Negative Thinking and Depression: How One Fuels the Other

Depression and negative thoughts often go hand-in-hand, and one inevitably fuels the other. Learn how to break the cycle of negativity on HealthyPlace.

Depression and negative thoughts affect people from all walks of life, and they are not mutually exclusive. 15% of the adult population will experience depression at some point during their lifetime, and anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S. Whether it’s due to the rise of technology, the pressures of modern life or the onslaught of bad news, many of us are locked in a cycle of depression and negative thinking – so how do we break free?

Understanding Depression and Negative Thoughts

Depression and negative thoughts are two separate issues, but they often go hand-in-hand. Negative thinking is common among those who are naturally pessimistic, but it can also be indicative of a mental health issue. For instance, many people with anxiety disorders experience negative thoughts, while those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies have intrusive negative thoughts they just can’t shake ("What Can I Do About OCD and Negative Thoughts?"). Constant negative thinking is also one of the main signs of depression.

Having negative thoughts when you are depressed or anxious becomes a vicious cycle. The very nature of depression also means that you will often shut yourself off to the positive influences in your life, such as socializing with friends, exercising or eating healthily. Not looking after yourself lowers your self-esteem, yet depression makes it so hard to take positive action.  

Like many other forms of mental illness, depression occurs in varying degrees of severity, and no two diagnoses are the same. While many people experience situational depression after challenging life events or stress, a vast number of others suffer from clinical depression which has no apparent trigger.

According to HealthyPlace, a persistent feeling of sadness is one of the 10 major warning signs of depression, accompanied by guilt, irritability, trouble concentrating fatigue, sleep changes, lack of interest, loss of appetite, physical changes and, finally, suicidal thoughts ("I Think Bad Thoughts: What Can I Do? "). Negative thinking can be linked to many of these issues.

Please note: While not everyone with depression feels suicidal, wanting to harm yourself is a serious matter and needs to be taken seriously. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or dial 911 immediately.

How to Control Negative Thoughts from Depression

Controlling depression and negative thoughts isn’t easy, but it is possible to live a normal, healthy life whether you suffer from one or both. Here are some tips to help you break free from negativity.

  • Take one positive step each day: When you have depression, it can be impossible to do anything to take care of yourself. If you can, challenge yourself to take just one positive step each day – such as taking a shower, texting a friend, making yourself a nutritious lunch or practicing meditation.
  • Start a habit tracker: Hold yourself accountable for positive habits by keeping a habit tracker in your journal. Make a list of the positive steps you want to take each day – such as doing yoga, drinking enough water or going for a walk – and track your progress. You can use stickers, colored squares or points to fill in your habits.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Each time you get a negative thought, take a deep breath and address it head-on. Ask yourself: can the thought really be right? Is there another, perhaps more balanced, perspective? Is the thought giving you power or taking your power away? Write your observations down if you find this helpful.  
  • Name your inner critic: Distance yourself from your negative thoughts by giving your inner critic a name. Each time your inner critic starts up, imagine silencing it or arguing back.
  • Focus on the good: Looking on the bright side isn’t always possible when you’re depressed, and that’s okay. Try to find one to three things to be grateful for each day, such as people in your life or qualities about yourself you admire. Write these down or repeat them in your head before you go to sleep each night.

There are no clear-cut boundaries when it comes to negative thinking and depression, which means there is no clear path to treatment. Each and every person’s recovery looks different, but it is almost always a work in progress with help and support from multiple sources. Your goal is to find coping strategies that enable you to live the life you want, keeping depression and negative thoughts at bay.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2021, December 31). Negative Thinking and Depression: How One Fuels the Other , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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