Identifying Gloomy Thoughts

When you are feeling low the gloomy thoughts may be so familiar and happen so often to you that you just accept them as fact.

With gloomy thoughts, thinking becomes unhelpful, biased and extreme and this has an impact on how you feel and on what you do. Generally, when these sorts of unhelpful thinking styles happen we may find:

  1. Mood changes unhelpfully, you may become depressed, upset, anxious, stressed or angry.
  2. Behaviour alters unhelpfully: by either reducing what you do (reduced activity) or causing you to start to do unhelpful behaviours – such as drinking too much to block how you feel.

The outcome is that these unhelpful thinking styles contribute to how you feel and add to your feelings of depression.

Unhelpful thinking style Typical negative thoughts
Bias against myself. I overlook my strengths. I focus on my weaknesses. I downplay my achievements. I am my own worst critic.
Putting a negative slant on things(Negative mental filter). I see things through dark tinted glasses. I tend to focus on the negative in situations.
Having a gloomy view of the future.(Make negative predictions/Jump to the worst conclusion – catastrophising). I make negative predictions about the future. I predict that things will go wrong. I predict that the very worst events will happen.
Negative view about how others see me (Mind-reading). I mind-read what others think of me. I often think that others don’t like me/think badly of me.
Bearing all responsibility. I take the blame if things go wrong. I feel responsible for whether everyone else has a good time. I take unfair responsibility for things that are not my fault.
Making extreme statements/rules. I use the words “always”, “never” and “typical” a lot to summarise things. I make myself a lot of “must”, “should” “ought” or “got to” rules.

Taken from Dr Chris Williams Overcoming Depression, The Five Areas Approach. Visit his website Living Life to the Full.

Do you recognise any of these extreme unhelpful thinking styles? It is important to uncover gloomy thoughts and errors in thinking. Thinking these common thinking errors is said to alter mood and change your behaviour. They are known as negative automatic thoughts.

For example,  Simon left the house to go to work. Walking down the street he nodded and said hello to neighbour that he regularly passed the time of day with, but the neighbour rushed straight past him. Simon thought “what have i done?, why has he ignored me? Have i upset him?”. He went to work feeling a little agitated and hurt that somebody who always spoke to him had blanked him in the street.  Afew days later, Simon was again walking past the neighbour but put his head down and ignored him and from that point Simon didn’t speak to him again.

Simon’s extreme thoughts had altered his behaviour. The reality of this situation is that his neighbour had only just awoke from working a night shift and just been told that his elderly frail mother had just had a nasty fall. His neighbour was most likely half asleep and feeling worried about how poorly his mother may be and just didn’t see Simon. If  Simon had thought like this and not thought so negatively, he may have felt more confident when he next saw his neighbour and maybe mentioned that he had seen him rush past afew days earlier. His neighbour would then have told him about his predicament and the explanation would have naturally challenged Simon’s thoughts and Simon would have felt better.

Below is a completed thought diary. A thought diary helps you  record a situation, how you was feeling, what your automatic negative thought was, how you challenged it with an alternative thought and what the outcome was from this. It is useful when you want to work on noticing unhelpful thinking patterns and then how to manage them.

Click here for a completed example thought diary.

Click on the link below to download a blank thought diary. On this diary, you can document negative automatic thoughts and thoughts you have used to challenge them. Then record how you feel after doing this.

Thought diary

You can also read self help books on range of difficulties. Your local library has a variety of books based on cognitive behavioural therapy that you can use to learn more about unhelpful thinking styles. Or you can visit your GP and he can give a book prescription and you can loan the book for up to eight weeks.


Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

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