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Depression: Stop Negative Thoughts

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Depression is an illness that makes a person feel sad or hopeless much of the time. It's different from feeling a little sad or down. Depression can be treated with counseling or medicine, or both.

Healthy thinking also can help prevent or control depression.

How can you use healthy thinking to cope with depression?

Notice and stop your thoughts

The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.

Ask about your thoughts

The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated. There are several kinds of irrational thoughts. Here are a few types to look for:

Choose your thoughts

The next step is to choose a more helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.

Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so you can write down any irrational thoughts as they happen. Then write down a helpful message to correct the unhelpful thought.

If you do this every day, accurate and helpful thoughts will soon come naturally to you.

But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.

If you want, you also could write down what kind of irrational thought you had. Journal entries might look something like this:

Thought diary

Stop your negative thought

Ask what type of negative thought you had

Choose an accurate, helpful thought

"I'm sad that I don't have many friends. People must not like me."

Focusing on negative

"I have some friends, so I know I can make friends."

"I should get married before I'm 30. If I don't, it means I'm a loser."


"There's no guarantee that I'll meet the right person by the time I'm 30. If I don't get married by then, I still have time to find a good relationship."

"I got laid off. I'll never get another job."


"Our company ran into financial trouble, so I got laid off. It may take some time to get another job, but I know I will."

"If I don't get a big raise at my next review, then it means I have no future with this company."

All or nothing

"I would love to get a big raise. But it might not be in the company's budget this year."

Credits for Depression: Stop Negative Thoughts

Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral Health
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Sue Barton PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health

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