On depression: you can’t catch a net with itself

It makes sense that people trust their thoughts. Just like the omniscient narrators from TV shows like “The Wonder Years” and “Burn Notice,” we use the little voices in our heads as navigators to lead us from one situation to the next.

But we’re not omniscient. Not only do we not have the advantage of a script or hindsight, we are often wrong. Sometimes our thinking can even be the problem. So if the thinking is the problem, how can we get our heads around that?

A common cause of depression is comparative thinking. This is when a person keeps running over a scenario in their head, comparing things how they are with things as they wish they were. It’s this kind of circular thinking — when we have no control over the actual outcome — that sends people into a downward spiral.

When I read that recently, it got me thinking. Buddhist monks try to snap their students out of this vicious cycle with puzzles called koans, like this koan on circular thinking, “You can’t catch a net with itself.”

So if you can’t trust your own thinking to solve your problems, what can you do? Website Zen Habits offers the following in its article “6 Practical and Powerful Ways to Overcome Depression” by John Van Sicke.

1. Get outside.

2. Aerobic exercise.

3. Omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Sleep.

5. Socialize.

6. Watch your thinking!

While one through five seem like common sense, this last one speaks directly to the theme we’re exploring here. Van Sicke expands on the idea. “Anti-rumination strategy is vital to breaking out of depression and other emotional ruts.

Become aware of those times you dwell on the negatives in your life – both real or imagined – and stop them. It takes work and persistence but if you constantly tell yourself to ‘stop it’ when you start to go over and over the negatives, then you are building a positive habit that will change your life for the better.

Whether it’s the jerk who cut you off in traffic or something a little closer to home, don’t give yourself the luxury of a negative thought.” This brings to mind something I learned back in school: your mind believes whatever it hears the most. In a concrete way this illustrates how negative thoughts do harm. Don’t let them outnumber the positive thoughts. The first step in controlling negative thoughts is to get a handle on them.

“Know that it is possible to control the quality of your thinking. That contributes more to how you feel than any other factor. It is a widespread but false belief that you have to change your feelings in order to change how you think; it is actually the other way around,” writes Hara Estroff Marano in a Psychology Today article entitled “Depression Doing the Thinking.”

According to Marano, “The act of writing down instances of negative thinking is an exercise in focusing that helps make you aware of the triggers.”

This is important because while we often pay a lot of attention to our feelings, it’s much harder to discern the underlying causes that send us through our days like ping pong balls helplessly bouncing wherever our emotions take us. This turns us into victims of our own emotions letting them affect our quality of life.

One last thought — did you know that when a person smiles, physically making a smile on their face whether or not they are truly happy, — it actually releases the same endorphins into the blood that make us feel happy?


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in The Joy of Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to On depression: you can’t catch a net with itself

  1. Anonymous says:

    Are you kidding? Can you do these things when you are depressed?

    1. Get outside.

    2. Aerobic exercise.

    3. Omega-3 fatty acids.

    4. Sleep.

    5. Socialize.

    6. Watch your thinking!

    OK sleep. A lot. And maybe watch your thinking. A little. Who has this kind of control when they are depressed? Sad or blue maybe. And it has been shown scientifically (I am a neuropharmacologist) that in order to receive the benefits of taking omega-3 fatty acids, you must take a dose of several GRAMS at a time. Look at the dose on bottle you get from the drugstore. Socialize? You’ll need to be dragged out of the house!

    I was looking forward to your article and thought it would be useful. I am very disappointed.

    • genemyers says:

      Yes, and do them in a general way when you are feeling better. Any little trick can help!

    • genemyers says:

      Can I ask how this article would have helped more?

      • Sheryl says:

        How this would have helped? Be better informed. There’s a ton of information out there that says that what you have posted is for people with simple cases of the blues. Getting outside and exercise is good for you, sure. But doing it when you are actually depressed is nearly impossible. Have you ever been ntruly depressed? Have you ever contemplated suicide? Cause of depression???? Do you have any idea what that is? Scientists and clinicians don’t know and I’m a neuropharmacologist. Talk to more people with psychiatric disorders. Before you post such Chicken Soup For The Soul.

      • genemyers says:

        This article is intended for cases of the blues. That was a good way of putting it. I actually do write more like “chicken soup for the soul” as you said, than offering cures for psychiatric illness.
        Best wishes,

  2. nick says:

    I usually don’t leave comments on blogs but I had to say what a great post this is. I have been going through this process myself recently – trying to catch myself whenever I have negative thoughts. Sounds exactly like what you describe.
    I have to disagree with anonymous, I hadn’t seen that 6 Powerful Ways list before now, but I have recently been working on 1, 2, and 6 from the list and I’m a happier person for it.

  3. Clinical depression and the blues I experience are two different things. It’s true that inertia is central to clinical depression: there are some days when getting out of bed’s a challenge. But there’s a continuum to these things. To those of who fight a small black terrier rather than the great black dog, some of your suggestions are useful: I know, I’ve tried. The moment I feel terrible and begin to sense an immobility settling, I try to get out running. And if one can sleep – and isn’t in the position when one is sleeping too much – a settled seven or so hours is much better for the spirits than burning the candle at both ends and fighting mild depression while exhausted. Thank you for putting this out there.

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