Posts filed under ‘Depression’

Stinking Thinking

Photo by Gutter

Changing your thoughts can change your emotions.

We all engage in what CBT practitioners call ‘thought distortions’ (also called ‘stinking thinking’).  Someone at work looks at us strangely and we think ‘They don’t like me’.  We don’t get a job we’re up for and we think ‘I’m a failure’.  We decide to not attend a social function because, ‘I won’t like anyone there.  I won’t have any fun”.  We get lots of compliments on our new haircut but we focus exclusively on the one person who didn’t like it.

Thoughts such as these don’t reflect reality.  They represent our world as seen through a gloom-colored lens.  The reality is that by talking-back to these distorted thoughts, you can improve your mood and begin making healthier decisions.

There are many reasons why we may practice this distorted thinking.  We may be tired or hungry.  We might be suffering from depression, and our brain may not be producing or utilizing serotonin or dopamine correctly.  We may be experiencing the effects of depressants such as alcohol or crashing from stimulants like caffiene, cigarettes or amphetamines.  Normal hormonal shifts in our monthly cycles (men too!) may also affect our thought processes.

So what’s a stinky-thinker to do?  First, we must realize the truth that our thoughts do not always reflect reality.  That’s hard to do as we’re accustomed to relying on our brain to give us valuable information about our environment.  We’re used to seeing a table and having our brain tell us ‘there is a table’, thus preventing us from bruising ourselves as we walk across a room.  But when it comes to more subjective information, it is good to question our first impressions.

Once we’ve accepted that our thoughts are often distorted, we next can begin to identify when we are practicing thought distortions.  A good way to do this is to catch yourself in a bad mood.  When you’re feeling sad, angry, lonely, depressed, or anxious grab a pen & paper and write some of your thoughts down.  Try to get to the heart of why you’re feeling badly. 

Next, start with one of the thoughts you’ve written down and ‘talk-back’ to the thought distortion.  That means you compare your thought to the likely reality of the situation.  This can be difficult to do if you are feeling ‘stuck’ in a mood.  Sometimes it’s easier to think about what you would say to cheer up a friend who was having a rough day.  Here’s some examples.

Distorted Thought – ‘I’ll never get a job I like.’
Talk-back – ‘I’m disappointed because I didn’t get this particular job but I know there are many jobs out there and it’s likely that I’ll find one that makes me happy.  I just need to be patient with the process.’

Distorted Thought – ‘I know if I go to this party I won’t have a good time.’
Talk-back – ‘I might have a good time and I might not.  I certainly won’t know if I don’t go and I certainly won’t have a good time if I go in with a negative attitude.  Sure it’s hard to get out there but the reality is that I often have fun once I get out.’

If you find that you’re having trouble talking-back, then ask a positive friend or your therapist to help you.  Sometimes a more subjective perspective can be invaluable!

Here’s a link to a list of common thought distortions to help you see some of the ways our brains can distort our vision of reality.

Happy Thinking!


April 27, 2008 at 11:54 pm 7 comments

Laughter Therapy – Hee Hee Ha Ha Ha!

This is a wonderful short video done by John Cleese in his BBC series on the “Human Face” on the “Laughter Yoga”. 

Originated by Dr Madan Kataria in 1995, laughter yoga involves a faciliator leading groups of people in 15-20 minute sessions of laughter exercises.  Kataria uses fake laughter, and silly faces and movements to induce laughter in his participants who seem to be having a blast doing it.  Now the movement has spread to the rest of the world, and is being used with a diversity of populations – even with the U.S. military.

As Kataria points out in his website, laughter has many mental and physical health benefits which include:

  • Controlling high blood pressure and heart disease. While there are many factors for these like heredity, obesity, smoking and excessive intake of saturated fats, stress is one of the major factors. Laughter definitely helps to control blood pressure by reducing the release of stress-related hormones and bringing relaxation.
  • Increasing stamina through increased oxygen supply
  • Alleviating pain and giving a sense of well being by releasing endorphins, the body’s painkiller hormones.
  • Alleviating depression, anxiety and psychosomatic disorders: laughter boosts the production of serotonin, a natural anti-depressant.
  • Gives an excellent internal massage to the digestive tract and enhances blood supply to important internal organs like the liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys and adrenal glands.
  • Ensures good sleep and reduces snoring because laughter is very good for the muscles of the soft palate and throat

I believe laughter also takes us out of our everyday drama and often can put our difficulties into perspective.   It is impossible to take our daily frustrations quite so seriously after a good, long belly laugh.

So, what if you aren’t feeling very much like laughing?  Dr. Kataria endorses a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach where you simulate fake laughter until real laughter emerges.  Apparently, the brain isn’t able to distinguish between real & fake laughter and your body receives the same benefits regardless. 

I’ve seen this in action in my psychotherapy groups.  I will occasionally ask my adult groups to engage in childrens games such as musical chairs and duck-duck-goose and it’s always a surprise how transformative these simple exercises are.  A few minutes into play, you have these very serious adults running around red-faced, giggling and tagging each other and, at least for a few moments, letting go of their heavy thoughts and simply enjoying being in their bodies and communing with others.

Want to try your own laughter therapy?  Try a few of these ideas!

  • Watch a funny movie or funny videos on YouTube
  • Play a child’s game with a child or with an adult friend who’s young-at-heart
  • Sit and pretend to laugh alone or with a friend until real laughter emerges.  Just keep going with “heehee-hahaha” until you feel so silly, you’re laughing at yourself!
  • Attend a laughter yoga class here in San Francisco. 
    • Laughter Club – Free, open to all ages – Thursdays 7pm-8pm
      Stonestown Family YMCA – Senior Annex
      3150 20th Avenue, San Francisco
      (under 16 must be accompanied by a parent)

February 4, 2008 at 12:17 am Leave a comment

Shedding Light On Seasonal Affective Disorder


Photo by Garrette

Now that the winter cold and darkness has descended on San Francisco, many are finding themselves exhibiting symptoms of depression. If you experience lack of energy, lower appetite or sex drive, and depressed and/or irritable feelings more often in the winter, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Once written off as quack-psychology, Seasonal Affective Disorder is now a well established, and very real mental health concern. And luckily, studies are beginning to give us real answers about treatment of this disorder. The New York Times recently wrote an interesting article on the subject.

“A major biological signal tracking seasonal sunlight changes is melatonin, a brain chemical turned on by darkness and off by light. Dr. Wehr and Dr. Rosenthal found that the patients with seasonal depression had a longer duration of nocturnal melatonin secretion in the winter than in the summer, just as with other mammals with seasonal behavior.”

According to these studies, the solution may be quite simple – exposure to bright light. Amazingly enough, research is confirming that spending at least 30 minutes exposed to flourescent soft-white light at 10,000 lux a day typically produces results in 4 to 7 days. Timing is important, as you are working with your body’s normal circadian rhythms but some are even able to forgo antidepressants utilizing this light therapy.

If you feel you may be suffering from SAD, you can evaluate yourself here. And here’s more on light therapy studies in Medical News Today.

Now if we can just do something about this rain…

January 29, 2008 at 4:48 am 2 comments


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