The Language of Depression


Do you know that research indicates that thinking more concretely can halve levels of depression? This research suggests that the way our inner voice talks can make us more depressed. The language of depression is global, general, and vast. Whenever you notice yourself using “always”, “never”, or “most”, you might be falling prey to the language of depression. It’s easy enough to do. If something happens more than once, it feels like it ALWAYS happens. If we can’t get out of a rut, we can worry the pain will NEVER end. But here is what the research shows; whether or not you figure out if something ALWAYS happens, thinking about how it ALWAYS happens will not help you feel better. Getting specific and concrete helps much more.

Take this evening, for example. My kids and I are at odds and my mind starts going, “It is always like this. I won’t ever figure out how to avoid these arguments. My kids will remember me as always nagging them and will tell their future therapists that I’m the cause of all of their problems.” One evening becomes a global indictment against myself as a parent! How can I get out of the language of depression and into concrete thinking? Here’s how that shift from the language of depression to concreteness might work;

  • “It is always like this.” >>>> ”This has been a really rough evening. Were there warning signs I could have noticed?”
  • “I won’t ever figure out how to avoid these arguments.” >>>> ”Tonight I got into an argument I didn’t want to have. How did I get sucked in?”
  • “My kids will remember me always nagging them.” >>>> ”I do not want this evening to be a pattern. What steps can I take to change things next time?”
  • “I’m the cause of all their problems.” >>>> ”Tonight I hurt them by raising my voice. When can I sit down with them and apologize?”

Here’s how the researchers instructed participants to think concretely:

  • First, focus on sensory experiences. What do I see, hear, and notice?
  • Second, notice how events unfolded. How did this unfold? What are warning signs? What might change the outcome?
  • Third, focus on how you can move forward. Break things down into discrete manageable steps. How can I move forward? What are the steps? What is the first step I can take?

Researchers noticed that asking “why?” is a telltale depressive question. Shifting to “how?” moved people away from rumination and depression. I hope that you find this as helpful as I have. I was able to end the evening very well with my kids; group hug and all! How we handle our inner voice is one of the most critical influences on our long-term spiritual/emotional health and long-term flourishing.

The research behind this article is found in the article: How to Reduce Worry and Rumination 1: Become More Specific Published on July 21, 2013 by Edward R. Watkins, PhD. in Mood for Thought.


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