Learn How to Pay Attention to the Positive

Patients in recovery from major depressive episodes may need help learning to process positive information and stimuli.  Researchers found that people with a history of major depressive disorder spend more time processing negative information than healthy controls, and they may have less control over which information they process.

This negative bias suggests that people recovering from depression may need to learn strategies for processing positive information, and that treatments focusing on the reduction of negative processing may not be sufficient.

Processing positive information is not the same as urging someone to “cheer up” or “think positive”.  Rather, it is a long-term discipline, or a skill set that can develop over time.  The research cited above has not been able to determine whether the bias toward processing the negative is a result of having experienced major depression or whether the negative bias was present in the individual from the beginning, predisposing them to turn away from the positive and creating a higher risk of depression.

But whether cause or effect, the negative bias in thinking and observing is something that has been found susceptible to change, a process sometimes called “neuroplasticity”.  Training ourselves to become aware of each negative thought as it begins, and making the effort to stamp out the negative and remind ourselves of positive outlooks, positive goals or even positive memories will create neural pathways in the brain that gradually make it easier to look on the bright side and move on from negativity.

Another approach that we use in our practice is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” which trains patients to look at their present reality instead of demanding that reality change first.  Then, when you get to the point of accepting that the reality “is what it is” you can begin to take steps to grow or move forward towards your own goals and finding your own purpose in life.

Finding some way to take control and overcome built-in biases is an important way to reduce the risk of relapse into depression, and to move forward in the healing process.

Reference:  American Psychological Association. (2023, August 21). Formerly depressed patients continue to focus on negative. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 22, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/08/230821113943.htm