Changing unhealthy thought patterns can be a key strategy for treating depression, according to a BYU Education Week presentation by Steven Eastmond.
Eastmond, a private counselor with a master’s degree in social work, explained while depression has a chemical aspect, negative thought patterns are what truly drive depression.
“Depression is largely wired in negative thinking,” Eastmond said.
Although many people believe that negative situations directly cause negative emotions, that’s not the case, according to Eastmond.
“No situation, no set of circumstances, no other person ever causes you to feel anything,” Eastmond said. “If it were that way, we would be total emotional slaves to whatever happens to us.”
Eastmond said the thoughts a person uses to interpret a situation are what actually drive emotions.
“That is where you have control. You get to choose what you think,” Eastmond said. “Yes, of course, you’re going to have thoughts that will show up automatically … but when they get there, you still get to pick.”
A person’s underlying beliefs cause those thoughts that “show up automatically.” For example, if a person believes they can’t do anything right, they’ll interpret any situation where they make a mistake as evidence of that belief.
According to Eastmond, a person can change their beliefs to better control their emotions. For example, if they decide to believe they can do many things well, they’ll be better able to interpret mistakes as simply mistakes instead of evidence of their being unable to succeed.
“That’s going to take work to get your brain to let go of things, but that’s what you do: start looking for evidence that supports (the belief), and then it will grow on its own,” Eastmond said.
The goal in implementing positive beliefs is not to eliminate negative emotions, but instead to regulate them, according to Eastmond.
“Negative emotions are really good teachers,” Eastmond said. “Negative emotions teach us a lot about situations, about things that need attention, about things that need to be addressed.”
The key to using negative emotions effectively is to take a moment to decide how to react instead of reacting without thinking, according to Eastmond.
“Instead of blowing up, you regulate to the right amount,” Eastmond said about negative emotions.
Eastmond named Christ cleansing the temple as an example of appropriately regulating negative emotions. Christ didn’t witness the scene in the temple and immediately “blow up;” he sat down and made a scourge before driving out the animals and vendors, which gave him time to think and react appropriately.
“He actively chose to get mad, and then went in and got mad — perfectly balanced,” Eastmond said.
Eastmond offered four positive thinking patterns that lead to good emotional outcomes: general optimism, looking for the positive, recognizing negative thought patterns, and staying grounded in the present.