When you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it feels like you’ll never get better. You’ll always feel this way. It feels like the dark clouds will never lift. Or the anxiety, worry and restlessness are permanent. Understandably, you feel hopeless and helpless. You feel stuck.
The great news is that you can get better. There are many resources that can help. For instance, workbooks can be incredibly valuable. You can use a workbook while seeing a therapist or attending group therapy. Or you can use a workbook on your own.
A classic workbook is Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think. This comprehensive workbook features powerful strategies and tools for overcoming depression, anxiety, anger, guilt and shame.
Mind Over Mood is written by clinical psychologists Dennis Greenberger, Ph.D, and Christine A. Padesky, Ph.D. Greenberger is the founder and director of the Anxiety and Depression Center in Newport Beach, Calif. Padesky is the cofounder of the Center for Cognitive Therapy in Huntington Beach, Calif.
This month we talked with the authors about Mind Over Mood, which was recently revised and updated. Below, Greenberger and Padesky also reveal the pivotal role our thoughts play in creating our mood and one thing you can do right now to feel better — and much, much more.
Q: The tools in Mind Over Mood are based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Why is CBT so helpful for navigating mood problems?
A: CBT is practical, easy to understand, and teaches proven skills that help people understand and manage their moods. CBT was developed from research designed to discover what methods best help people who experience mood difficulties. In Mind Over Mood we guide readers to learn and practice the skills that are most helpful for the moods they want to target.
Q: What kind of role do thoughts play in creating our mood?
A: There is a lot of ancient wisdom that identifies the link between thoughts and moods. An early Greek philosopher, Epictetus, said, “Men are not moved by things but the view they take of them.” Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Modern science shows that thoughts and moods are the opposite sides of the same coin. When we feel depressed, we think negative thoughts … “I’m a loser” and “My life will never get better.” When we think negative thoughts like this, we feel more and more depressed. As our depression deepens, our thoughts become even more negative.
It is interesting that different types of thoughts go with various moods. While depression is characterized by negative thinking, anxiety is accompanied by catastrophic thinking. When we are anxious, we think bad things are going to happen and we won’t be able to cope with them. We see ourselves as threatened, vulnerable and even weak.
As Epictetus and Shakespeare point out, the good news is that our thoughts are not fixed in stone. One of the main things Mind Over Mood teaches us is how to test out and change our thoughts in order to manage our moods better and achieve greater happiness.
Q: What are the biggest myths about mood?
A: Myth #1: Moods are uncontrollable.
Research and clinical experience consistently demonstrates that moods are very changeable and malleable and can be altered and controlled by changing the way we think or what we are doing. Mind Over Mood helps people build the thinking and behavioral skills demonstrated in CBT research to alter their moods in an enduring and consistent way.
Myth #2: We are just victims of our brain chemistry.
Science has demonstrated there are brain chemistry alterations that are present when we are depressed. Science has not demonstrated that the brain chemistry causes you to be depressed. The correlation between brain chemistry changes and mood problems does not mean that the brain chemistry causes the mood problems.
Fascinating research has demonstrated that alterations in thinking or behavior alters brain functioning — the way the brain metabolizes energy. Rather than thinking of yourself as the victim of brain chemistry, it may be best (and most closely aligned with the scientific evidence) to understand that there is a reciprocal interaction between thinking, behavior, brain chemistry and moods.
Although we cannot affect the mood directly (we cannot do a moodectomy), we have three ways of altering brain chemistry: psychiatric medication, changes in thinking and changes in behavior. Science consistently demonstrates that an alteration in any one of these areas will affect our mood.
We do not need to think of ourselves as victims of our brains (or of our histories) but we can learn to think and behave in ways that will make an enduring and positive difference in our lives.
Myth #3: Moods are medical problems and therefore I need to take medication.
As described in Myth #2, it may be most helpful, and most consistent with the latest research, to think of mood, thoughts, behavior and physical or brain functioning as being a reciprocally interacting system. There is a great deal of evidence that suggests that psychiatric medication can even interfere with enduring improvement in anxiety or depressive levels.
Similarly, research demonstrates that cognitive behavioral therapy reduces the risk for relapse from episodes of anxiety and depression. People who have successful CBT treatment are less likely to relapse than patients treated with medication alone.
Myth #4: I’ve always had these moods, so I can’t really change.
The idea that you can’t change may be a thought that stems from the depression itself. When we are depressed we have a sense of hopelessness and a sense that the future is bleak. When depressed we do not see our self as being able to do anything to help our self.
Generally mood problems have a good prognosis. Some moods, like panic, have an excellent prognosis — an excellent chance of getting better. Generally, anxiety and depression problems get better with treatment. CBT has been extensively studied, and the studies consistently show that most people show an improvement in mood with brief, time limited treatment. Learning to think and behave in new ways can create the changes you are looking for.
(Citations: Hollon, S.D., DeRubeis, R.J., Shelton, R.C., Amsterdam, J.D., Salomon, R.M., O’Reardon, J.P., Lovett, M.L., … Gallop, R, (2005). Prevention of relapse following cognitive therapy vs medications in moderate to severe depression. Archives General Psychiatry, 62, 417-422.
Hollon, S.D., Stewart, M.O., & Strunk, D. (2006). Enduring effects for cognitive behavior therapy in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 285-315.)
Q: Mind Over Mood is filled with excellent exercises and worksheets. Can you share an exercise that you find has the biggest positive impact on people?
A: Different exercises and skills are helpful for different people. The type of exercise that is most helpful depends on the mood. For people who are depressed, worksheets on Activity Scheduling (p. 213), Thought Records (pp. 114-115), and Gratitude Diaries (pp. 177-179) are often most helpful.
For people who are anxious, constructing a Fear Ladder (pp. 238-239), practicing relaxation methods (p. 246) and doing experiments to test out fears (pp. 148-149) tend to be most helpful.
Responsibility Pies (p. 274) and a Forgiving Myself exercise (p. 278) are particularly helpful for guilt and shame. Writing a Forgiveness Letter (p. 265), even if it is not sent, is particularly helpful for anger.
Q: What message or messages do you want readers to take away from this book?
A: You can learn skills to feel better. No matter how strong your moods are or how long you have had them, there is something you can learn that will help you feel better and achieve happiness. When it comes to mood management, this is the most hopeful time in human history.
Q: What is one thing readers can do right now to boost their mood and feel better?
A: One helpful activity is to identify three things in your life that you feel grateful about and think about them in detail. This exercise helps you shift your thinking to positive parts of your life and this tends to help us feel better.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: The principles and strategies readers learn in Mind Over Mood are proven, practical and powerful. Don’t take our word for it. We include mood measures in the book and ask readers to measure their moods regularly as they learn and practice new skills. In this way, you can judge for yourself how much Mind Over Mood is helping you.
We genuinely hope that Mind Over Mood helps you find happiness and reach greater levels of life satisfaction.