’s take a look at the data.
One study analyzed the results of 300 studies to synthesize them. They found that negative thinking is associated with reduced immune system function.
And the longer you think negatively, the greater the impact on your immune system. This could make you more likely to get sick and impact your physical health on many levels.
The antidote to boost your immune system proposed by the researchers was focusing on positive thoughts.
So if you want to feel sick and depressed, then keep thinking negative thoughts. But there’s a better choice available to you right now.
Beyond impacting your physical health, research shows positive thinking may be a big part of what leads to happiness.
When you’re depressed, you often want nothing more than to not be depressed. This research indicates that the key to finding happiness may be shifting your thoughts to focus on the good.
This means that your thoughts really matter. Because changing your thoughts is how you start to shift the narrative surrounding your depression.
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Do positive thoughts have the same effect on people with depression?
Now we know that positive thinking is good for you, both mentally and physically. But is someone who feels depressed able to experience those benefits?
The research seems to indicate that it is physiologically possible.
The study used rats to determine if it was possible to override depressive symptoms. They artificially induced the physical response a positive memory would have in our brains.
They found that after introducing the “positive memory” response the rats exhibited fewer depressive symptoms.
Now obviously this is an animal study. So we can’t fully assume the findings are valid for humans.
(And let's not dive into the ethics of using animals for testing these things).
But this study tells us that depressed people are capable of experiencing the same joy from a positive thought as non-depressed people.
In simpler terms, your brain is capable of feeling happy. You can think happy thoughts. It just takes some retraining.
5 ways to think positively when depressed
Now let’s get into the recipe for thinking positively when you’re feeling blue. With these steps, you can train your brain to see the good.
1. Take advantage of endorphins
One of the easiest ways to shift your thoughts is to change your physiology. I want you to take advantage of your body’s endorphin response.
When you have endorphins flowing through your body, you feel good. And when you feel good, it’s easier to think happy thoughts.
And the best way to get endorphins flowing is to move your body. Whether it’s a walk, yoga, a run, or climbing up a mountain, just move your body.
Pushing your body in a way that feels good to you will impact your psychology.
When I was going through my major depressive episode, running was my salvation. It’s one of the few times I can remember feeling good.
Committing to running allowed me to experience endorphins regularly. This led to me viewing life through a more positive lens over time.
2. Focus on what you can control
When you feel depressed, it can be easy to fixate on what’s outside of your control. And the reality is there will always be things outside of your control.
But thinking about this traps you in a cycle of negative thinking. The way to escape is to focus on what you can control.
When you think about what you can do, you start to take back your power. And this leads to you thinking more positively about your situation.
During my depression, I was focusing a lot on things in my industry that were burning me out. One day I finally decided that I was going to shift to thinking about things I could do.
I focused on changing my work hours. I focused on developing a new skill set. This led to me thinking more happy thoughts instead of feeling stuck.
No matter how dire your circumstances are, there is something you can control. Focusing on that is sure to help you think more positively. If you need more help, here's an article of ours on how to stop trying to control everything.
3. Gratitude, gratitude, and more gratitude
Research shows that there is an empirical relationship between gratitude and depression. People who are more grateful are less depressed.
So I can’t think of a better reason to use gratitude as a way to shift your thinking and overcome depression.
I know that focusing on what I’m grateful for keeps my brain from focusing on my sad thoughts.
Start small. Look around you and list three things you’re thankful to have.
It could be relationships. It could be physical items. And then notice how you feel.
Once you’re started you can keep going. Or better yet, you can make this a regular practice.
Things like a gratitude journal or listing it off every time you brush your teeth can make it a daily habit.
4. Ask yourself what a happy person would do
If you feel like you can’t think a happy thought, stop thinking from your perspective for a bit. Ask yourself, “What would a happy person do?”.
That question alone has the power to keep you from thinking negatively. When you envision a happy person, you can think of their behaviors and attitudes.
What would that person be focusing on? How would they spend their time? Then go out and try to be that person.
I know I make it sound simple. And I can appreciate that it’s not that simple. But it’s a step towards happier thoughts.
When I was depressed, I imagined what a happy version of me would look like. It was a form of daydreaming.
I started to realize that I could be that girl if I did what she was doing in my head. It made me feel hopeful and helped me slowly start to change my behavior.
5. Don’t try to fix all your thoughts
You might be confused by this one. Let me explain.
Trying to pull a full-blown 180 on your thought life may not be the best approach if you’re depressed.
As someone who tried to fake it until they made it with their mental health, it didn’t work. Start by focusing on changing just a few negative thoughts at a time.
Don’t expect yourself to just wake up tomorrow and be happy as a clam. These things take time.
And by being genuine about the process of shifting to positive thinking, it’s more likely to stick.
So when you catch yourself thinking something along the lines of, “What’s the point?” Try to flip the script on just that one thought.
As you catch yourself doing this, over time it will become more habitual. And then naturally more of your thoughts will be positive without feeling forced.
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Thinking positive thoughts when you’re depressed may feel counterintuitive. But it is by no means impossible. With the tips from this article, you can use your brain to find the good in life and abandon depression. Start with a few positive thoughts today and watch as you find your way back to happiness.
If there's one tip that has worked for you and you want to share, what would it be? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!