Many people feel sad and depressed for a variety of reasons. Maybe you are one of those people. It is easy to become disillusioned, especially during times of stress or grief. However, it is possible to feel better and enjoy life, too.
When you are depressed or upset you tend to think in ways that are unhealthy, unrealistic or even unreasonable. The thoughts going around in your brain make you feel sad, lethargic and hopeless. There is a strong relationship between what you think and how you feel.
Here is a good example.
One day, I walked out of my house to go to work. I got in the car, turned the key and nothing happened. Of course, I tried again and it still didn't work. I became upset because I didn't want to be late to work. I also was afraid that car repairs would be costly. I remember thinking, "It is going to cost a thousand dollars to fix the car." This is a great example of an irrational, unreasonable thought. Why? Because I know very little about the inner workings of cars. I didn't know what was wrong with the car and I certainly didn't know how to diagnose a car problem. So what made me think car repairs were going to cost one thousand dollars? Who knows? I only know that after having the thought or belief that repairs would cost one thousand dollars, I became very upset.
This event is a perfect example of what I would call mixed-up thinking. It is a particular type of mixed-up thinking called jumping to conclusions. I don't know much about cars. It was unreasonable to believe that the repairs would cost some amount that arbitrarily popped into my brain.
This is the way that depressed or upset people think all the time. There are many different types of thoughts that cause you to be in distress. I will outline these various thoughts so that you can start to recognize them yourself. Once you recognize them, then you can change them.
The title of this article is "How to feel better and have fun, too." Now for the fun part. One of the interests I have in life is music. I like to sing in the church, listen to music, and see musicals. One day I noticed that many songs are great demonstrations of unhealthy, mixed-up thinking. Here is one of my favorites. Frank Loesser wrote a song called "Marry the Man Today." The best line is Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow." Some people believe that it is actually possible to change someone! I hope you don't. If you follow the advice in this song, you are in for a lot of trouble and distress. So the fun part of this article is that when I describe unhealthy or mixed-up ways of thinking, I will use examples of songs to demonstrate the point. Let's get started. I hope you have fun. I know I will. As an aside, if you come up with your own songs that demonstrate irrational thinking, please let me know. I am always interested in new ways to apply these ideas.
There are many lists of irrational beliefs that have been developed by therapists over the years. If you look up cognitive-behavioral therapy on the Internet or in a library you will find a lot of information. I have included here the ones that I think are the most powerful and potentially unhealthy.
Irrational Beliefs are ways of thinking that are unhealthy. When you subscribe to these beliefs you are causing yourself distress, such as depression, anger or anxiety. The Snoopy Song from "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" by Clark Gesner
exemplifies this nicely.
It starts off where Snoopy is happy and thinking good thoughts.
"Pleasant day, pretty sky, life goes on, here I lie, not bad, not bad at all."
Everything is good, right?
Then he starts talking about the little birds that visit him. They come
"every day, sitting here, on my stomach, with their sharp little claws which are usually cold and occasionally painful... Sometimes there are so many...Rats!
I feel every now and then that I gotta bite someone. I know every now and then what I want to be!
A fierce jungle animal crouched on the limb of a tree!
I'll wait very, very still till I see a victim come. I wait knowing very well every second counts. And then like the fierce jungle creature I am, I will pounce!"
Poor Snoopy. There he was, sitting happily on his dog house roof with not a care in the world. What happened? He talked himself into being angry and upset!
We are all just like Snoopy. We can talk ourselves into feeling any way possible. That is the bad news. The good news is that we can talk ourselves into feeling good!
So what do we have to do? First, we have to be able to recognize when we are thinking in unhealthy ways. Then we need to replace the unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones.
Here is a list of unhealthy thoughts.
1. Jumping to Conclusions
This is when you decide you know something that you can't actually know. Maybe you think someone is thinking poorly of you. This is not possible because you can't read someone's mind. You can also jump to conclusions by thinking you know what will happen in the future. If you know what will happen in the world before it does, let me know. I want to know the winning lottery numbers, please.
I haven't yet come up with a song for this one. Does anybody have any ideas?
2. All-or-Nothing Thinking
This type of thinking is very rigid. It is when you view the world in very rigid, perhaps legalistic, terms. Sometimes this is helpful, ie a belief that robbing banks is wrong. However, most of the time people upset themselves over things that don't have to be black and white. There is a lot of gray in the world. Look for that and you will be mentally healthier.
A good example of this type of thinking can be found in the song "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up I The Morning" by Irving Berlin.
"Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning,
Oh! How I'd love to remain in bed
For the hardest blow of all is to hear the bugler call:
'You've got to get up, you've got to get up,
You've got to get up this morning!'"
Someday I'm going to murder the bugler
Someday they're going to find him dead
I'll amputate his reveille and stomp upon it heavily
And spend the rest of my life in bed!"
This soldier basically thinks it is the worst thing in the world to get up early in the morning. He is so upset about it that he is willing to kill the bugler. Now admittedly, I have never been in the army so it is entirely possible that I could feel the same way myself. I don't like to get up early either. But please notice that his hatred for the morning results in a homicide! It is far better to tell yourself that although getting up early is unpleasant, you can do it if necessary. I do this every day when I have to get up and take my daughter to school at 7:30 a.m.
3. Should Statements
Should statements are demands that people or circumstances behave the way that you think they should. This is, in essence, having rules for how other people, yourself or the world should behave. Rules are all well and good but other people don't have to follow your rules most of the time. The world doesn't either. For example, I believe that the car in front of me should drive faster. Does my belief make this happen? Of course not. All my belief does is get me angry. And truly, why does anyone have to do what I want? I am not that powerful. I will let you know when I am Queen of the world. Then everyone will have to do what I want. Actually, again in "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown," Lucy sings a song about becoming a Queen. I think this is only in the original version, not the new one. Anyway, she sings about becoming a Queen. Her little brother Linus comes along and says that you have to inherit a royal position and Lucy is not in line to inherit. Lucy replies that she will buy a Queendom. She believes she should be able to do this and no amount of logical argument from Linus will persuade her otherwise. She wants it to be so, so it should be.
When you exaggerate, you blow things out of proportion. We do this all the time in a harmless way. "I'm starving," we might say but of course we aren't really. Or we say, "This is terrible," or horrible or awful or any other term denoting doom. Most of the time something is not as awful as we portray it to be.
An example of exaggerating comes from "No, No, Nanette" again. Nanette, who is a teenager says,
"No, no, Nanette,
that's all I hear!
I get it the whole day through.
'No, no, Nanette,' regales my ear
no matter what I may do.
I'll have my way
when I am old and turning grey.
But just as yet it's always
no, no, no, no, no, no, no, Nanette!"
Any of you have teenagers? Does this sound familiar? It does to me.
You can blame yourself or others for bad things that happen. The problem with blame is that it makes you powerless. Blaming yourself or another for a problem does not help solve the problem. Some people blame themselves unnecessarily for a problem that they really don't have control over. "My daughter failed her English test. I should have made her study more." Ultimately she is responsible for studying, not you. Actually, if you take the blame for this, you are helping her get out of the responsibility she really has for her grade. Blame, on the other hand, is when you make someone else responsible for your behavior. In either case, you can not solve the problem. You have taken someone else's problem as your own, or given up your problem to someone else. See how that makes you powerless? You can blame yourself or others for bad things that happen. The problem with blame is that it makes you powerless. Blaming yourself or another for a problem does not help solve the problem. Some people blame themselves unnecessarily for a problem that they really don't have control over. "My daughter failed her English test. I should have made her study more." Ultimately she is responsible for studying, not you. Actually, if you take the blame for this, you are helping her get out of the responsibility she really has for her grade. Blame, on the other hand, is when you make someone else responsible for your behavior. In either case, you can not solve the problem. You have taken someone else's problem as your own, or given up your problem to someone else. See how that makes you powerless?
A great song that demonstrates taking too much blame is "I Want to Be Happy" from "No, No, Nanette," a musical comedy with lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach and music by Vincent Youmans. In this song, the singer Nanette refuses to be happy unless her boyfriend is happy. She sings,
"I want to be happy
But I won't be happy
Till I make you happy too.
Life's really worth living
When you are mirth giving
Why can't I give some to you?
When skies are gray
And you say you are blue
I'll send the sun smiling through
I want to be happy
But I won't be happy
Till I make you happy too."
She makes her happiness dependent upon the happiness of her boyfriend! And while I am in complete agreement that it is nice to do nice things for your loved ones, it is possible to be happy when your loved ones are not. Otherwise you have to always be a people pleaser. That is not a healthy way to live. It is especially bad if you are raising children. To be a good parent, you have to make your kids unhappy sometimes. Otherwise you are setting no limits for them.
So in order to be less depressed you need to identify your unhealthy beliefs. Once you do that, then you can change them to healthy ones. You will feel better and enjoy life more. Be happy!
copyright Angela K. Williams 2010