Many people come to me for counseling and ask about medication for their “chemical imbalance.” Although there certainly are situations when there is a true chemical imbalance, most people who suffer from depression, sadness, the blues, or anxiety are perfectly normal. If their problems were suddenly to disappear: suppose someone depressed over money problems were to win the lottery, or someone lonely met a wonderful partner and fell in love, then their “chemical imbalance” would evaporate. However, if you had heart disease or diabetes, no amount of money or love would cure you, because unlike depression, these are true medical conditions.

Depression is usually a symptom of negative thoughts. It starts with a feeling that something “should” or “must” be a certain way. When the actual situation doesn’t follow your demands or rules about how things “should” be, then you begin to feel that the situation is terrible and you can’t stand it. This revolves around in your head as a conversation that goes something like this “it should be the way I want, it’s terrible, I can’t stand it, it’s horrible, it should be different, this is intolerable, I feel so bad (depressed, angry, stressed etc) because things aren’t the way they should be.”

This negative cycle can go on for hours, days, and even weeks, digging a deeper and stronger path in your thought process. Just like walking on the grass leads to a path, repeating thoughts in your head over and over forms a pathway of neurons. The more you think of a topic, the stronger the pathway grows. You can’t stop the thoughts by thinking “I’m not going to think about this” because your subconscious brain doesn’t understand the concept of not or don’t. It only hears the part about what you are thinking. I’m not going to think about zebras is only processed as “zebras.” Instead, rather than NOT thinking about zebras, try thinking about giraffes. In the same way, instead of thinking about how things should be (must, supposed to, need to, ought to, have to etc) think about what you would prefer. Eg. “My kid should pick up his clothes, it’s terrible and I can’t stand it” can change to “I prefer my kid pick up his clothes, but it’s not that big a deal.”

Grade your thoughts on a scale of one to ten. Ten means someone died, NOT my kid left clothes on the floor. You can use your own self-talk, (the conversation going on in your head) to manage and control your thoughts, and that leads to controlling your feelings. Use positive and empowering self-talk to break the negative cycle.

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