Managing depression with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Depression can adversely affect your life in many ways, from having ongoing feelings of sadness, losing interests in activities, to feeling so hopeless that you cannot concentrate or recall basic facts for work. However, there are many ways to move out of depression and tools you can use to cope. While change may be daunting, you may be amazed by your capacity to change by starting with a few small steps. Exploring these simple CBT exercises can be the very vehicle of transformation.

CBT treatment

Many studies have shown that CBT reduces depression and risk of relapse. CBT is based on recognizing how different aspects of yourself (e.g. your thought, activity, mood) and the world around you influence your experience and behavior. With such knowledge, you can then apply skills to alter negative patterns of thinking into more productive and positive ones.

Observe your thoughts

Writing down your thoughts will allow you to examine and challenge thoughts that are inaccurate. This will help you recognize how they are influencing your mood and behavior. Take the example of the thought, “Kate ignored me in the office at work, she must hate me”, and how one would challenge this:

  • Is this thought really accurate? (Why would she hate me?)
  • Are there any other explanations for Kate’s action? (Perhaps she was on the phone)
  • What makes me think this thought is true now? (She did not greet me like she used to)
  • What makes me think this thought is false now? (Ignoring me does not mean she hates me)

Daily Mood Tracking 

Daily mood tracking is a relative easy way to start learning about your mood problem. At the same time each day, record how depressed (or anxious, angry, etc.) you feel on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 10 (worst ever). It is also useful to make a note about anything you think is affecting your mood. Over time, you are likely going to see patterns to it. These may include situations where your mood gets better or worse, or days where your mood changes.

Activity Tracking

Since activities often play a big role in affecting how people feel, it is very helpful to track them. You can track and rate activities every hour, from the time you get up to the time you go to sleep. Doing this gives you a diary of your day that helps you see how you spend your time. To do this, write down the activity, followed by a rating of your mood from “1” to “10”. This exercise is easier if you carry a calendar or day planner.

Consider the example below:

Scale: 1 = not depressed at all     10 = severely depressed

Time Monday
8.00 am Woke up     5

Ate Breakfast      4

Go to work       6

9.00 am Traffic on the road    7

Late for meeting     7

10.00 am Meeting         6

Tracking your activities will help you learn which activities or interactions change your mood. Similar to mood tracking, you may start noticing a pattern in these activities, which can help you figure out the causes of your depressive moods.

Practicing positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is a powerful technique to use for reducing depression and building self-esteem. Distorted thinking nurtures depression and it is reinforced every time a negative thought goes unchallenged and accepted as truth.

Here are examples of affirmations you can repeat to improve your mood and self-esteem:

  • I live a day at a time, do first things first
  • I have the same importance as everyone else as a person
  • My top responsibility is my well-being and continuing to grow in wisdom
  • I refuse to let the opinions of others keep me depressed or anxious
  • I expect life to offer me both positive and negative experiences since I am learning how to manage both
  • My mistakes do not make me stupid or a loser. They only prove that I am human
  • I cannot control the things that will happen to me, but I can control the attitude that I have toward these things

Ask yourself how your feelings changed as a result of using these positive statements. Rate how easy it is for you to believe them from “1” (very difficult) to “10” (very easy).