Negative Thoughts Can Lead to Bouts of Depression

October 27, 2011 Jack Smith

Scientists say that our thoughts control our feelings.

So does that mean that our negative thoughts can actually spiral out of control into full-blown depression? Dr. David Burns says so in his book,”Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.” I found out about this book from my psychiatrist, who “prescribed” it to me for depression. They call it “bibliotherapy.”

Stopping Negative Thoughts Key to Overcoming Depression

In his landmark book, Dr. Burns says that most depressed patients can overcome depression without medication. There’s a big caveat here, though: You have to learn to stop negative thoughts, self-doubt and self-pity to get better.

stop_signNo wonder my bouts with depression are so frequent and at times severe. My mind is like a runaway freight train, screaming downhill with seemingly no way to stop it.

Dr. Burns contends that I can learn to control those negative feelings through “cognitive” therapy. Cognitive therapy is when we do more than just “talk” to our therapists about how we feel. It involves a commitment to change our negative thought patterns such as the “all or nothing” thinking that we often engage in.

Here’s an example. We make a mistake at work and immediately spiral into despair, telling ourselves, “I always screw up,” or “I never get things right.”

Neither is true, of course, but if we allow our minds to think that way it is a virtual certainty that we will feel bad about it. If only we could change our thinking.

Dr. Burns shoots holes in the theory that depression is heavily influenced by genetics, claiming that only about 16 percent of depressed patients are depressed because of family history. The more likely cause? Negative thought patterns we develop over time.

Tools to Stop Negative Thought Patterns

So what is a cognitive therapy solution that can apply to depression or anxiety?

For me, one is the STOP sign technique. When I start the negative thoughts, I close my eyes and try to envision a STOP sign in intimate detail...its color, the letters and even what the letters look like.

Another one that I’ve found to be effective is the four-square breathing technique. Simply sit up straight, close your eyes and take in a comfortable but deep breath for four seconds, hold it four seconds and then exhale for four seconds. Do that four times, and you’ll feel better. I have to be honest here, though. My thoughts are so rapid and random that I can’t always catch myself before I’ve already fallen down a slippery slope toward depression. It’s very frustrating.

Bibliotherapy alone has never stopped my depression. Over the past seven years, I’ve found that I need an anti-depressant and talk therapy. Having one without the other just doesn’t work too well for me.

Our thoughts control our feelings....that is a scary thought for some like me. My mind is overly active, even when I try and relax. I can only hope to slow it down.
If you suffer from depression, though, I do recommend “Feeling Good.” A little bibliotherapy can go a long way.

Jack Smith also blogs at

APA Reference
Smith, J. (2011, October 27). Negative Thoughts Can Lead to Bouts of Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Jack Smith

October, 28 2011 at 1:18 pm

i wonder if this works the same for anxiety? my anxious mind is also like a runaway train going downhill at full speed! lol! but the end result is chronic anxiety. my body also gets extremely wound up. could learning to stop my thoughts help with that? i have some other problems too so therapy and medication are a must for me. but i am always looking for ways to help myself get better. thanks for the interesting article.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jack Smith
October, 29 2011 at 4:23 am

Thanks for visiting and for your comments. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand for me as well. Those techniques DEFINITELY help with anxiety, too. At least they do for me. Give them a try! Thanks again and please come back.

October, 31 2011 at 7:30 am

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October, 31 2011 at 9:31 am

Dear Jack, thanks again for sharing. Believing that depression has biological roots at least for 16% of us gives me at least some relief from all the blame I heap on myself for succumbing to depression. I've tried to cure myself numerous times without medication but it seems that there are too many periods where my depression takes me so low that no amount of talk therapy can get me going. Antidepressants and ECT get me out of my deepest depths to the point where I can begin to rationalize and invoke therapies such as CBT. I would be very interested in your views about parenting with your illness. I think I've managed quite well thus far but I remain constantly worried my children will either genetically inherit my broken personality or learn it from being around me. All the best.

Dr Musli Ferati
October, 31 2011 at 1:04 pm

Indeed this article is interesting and provocative as well, especially for psychiatrist with medico-centrist view of points. In addition of this, the avow that our thoughts control our feelings indicate the complexity to depressive disorder as most common up to date health problem. Furthermore, negative thoughts ruins our psycho-social integrity as support network of global life affinity to every person. In this case, I meant to access the necessity of integral approach to psychic difficulties. Depressive disorder didn't constitute an exception. However, this remark is a good guideline for therapist to manage the treatment of patient with depression with negative thoughts as cardinal symptoms of their illness. Nevertheless, the cipher of 16% remain an enigma, when it is well-known fact that mood disorders are genetically conditioned.

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