Depression and our Negative Bias
This is the third in a series of blogs about depression. The first blog looked at the effect depression has on our sleep patterns and the second at our tendency to “over think” everything, especially when our mood is low. This blog looks at depression and our negative bias.
What does this mean? Well, to keep our ancestors alive, Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a very poor way to promote quality of life. It makes us much more prone to low moods and depression.
Velcro and Teflon!
How do we know we’re doing it? Start to notice the degree to which your brain is wired to make you afraid, to keep you on alert. How it’s wired to zero in on any “bad stuff” in a larger stream of information (e.g., she didn’t answer when I said “hello”, she must really dislike me) to tune out or de-emphasise reassuring good news, and to keep thinking about the one thing that was negative in a day in which a hundred small things happened, ninety-nine of which were neutral or positive. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”. He argues that our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, and like Teflon for positive ones.
Combating Negative Bias
Rick Hanson suggests the following ways to combat our natural negative bias:
- Recognise it!
- Savour positive experiences: Negative experiences get quickly stored in memory but positive ones need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from your short-term to your long-term memory. So when something positive happens to you, take a moment to savour the experience.
- Schedule simple pleasures : We tend to wait for the big events such as a holiday/ vacation balance out your brain’s tilt toward negativity. So…schedule lots of simple pleasures throughout your day, whether it’s a superb cup of coffee or spending a few minutes out in nature or petting the cat or dog.
- Create an “area of refuge” in your brain. Have a list of positive things such as good memories or inspiring quotes that you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering to a negative memory.
- Visualisation: Whenever something negative happens to you, such as a negative comment, visualise a drop of black ink falling into a large container of clear water. Although at first the ink is very black, it quickly mixes with the rest of the water until it’s gone, and all you can see is the clear water again.
- Practice gratitude: Taking a few minutes each night to think about and write down all of the good things that happened to you throughout the day will help keep your brain attuned to all of the good things in your life. By focusing on the good you’ll gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness.
- Practice realistic optimism. This means telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story possible about any given circumstance
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Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with Depression and would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.