Imagine that your mind is like a popcorn machine and your thoughts are like corn kernels. When situations heat up just enough thoughts about anxiety and depression automatically pop up and then settle into the mind (like a full movie theater popcorn machine). All the while more thoughts continue to pop up and fill up your mind. All of this happens so quickly that, many times, you are not aware of all the anxiety and depression thoughts you are having, and you certainly aren’t aware of how these thoughts are affecting you. At Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, looking at thoughts is just one of the ways that psychologist Dr. Leedy helps people get unstuck.
One Way A Mental Health Psychologist Thinks about Anxiety and Depression
As a psychologist, one of the ways I am trained to help people who are struggling with anxiety and depression is with the Cognitive Behavioral Model of counseling (CBT), which basically looks like this
~ What we think influences how we feel (and vice versa)
~ How we feel influences what we do (and vice versa)
~ What we do influences how we think (and vice versa)
Let’s say that you are in a situation in which you believe you should know how to do something, but for whatever reason you didn’t get it right this time, and you have the thought “I’m stupid.” Maybe you have this anxiety or depression thought repeatedly whenever you make a mistake or whenever someone corrects you. You might notice that that type of anxiety and depression thinking makes you feel inadequate, worthless, frustrated, or angry with yourself. When you have those feelings you just want to be left alone and so you don’t call friends or family back for a while, you don’t offer to help people (because you think you’ll just cause more problems for them when you mess up), and you do a lot of channel surfing. You notice you have other thoughts about yourself. If this cycle continues, you may find that you begin to have more and more thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that resemble anxiety or depression. Over time, unless something is corrected, you may get into an anxiety or depression spiral. If you are unsure what depression looks like, check out my past blog post about understanding depression.
One reason why mental health therapy with a psychologist is effective is that a psychologist will help a person identify those automatic, popcorn-type thoughts that pop up and seeing how they negatively impact how a person feels and behaves. One goal for the psychologist who is doing mental health therapy, then, is to identify anxiety and depression thoughts that are “stuck points” in the CBT triangle (see above) and begin to make changes in those areas
3 Common Types of Anxiety and Depression Automatic Thoughts:
Black and White Thinking
Black and White Thinking is also called All-or-None Thinking. In this type of thinking people fall into the “either/or” trap and don’t pay attention to the gray in the middle. Does “either you do it right or you don’t do it at all!” ring a bell?
When people have Mental Filter thoughts they only pay attention to certain evidence that supports the way they are currently thinking and feeling. If you are feeling anxiety or depression, then your mind will be looking for, and remembering, all the times when you felt anxiety or depression instead of all the times when your mental health was better and you felt more calm and happy. Check out this blog that talks more about another type of mental filtering that we tend to do:
Jumping to Conclusions
- Mind Reading. In mind reading, people tell themselves that they know what others are thinking. In fact, sometimes people get so good at this that they imagine entire dialogues with another person and then that “dialogue” justifies the anxiety or depression automatic thought. For example, “I KNOW she doesn’t like me because of what happened two years ago. She has rarely asked me to do anything since then!” You tend to forget about the fact that this woman now lives farther away and has more responsibilities than she did two years ago.
- Fortune Telling. With this type of automatic thought, people predict what will happen in the future. “I’m not going to apply…I know I won’t get the job” or “I’m not going to talk to her about the situation because she’ll probably just get angry and leave.”
How Can A Psychologist Help Anxiety and Depression?
A Psychologist can help people who are struggling with anxiety and depression is a lot of ways; there is not just one way that works for everyone. Click on this blog post to read about the first 3 lessons I’ve learned from my own anxiety. You can read about the next 3 lessons anxiety taught me here. Today, since I am talking about cognitive-behavioral model of therapy, here are a few way that a psychologist uses this model to help a person with anxiety and depression.
- Help you see thought patterns in your anxiety and depression. Basically, how is that triangle above playing out and spiraling out of control.
- Help you question whether those thoughts make sense, or if they are true. Sometimes our thoughts don’t really make sense but because feelings are so intense we believe the thoughts that are related to that feeling without questioning the truth of the thought
- Help you determine how likely a thought is to be true. Maybe the thought you have is partially true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors playing a role in how you think, feel, or what is happening in the situation.
- Help you come up with other ways of thinking about things
- Helps you accept thoughts and feelings that are more difficult to change. Sometimes it’s just hard to challenge and change thoughts, and that’s okay. If a psychologist runs into this roadblock in mental health counseling, the psychologist has a lot of other tools to help you cope better with anxiety and depression.
Here’s another view of cognitive behavioral therapy with Dr. Henry Cloud:
I’m sure you’ll never look at popcorn, or hopefully your thoughts, the same way again! Just as popcorn can be contained in popcorn buckets, you can learn to look at your anxiety and depression thoughts and put them in containers where you can manage them better and improve your mental health!
Dr. Melissa Leedy, Ph.D., is a psychologist at Legacy Counseling Service where she helps people in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area and surrounding communities. She offers face-to-face or online counseling. Dr. Leedy has extensive experience helping people overcome anxiety and depression! Visit her website at www.legacycounselingservice.com or call her at 539-777-1129 if you need help overcoming anxiety and depression.