What are the ways you've used to combat irrational thinking?
December 4, 2012 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What are the ways you've used to combat irrational thinking?

I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety about a month ago and have since been put on antidepressants, which have improved my state of mind some. I'm currently in the process of getting connected with a therapist/group therapy through my school (I'm a grad student) and I realize I most likely need cognitive behavioral therapy. I'm ready and willing to take down my irrational thinking, but until I get situated with a therapist, I'd like to start replacing my negative thoughts with more positive, realistic ones as soon as possible, and I'd like your help in doing so.

Some of the things I know are irrational, yet continue to believe:

-Feeling like a freak when I sit home on a Friday night watching TV; I feel like I should be out to all hours of the morning since that's what people in their 20's are supposed to be doing. Many times I feel like other people my age have such awesome, productive lives and I'm not one of them.
-Feeling like a failure because I'm 25 and still don't really know what I want to be doing with my life, even though I'm in grad school. Last week was difficult because I received some less than stellar grades, and I kept feeling like I was probably the stupidest person in my program and didn't deserve to be there.
-I live alone, which I mostly enjoy, but it's just so easy for me to withdraw. Sometimes I feel like if I go through a day or two without any texts or calls from people, they must not care about me and probably don't really enjoy being my friend, and if I initiated plans it would probably just annoy them.
-Not sure if this is irrational, but I'll throw it in here anyway: Since my breakup, I have had NO interest in dating at all, whatsoever, on any level. The thought repulses me. This is not true for my ex, and I feel like I have to "beat" him in terms of moving past our relationship. I feel like a freak for not wanting to date or have NSA sex or go out and flirt, like I'm some kind of prude and I'll never get over this.

Just typing this out, I realize how crazy this all sounds, but I really appreciate your help. I'm particularly interested in one-liners you use or have used when you feel an irrational thought coming on, or how you even stop yourself from going there in the first place.
posted by thank you silence to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention that my breakup occurred 7 months ago, it was a 3 year relationship, and that my mom died last year. I have been seeing a grief counselor for the latter, but she says I need more than what she can provide, which is why I am seeking another therapist.
posted by thank you silence at 10:50 AM on December 4, 2012

It depends on what mood I'm in. If I'm feeling pretty balanced I'll use one liners, going down your list
Feeling like a freak when I sit home on a Friday night watching TV I'm choosing to spend my time enjoying myself at home (if that doesn't work I might go on) If I wanted to go out I could go X, Y, Z but I would not really be enjoying that

Feeling like a failure because I'm 25 and still don't really know what I want to be doing with my life This isn't really a one liner kinda of problem, but to address inadequacy you can try I'm good at somethings and less good at others if needed you should make a list (and keep it current) of things you have done well at. You should see a career councilor as soon as possible though, being 25 and aimless doesn't feel half as bad as being 30 and trapped in a career you don't like still having no idea what you want to do.

if I go through a day or two without any texts or calls from people, they must not care about me and probably don't really enjoy being my friend Ah yes...this ones super fun. This one really is a one liner, but you need to say it enough to believe it.

Almost nothing in life is about me, other people have complicated lives too, if they're not thinking about me, or not calling me, it's because they're busy. Maybe they're busy worrying about what people are thinking about them, or maybe they're busy doing things, but they're not busy thinking about how much they don't like me, because frankly - I'm just not that important

(you should not read that as depressing by the way - it's not. It's very very freeing to realize that people just do not have the time to think about you all that much - they enjoy seeing you when you're there, they think about you occasionally and reach out when they can, and that's ok) If you're interested, I wrote a longer article about how FB ended up making this way worse for me, because it seems like your friends are always right there, so they *should* be paying attention to you.

I feel like a freak for not wanting to date I have no idea what you're relationship was like, or why you ended up breaking up, but needing some time to recharge and focus in doesn't make you a freak. Getting out for NSA sex that you don't want to compete with your ex would, in fact, make you a little bit of freak - perhaps that's your one liner for that one Having random sex with strangers to compete with someone who is no longer in my life would be pretty freaking weird

You might try reading a book on mindfulness, I've found it very helpful to try and remind myself that I am where I am and try to to focus in and enjoy that fact.

I'm not sure why this post is making me think of this video, but it calms and centers me, so perhaps it will help you as well. Ze Frank, An Invocation for Beginnings
posted by dadici at 11:05 AM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Well, you know intellectually that your thoughts aren't really right.

I enjoyed sitting home on Friday watching TV when I was young. Sure, I also enjoyed cocktails with friends occasionally. I was just thinking that I wish I hadn't been such a sheep in my teens, I wouldn't have seen so many metal rock shows that came to town. It was never my scene, but I always felt that if I didn't go, I'd miss out. Those are evenings, money and hearing that I'll never get back! Perhaps you can invite a friend over to hang with you, or not.

I think it's stupid to think that you'll know what you want to do with your life, your career, etc. In this economy it's not like if you DID have a fixed idea, that you would be guaranteed to get what you wanted. I recommend thinking about the feeling you'll get from working, what kind of place would be a good fit for you. When I started working, most of the stuff we take for granted today wasn't invented. I started out at the phone company in Customer Service and later became a Data Engineer. When I started in 1983 there was no such thing as data. (Well, there was, but you get the idea.)

Your friends like you and want to do stuff with you. Make the effort, it's worth it. Even if you feel unworthy, pretend you don't. This is "fake it till you make it territory."

If you don't feel like dating, don't date. You're not in a good head-space for it anyway. What your ex does is no concern of yours, besides, it's not a contest. This is YOUR life, and you get to live it exactly how you want to.

Don't let other people, your grades or your situation at any given point in time define who you are.

You're depressed right now, so while you're attending to that, let the rest of the world pass you by for a while. Work with your therapist, and do what makes you happy.

