“The texture of a depressed person’s brain functioning is that it’s operating in a depleted way,” according to Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression. This depletion leads to a variety of intrusive cognitive symptoms, such as distorted thinking, poor concentration, distractibility, indecision and forgetfulness. These cognitive symptoms impair all areas of a person’s life, from their work to their relationships.
Fortunately, key strategies can reduce and improve these symptoms. “The most important strategy is definitive treatment for the depression with psychotherapy and medication,” said William Marchand, M.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine and author of the book Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery.
For instance, psychotherapy helps individuals become more aware of their cognitive symptoms, which can be subtle, Dr. Marchand said. It also teaches individuals specific techniques to improve their symptoms. And it helps clients gain a more accurate perspective on their illness.
“Because of the negative thinking associated with depression, there is a tendency to interpret symptoms as personal failings rather than as symptoms of an illness. A therapist can help one see things as they are – rather than through the distorting lens of depression,” Marchand said.
In addition to professional treatment, there are many strategies you can practice on your own to improve cognitive symptoms. Below are several techniques you can try.
Revise Distorted Thoughts
“I think it’s vital to teach any depressed individual how to ‘think happy,’” Serani said. Revising problematic thought patterns is key because they only fuel the fog and despair of depression.
“This approach definitely takes some time, patience and elbow grease, but once [it’s] learned, [it] enhances well-being.”
The first step is to monitor your negative thoughts, which you can record in a journal. A negative thought is anything such as “I’m a total loser” or “I can’t do anything right,” she said.