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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Breaking the Spiral of Negative Thinking

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: May 16th 2013

depressedWhen you’re feeling depressed, the part of your brain that is responsible for impulse control, executive function, and rational thought is not as active. This is the prefrontal cortex and studies have shown a reduction in activity in depressed brains. Yet, when depressed, the brain seems really good at making negative interpretations about all kinds of things and it seems so convincing and believable. What follows are physical lethargy, uncomfortable emotions or continued numbness, and more isolating behavior. Here is one good think to consider doing when depressed to nip downward spirals in the bud.

Treat interpretations as guesses:

If you can, hold the image of a pie chart in your mind. When your first interpretation to an event pops up (usually a negative interpretation), treat it as a guess and mentally place it in one pie of the pie chart. Then ask yourself, what's another interpretation? Beginning to widen our lens to greater possibilities here can be enormously helpful. 

This may seem overly simple, but before giving in to the hopeless thought about it, why not allow your experience to be your teacher. 

In other words, try an experiment for a week where you treat your negative interpretations (because that is what’s most prevalent) as guesses and look for alternative ways to see things. 

One thing we know about how habits of the mind work is that when we practice and repeat ways of seeing things, they become automatic. 

What would the days, weeks and months ahead look like if you were able to more often break from the negative view on things and open up to a wiser perspective? 

Jill Bolte Taylor, author of Stroke of Insight says the biology of an emotion lasts less than 90 seconds. The reason moods carry on is because we keep entertaining negative thoughts and views. What happens when we stop buying the story? 

Eventually it loses steam. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back again, but the practice is to second guess it and open up to alternatives. It’s worth the experiment. 

As always please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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