Living well is the best revenge.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:08 AM on December 4, 2012

My best defense against irrational thinking is using the "And then?" or "So what?" defense.

I sometimes over-worry about my job. What if I'm not doing as well as I should? By asking myself, "And then what," I often can work my way out of it.

"I might lose my job!"
"And then what?"
"I'd have to look for another!"
"And then what?"
"I'd probably get another one, because I always have."
"And then what?"
"I'd have another job."
"Okay, then."

The "So what?" defense works in a similar way.
"I'm a freak who stays in all night on a Friday!"
"So what?"
"Other people are having more fun!"
"So what does that mean?"
"I'm not having as much fun as other people!"
"So what? Do you want to have more fun?"
"Not really."
"So what's the problem?"
"I'm a freak?"
"So what?"

Like that.
posted by xingcat at 11:13 AM on December 4, 2012 [10 favorites]

Check out the classic lists of cognitive distortions/biases.

Use this worksheet.

Use a thought record (this is a completed example; this one is specifically for depression)

Make lists of accomplishments, things you're grateful for, good things that happened today, your own personal psychological strengths & practical skills, stuff you want to do in the future, etc. Best to keep such lists in a book or notebook of some kind, all together, so you can look through them.

Take time every single day to do SOMETHING that you enjoy or that you know will help you. I like to watch fun TV shows or silly YouTube stuff, to stand outside in the sunshine/clouds (depending,) to make Christmas decorations, to listen to my "fun" music playlist, etc. I have a list of that kind of thing in my wellness book.

I also have pretty pictures and quotes that inspire me and song lyrics and stuff in my wellness book. It's a handy book.

Try and do some research on the nature of grief and sadness and emotional pain and human relationships and stuff like that.

Have a quick wellness plan for what you WILL do as soon as you start feeling triggered. When I begin feeling like crap about something I've done or feeling depressed or whatever, I have a list of resources, specific actions I have to take, etc.

Try using something like SuperBetter or HealthMonth to consistently use wellness tools you have.

Have a to-do list with really simple things that you can check off. I personally put "lunch" and "dinner" on my to-do list and cross them off with a red marker.

Volunteer or otherwise get into social situations where you're actively appreciated. I go to NAMI support group meetings in part because they find me very helpful and tell me so.

Put "contact [specific person]" on your daily to-do list and just send random "hi, how are you doing, hope such-and-such is well/so-and-so is as pleasant as you'd hoped it'd be/whatever" notes. Write to aged relatives. Etc.

If you're in school still, you probably have access to a counseling office that can help you bridge the gap till you find a new therapist - they'll be especially helpful with the career/grades stuff.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used the "so what" approach too. It worked pretty well for me. I also used a slightly different approach in addition to "so what", which was "who cares?"

Thought: "I'm a loser for sitting home on Friday night"
"who cares?"

Seriously, who cares that you chose to spend a Friday night alone? Who even knows, aside from yourself, that you've even chosen to do so? I used to think that "they" were talking about me behind my back because I didn't go out, but I realized that I didn't even know who "they" were and really, no one cared how I spent my nights. Going out on Fridays is a social construct created by TV. There are thousands of millions of people who stay home on Fridays and no one gives a flying leap if they do so.

I'm 45 and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up (if I ever do). It's quite common. That's why life coaches are so popular and there's a whole industry built around helping people find their way in industry.

dadici was right when they said that the people in your life are probably busy and not avoiding you. I can't even count the times when I've said, "I should call X" and next thing I know it's 10pm and I haven't called X so I tell myself I'll do it tomorrow. Next thing I know, it's been a week or two and X is calling me. Most of my friends know I'm flaky, so there's that.

As for dating, who cares/so what if you're not dating? You don't feel like dating. How many times have you heard someone say, "I'm not looking for a relationship right now?" It's completely normal to not want to date. No one says you have to.

I hope you find a good therapist. Good luck.
posted by patheral at 12:00 PM on December 4, 2012

I've found e-couch and moodgym helpful; they're focused on CBT.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:42 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the key is to practice something called "radical acceptance," which is a very absolutist, almost closed-minded conviction in the belief that you are worthwhile, no matter what you are doing.

If you were to go out there to "parties," on a Friday night, you would probably meet confident, self-possessed people who seem to be enjoying themselves. But then if you were to hang out with those same people during their downtime (and you will), you'll quickly realize that they're about equally confident, self-possessed, and satisfied when they're just chilling out watching television, playing video games, or having coffee with a friend. Being at a party isn't what made those people feel great about themselves, and if you went to a party, walking through those doors and slamming down a few shots of Jameson won't imbue you with 'teh awesome' in one instant blast.

Likewise, many more (and less) successful people than you define themselves as failures. You clearly have an undergraduate degree - that's an accomplishment. Be proud of it. You're in grad school - phenomenal. Many grad students feel out of their league intellectually - it doesn't mean you're stupid, it means you selected a program that you found difficult, one that stands a chance of truly transforming you into a more well-rounded, more intelligent person than when you began it. All of that is highly laudable.

Progress on the road to diminishing irrational thinking will not begin by achieving certain check points on a mental to-do list - progress begins by stopping those thoughts at the moment of their formation. Partying will not make you love yourself more; neither will getting your diploma from grad school. You have to start, not finish, by believing you're a worthwhile person. It's fine to withdraw, it's fine to need alone time after a break-up, it's fine to achieve less than stellar grades, it's fine to worry about your future. None of those things, together or alone, make you a freak or crazy or are driving your friends away. Start by accepting yourself, and deduce everything from there.

As always with any posts mental-illness related, YMMV, and do seek a therapist. This is my best advice from surviving depression.
posted by sidi hamet at 6:54 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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