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This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression. Join the course to learn more.

Changing the way we think

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) shows us that the way we think is very closely related to the way we feel:

A cycle with 2 points. Point 1: Thoughts, point 2: Feelings

So, if you change the way you think, you’ll also change the way you feel. This is sometimes referred to as reframing or cognitive restructuring. This technique helps people to see a different side to the situation. Easy right? Well, not always, but definitely worth trying.

This technique is explored in greater detail in our 5-week course ‘Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People’ which starts on 1 June. Or take a look at the related books in the resources list in Step 2.13, if you would like to read more. For now, we’re going to look at examples of how negative thoughts can be replaced by alternative thoughts, and what impact this might have on mood.

This table includes examples of situations, related thoughts (that might typically lead to a negative mood) and alternative (more neutral) thoughts that might give rise to less negative mood:

Situation Thoughts and possible resulting mood Alternative thoughts and possible change in mood
Friend doesn’t message me back today “They don’t really care’ – feel alone and low ‘Their phone was playing up the other day, it might take a while for them to get back to me’ – bit impatient but feeling more OK
Mum told me off for not helping around the house ‘She thinks I’m useless, we don’t get along’ – very low and hopeless ‘I wonder if she’s just really stressed, she just spoke with my grandmother on the phone’ – concerned and curious
So much school work given to us this week ‘I’ll never get this done, I can’t be bothered, my grades will be terrible anyway’ – unmotivated, low, worried ‘Schools are just trying to keep us busy. It is OK to just have a go and get some of it done. We are all doing our best and sometimes we can’t get it all done. My grades before were OK so they are likely to stay that way’ – bit more able to work, more hopeful

Now it’s your turn. Look at the thoughts and moods which have arisen from the three situations listed below and think about alternative thoughts, which may be more realistic. What impact might these alternative thoughts have on an individual’s mood?

Situation Thoughts and possible resulting mood Alternative thoughts and possible change in mood
Dog vomits on my favourite pair of jeans ‘They’re completely ruined, nothing is going right’ – angry and low  
Get a message that my girlfriend is talking to another boy online ‘She doesn’t want to be with me, it’s not working out’ – worried, annoyed  
Computer crashes and it won’t start up again ‘Now I can’t do any work or watch anything, I won’t cope’ – angry, depressed, anxious, hopeless  

Please share your ideas in the discussion below.

Update 18 May 2020:

In response to learner feedback, we’ve developed a new worksheet which can be used on your own situations.

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Helping Young People Manage Low Mood and Depression

University of Reading