JR's Rambles about Fighting Irrational Thoughts

I have had cognitive behavioral therapy in the past and it’s something I really feel helps. Most of my advice is based on that kind of viewpoint.

Basically, there are two main points to my focus: Feelings are habits you can change, and brains lie.

TLDR Version:

Whether you can identify the thoughts behind your feelings or not, you can gain control over them by practicing rational, positive thoughts when times are stable, so that they are easier to access when times are not.

When times are NOT stable, brains lie to you, claiming that things have always been this bad and always will be this bad. Keeping that fact in mind can combat the hopelessness brain lies cause.

Feelings are Habits You can Change:

Feelings are essentially fast, automatic thoughts in response to stimulus. As such, feelings can, to a surprising extent, be controlled, managed and even changed to align with your own values. The key is to practice the thoughts you want, until they are ingrained habits that are just as fast and automatic as your current feelings.

The next time you feel bad, whether it’s depression or anxiety or anger, try to focus on the thoughts you’re having. Sometimes you can identify thoughts behind the feelings right away, sometimes you can’t even put a name to the feelings themselves, much less figure out WHY you are having them. Sometimes it’s easier in the heat of the moment, sometimes giving the emotions time to fade a bit helps more.

You can try to give clarity to the thoughts driving your emotions by venting, (whether by writing or talking). Plenty of times I don’t realize why I’m feeling a certain way until I’ve rambled about it for a bit. You can also look through lists of common negative, irrational thoughts and see if any of them resonate with you.

If you’ve managed to identify specific thoughts, you can combat them in specific ways. For example, if you find yourself often thinking “I’ve ruined everything” when you’re feeling bad, you can practice a tailored counter thought like “ What I need to do is find the way to move forward from this mistake.“. “Everyone hates me.” can be countered with “Remember that time So and So said I was a good friend? I should contact them and see if they want to talk.”. An important counter thought attribute is that they take a thought that feels huge and hopeless and turn it into a manageable next step. It also helps that the way you phrase the thought is fairly consistent, so that each time you practice it can build on the time before.

Even if you can’t identify the specific thoughts driving your emotions, you can still combat them by rehearsing the kinds of thoughts you want your emotions to be based on. “It’s okay to make mistakes”, “People forgive me more easily than I forgive myself. “, and “I need to take time for myself or I’ll get burnt out” are all good, blanket thoughts to practice. Find actions you can take that consistently make you feel better, whether it’s self care (like eating a favorite food or watching a favorite show) or things that give you self worth (helping others, creating something, etc). Try to get in the habit of working those actions into your general positive thoughts. For example, “Even if I feel worthless, I can still make jokes that make people happy.”

This page demonstrates how to build up habits to control your feelings. At first the balance of the bad thoughts will feel overwhelming,and the practicing of counter thoughts will feel artificial, but with time your new habits will have just as much power behind them. Once positive thinking is a habit, you'll find yourself in far more control of your emotions, and less overwhelmed with new stressors.

Brains Lie:

Brains are experts at pattern matching, doing it quickly, automatically, and invisibly. Think of it like predictive asset loading in a video game: Brains put the memories they think you’ll need where you can get at it quickly. Normally, it’s a very useful feature, since we have SO MANY memories that sorting through them all would take forever if we couldn’t take advantage of the speed of patterns. However, when it comes to emotions, it can make everything intensify to unhelpful degrees.

For example, if you’re currently strongly feeling worthless, your brain will ‘helpfully’ shove all your memories that match the pattern of ‘’worthless” where you can get to them easily. This has the unfortunately side effect of making your current feelings seem to be incredibly rational. Of COURSE you feel worthless, look at all these times you failed to have any worth at all! And it’s not like you can remember a single time you did anything right, either, since your brain didn’t bother fetching those memories since they didn’t match the pattern of your current feeling.

Similarly, our brains make predictions about the future based on what we remember about our past. If our most easily accessed memories are flooded with all the times we were worthless, as in the above example, our expectations of the future is more of the same. “I’ll never get better” is a common irrational negative thought that should make you go “Oh! I think my brain is lying to me right now!”.

When my brain is lying to me, and I can’t remember good times and I don’t expect there to ever be any in the future, I try to remember that “Brains Lie”. I might not be able to fully remember the good times, but I know that that itself is a glaring hole. No one’s life is all good or all bad. (As an aside, brain lies can ALSO happen in the positive direction, which is why they say “love is blind”.). Try to practice the thought “Brains Lie” to remind yourself that the way you feel right now isn’t as big and inevitable as it seems.

JR's Ramble About Depression:

Depression is like looking up and seeing the sky is blue. And everyone around you cheerfully tells you it's bright red. They won't stop hassling you until you agree it's red, but you really don't see it and it just sort of makes everyone else sound delusional.

When you're depressed, the very things that feel like obvious facts to you aren't the same ones that other people think are obvious facts. People can tell you that you're awesome, that you're a good person, that you're valued all they want, but it's like they are telling you the sky is red.