Full contribution to the Metro by Elisa Bragg on Can Positive Thinking really get you through a depressive episode?

The power of the mind is an extraordinary thing and when we are feeling robust and in our flow we feel like we can achieve anything. However, when we are in low mood or depressed the opposite couldn't feel further from the truth, and even negate the positivity we had previously experienced.

Depression is a very complex subject and arises for many different reasons. From my clinical and personal experience it can be hard to pinpoint whether one has a predisposition or biological determining factors that lead us to be more vulnerable to experience depression. Traumatic events often lead us towards depression because collapsed life force is frozen in the depressive position of trauma. In addressing depression, what I do know is that what works for one individual may not work for another.

Also, what does one mean when they speak about feeling depressed? One person may call it depression when in fact they are in low mood, which, like most people will find passes over a couple of days or so. However, depression on the back of a specific situation or compounded situations can leave one in a very low space. Clinical depression is something quite different again and may need other resources such a medical or herbal interventions to help build up depleted serotonin and resilience in addition to other therapeutic interventions.

To someone who is in an episode of depression, long or short, suggesting positive thinking can be like adding insult to injury. Meeting the individual where they are at and really attuning to them, without fear of being 'infected' by their depression can be like balm on their soul.....they feel like you really get them, you understand, you are not afraid of their pain and of being pulled down into the mud with them. Trust is built, and knowing that they are safe and free to speak deeply about their pain is imperative to their healing process. Skill and treading deftly is crucial to building an alliance with those suffering with depression.

In your experience, can positive thinking ever help someone get through a period of depression?

In my experience introducing the idea of positive thinking to someone in the heat of a depressive episode must be done very gently and skilfully, so as not to shame the individual for not being able to access any sense of feeling positive, or able to connect to even the idea of positivity. What I would introduce is exploring together, when was the last time that they felt a sense of wellbeing or spaciousness within themselves.....even the tiniest of experience. Then if they are able to conjure up a memory of this, I will invite them to gently see if they can allow this sense of wellbeing or spaciousness to expand a little and gently track what happens within them as they allow this experience to build within them. Together we will flesh out this memory, the full depth and breadth of that experience and to 're-live' it in their imagination and felt sense. There may be resistance, but I would work with and include that too. The point of this approach is to begin to even minimally create a sense that they are not only their depression which can swallow up their whole reality during these episodes. Together we may explore words or phrases that build a resonance that feeds back into their nervous system and neurology.

Neurologically, what we pay attention to builds, whether it be positive or negative. Therefore having words that resemble the sense of wellbeing that they are reminded of, can start to create an affect response in their being. For example, I am in a dark patch, but I can recall feeling the warmth of the sun on my body, and laughing with friends, and I feel held and supported. I am not alone, I feel held and supported. I feel hopeful that this dark patch can pass.... it is passing.


Is positive thinking something that can be practised/improved over time?

Yes, most definitely. Once upon a time we prayed. We reached up to the heavens and asked for help and love and guidance etc. Positive thinking is a form of prayer or mantra if you think of it like this. Again, neurologically, what we pay attention to builds, therefore watch your waking or resting thoughts….. how do you start your day? Do you start your day with, “oh god, life is so difficult or I hate my life, or I'm ugly and fat, or I hate so and so, etc, etc. Notice your posture as you connect to this energy system.

What if we started our day with, I am so grateful for all that I have in my life. I am grateful for my health, for my family, for my partner, for my food, for the sun rising, I feel loved, I have good friends who care about me, I am a good person, etc, etc. Notice your posture when you connect to this energy system.

Creating and building your own positive mantras that are deeply meaningful to you and repeating them are so effective in tapping into your own innate truth and sense of what is most healing and productive, and compassionate and inspiring to you. As you experience the positive changes that these words bring to you, you can change and mould them into whatever you want. Don't limit yourself.....let yourself flow.

What words would you use that resonate with what is meaningful to you?

Would you say it's healthy to allow some negative thoughts to surface instead of thinking positive all the time?

It would be impossible and inhuman not to allow some negative thoughts to surface.

Negative or difficult thoughts arise as clues that there is something wrong in our lives and that changes need to be made. The problems arise when we feel held captive or in a victim position and don't know how to address or change the spiralling negativity that we are caught in. This is when we need help in getting out of a repetitive and captivating inner script. Halting this spiral can be really hard because without knowing it, we can then become somewhat addicted to the negative feelings that come with it even though we are desperate not to be stuck there. It even becomes like a self fulfilling prophecy of feeling bad!

Negative thinking for its own sake needs a boundary and halting wherever possible. Difficult thoughts that are looking for a way out or solutions for change are different thought processes that can do with closer examination - what is really being called out in you?


- Elisa Bragg ©