Irrational beliefs and expectations can form the underlying cognitive infrastructure of depression. Cognitive means the way we think about ourselves and our circumstances. Cognitive therapy is the process of restructuring distorted thought patterns so that they are more realistic. Identifying and correcting faulty beliefs can greatly improve mood and energy level. Keeping a journal of thoughts and their associated emotions can expose problematic expectations and beliefs. The journal of a person who is depressed may reveal that they see themselves as a failure, believe that their situation is hopeless and their future is bleak.
Dr. David D. Burns has identified some common distorted beliefs that exacerbate depression. His book Feeling Good provides a more in depth review of each type of distortion along with rational comebacks.
A type of perfectionistic thinking called All-or-Nothing Thinking involves evaluating your personal qualities in black or white terms. An A student believes that a B on an exam is a complete failure. This type of thinking causes you to fear making mistakes.
Generalization involves seeing negative events as part of a never ending pattern. When a friend is unable to meet for coffee you conclude that no one ever wants to spend time with you.
Disqualifying the Positive is a pattern of ignoring positive aspects of a situation and looking for the negative. When someone gives you a compliment you think to yourself,
"Oh they don't really mean that. They're just trying to be nice".
When you have a negative experience it proves your faulty belief that you are worthless and positive experiences don't count.
The Mind Reading Error occurs when you think you know what another person is thinking about you. A raised eyebrow means they don't like you, when in reality they might simply have had a stomach pain.
Fortune Telling involves predicting the outcome of a situation. Usually that prediction is negative. Suppose you want to ask someone out on a date but you predict that you will call and they will make up an excuse just to get out of going. You will probably decide not to call and using generalization you conclude that this is a pattern of constant rejection.
The above mentioned distortions are just a few of the irrational expectations and beliefs that form the basis of depression.
In order to expose the lies hidden in the distortions it is best to start by observing your thoughts. Over the course of the day keep a notebook with you and write down your thoughts.
They might not be complete thoughts. Sometimes they are only phrases or words. For instance,
"Mean look", "Rejected", "Failure". Take a look at each one and try to determine how it might be distorted. Then counteract it with rational thoughts and expectations.
After talking yourself out of calling to ask someone on a date you write, "She will say no and I'll have to listen to her lame excuse that will probably be a lie anyway." This is clearly an example of Fortune Telling. Now counteract with some rational thinking. In reality you have no way of knowing what she will do. You have good qualities and bad qualities like everyone else. People have differing opinions about what is attractive. You have as much a chance as anyone of getting a date.
Generalization might lead to beliefs that a speeding ticket is just another example of how your life is one long chain of negative events. Rational thinking can expose the lie that connects all the events in your life in some magical way.
Remind yourself that you are not the center of the universe. Things don't happen because of you. The police officer who wrote the ticket does not know you and therefore could not be personally attacking you. Remember all the times you drove without getting a ticket.
Often distorted thoughts involve extremes. Always, never, should, have to, must are words that irrationally set you up to fail. Eliminate them and you will see situations with more flexibility and self-acceptance.
With practice you will be able to master your thoughts and in turn influence the way you feel.