If you’re familiar with depression, you’re familiar with black and white thinking, or thinking in absolutes such as, “I can’t do anything right.” I find that even when I am not in a depressed state, noticing black or white thinking can be one of the first signs that my mood is starting to wobble. I’ve learned that with mood, I’d rather address a slightly low mood from the get-go than wait until I have to dig myself out of a deeper depression. And the key with addressing black and white thinking is to move from black and white to gray. Black and white is limited. Gray embraces the range of possibilities.
Black and White Thinking: When It Feels Like All Is Lost
I had the chance to try this the other day when I went outlet shopping with some friends. The day started out sunny, as did my mood. That is, until we got to the shops and everything I tried on looked funky. Either too tight or too big – one extreme to the other – and so went my mood, to black and white ruminations. According to my brain, all was lost. I would never find clothes that looked nice on me again. It was all my fault for not keeping in better shape. Why bother going clothes shopping at all?
Head off Depression by Combating Negative Thoughts
As the day continued, I felt an almost physical tug in my gut, a sure sign that my mood was ready to plummet if I didn’t do something. I took a few deep breaths and acknowledged that my brain was in the midst of a black and white thought-fest and that I needed to be gentle with myself as a result. Then I called on what I think of as “Captain Rational.” The captain’s job is to jump in and combat the negative thoughts by questioning them and applying rationality to them, thereby moving from black and white to gray. So, instead of assuming that I would never find any clothes that look decent again (black and white), I could acknowledge that I’m a little heavier than I would like to be right now, but it’s also within my power to work on losing the weight in a healthy way (gray). Then I went ahead and bought some costume jewelry and a pair of stretchy yoga pants – things that don’t matter much how they fit.
Part of the challenge of dealing with black and white thinking and moving to gray is that patience and perspective are two things that the depressive mind can be hard pressed to find at times. So we must be patient with ourselves and our brains too as we’re navigating our black, white and gray thoughts.
- Notice the black and white thought.
- Question/apply reason. How can you reframe the thought to make it more gray?
- Give yourself credit for the effort.