Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/2/2021
Dealing with depression can be a major mental struggle. When you feel depressed, it’s common for certain thoughts to dominate your mind and change the way you feel and behave on a day-to-day basis.
While it’s normal to occasionally experience negative thoughts, people with depression are often affected by long-lasting, recurring thoughts that continue for weeks or months at a time.
Part of the process of treating and recovering from depression is identifying these ‘depression thoughts’ and taking action to change them.
Below, we’ve listed common depression thoughts, as well as how each thought may affect your feelings and behavior.
We’ve also explained what you can do to manage depressive thoughts through psychotherapy, medication, healthy lifestyle changes and more.
Depression affects everyone slightly differently, meaning the mental signs of depression aren’t always the same for every person.
However, there are several thoughts and mental symptoms that are common in depression for many people.
We’ve listed these thoughts, feelings and ideas below, along with information on how each one may affect you if you have major depression or another form of depressive illness.
One of the most common symptoms of depression is a loss of interest in hobbies, activities and other things you once found fun and fulfilling.
If you have a depressive disorder, you may find that you no longer feel interested in doing things that you used to enjoy.
And when you do spend time on your hobbies and interests, it may no longer feel pleasurable like it did before.
This loss of pleasure can affect your behavior and cause you to isolate and avoid spending time on the things that give your life meaning.
When you’re depressed, you may feel sad or empty, even if there’s no obvious reason for you to feel this way.
Getting through the day might feel like a chore, and your negative mood may stick around regardless of what happens during the day.
It’s common to feel this way when you’re depressed. Sometimes, there may be a reason for you to feel sad or empty, but your feelings are disproportionate or overly persistent.
When you feel sad, efforts to cheer you up may not be effective. You might think about how you feel empty, worthless or guilty, or have repetitive intrusive thoughts that pull you down when you should be feeling up.
Many people with depression also develop symptoms of anxiety. In fact, research has found that depression and anxiety disorders are highly comorbid, meaning that both issues often occur at the same time.
When you’re depressed, you may constantly feel worried about something, whether it’s an event from your past or something that might happen in the future. This might dominate your thoughts and prevent you from thinking about other things.
Sometimes, anxious thoughts and worries can completely take over your mind and prevent you from putting things in perspective.
Like other depressive symptoms, this can affect the way that you behave and have a serious impact on your quality of life.
One common symptom of depression is rumination, or constantly thinking about the same dark, depressing thoughts.
It’s common to go through setbacks in life and face problems that need to be solved. A healthy, effective way to deal with problems is to identify a potential solution, then take action and start working toward it.
Yet when you ruminate, you may keep thinking about a negative event, or deliberate over the best way to solve it.
Instead of inspiring you to take action, your constant thinking may simply make the problem worse by impairing your ability to think effectively.
Experts believe that many people ruminate because they believe they’re getting insight from the process, or because they believe that their stressors are uncontrollable.
Rumination may also be associated with personality characteristics. For example, you might be more likely to constantly think about problems if you’re neurotic, a perfectionist, or if you have a focus on prioritizing your relationships with others over yourself.
Depressive thoughts don’t leave you when you close your eyes. Often, they can follow you into your sleep and affect you while you dream.
Although research is limited, studies have shown that people with depression, particularly a form of major depressive disorder called melancholic depression, are more likely to have nightmares than their peers.
Depression is also associated with other sleep issues, such as difficulty falling asleep and early morning awakening.
When you’re depressed, you may have negative thoughts at night that prevent you from falling asleep, or wake up early without a clear cause.
Certain anxious thoughts may also affect your sleep habits by causing sleep anxiety.
Sometimes, depression can have the opposite effect on your sleep patterns, causing you to feel tired almost all of the time.
If you’re depressed, you might constantly think that you have very little energy. Doing even the simplest task may feel like a draining experience, and you may notice that you move or talk at a slower pace than normal.
Instead of dealing with insomnia, you may feel like you need to sleep more than usual in order to feel normal. You might oversleep and find it difficult to wake up at a normal time.
When you’re in the middle of a depressive episode, you might think that spending time with your friends and family members, or just leaving the house at all, is pointless.
Research shows that social isolation is often a consequence of depression, and that symptoms of depression can affect a person’s ability to create, maintain and terminate social relationships, such as with friends and loved ones.
Since normal activities don’t feel pleasurable when you’re depressed, you may find that you no longer feel like meeting friends or other important people in your life.
Instead of making things better, isolating yourself can lead to loneliness, which may worsen the symptoms of your depression.
When you have depression, especially severe depression, gaining control over your negative thoughts can feel almost impossible.
However, with the right combination of psychotherapy, medication and habits, it’s possible to change the way you think, overcome your depressed moods and gain more control over the ways that you gather and process information.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, or if you’ve recently been experiencing depressive thoughts, try the following techniques to manage your thinking and improve your quality of life.
Exercising isn’t just good for your physical health — it’s also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins — chemicals that improve your mood and help you cope with stress.
Exercise also stimulates the release of growth factors that help nerve cells develop new connections, improving your mood and brain function.
In addition to directly improving depression, exercising gives you a great excuse to get out of the house and silence the depression thoughts telling you to isolate yourself.
To get started, try walking around your neighborhood, riding a bike or working out with weights at home or at the gym.
Aim for the CDC’s recommendation of 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week, as well as strength-building workouts at least two days a week.
While ruminating might seem like the best way to get to the root of a problem, it’s far more likely to make your depressive thoughts worse rather than better.
Evidence shows that people who ruminate are four times more likely to develop depression than non-ruminators.
Put simply, thinking too much about a problem often makes the problem more significant, at least from a mental health perspective.
Try to break the habit of ruminating by focusing on other things, such as your health, friendships or romantic relationship.
Or, if you must think about your problems, be constructive and begin to take steps to solve them.
Mindfulness is a popular meditation technique that involves focusing on what’s happening to you in the present, then accepting it without judgment.
As part of mindfulness meditation, you might spend five to 10 minutes each day focusing on the way you breathe, all while training your mind to come back to the present moment when you’re distracted by certain thoughts.
Research shows that mindfulness-based therapy is often effective at treating stress, depression and anxiety.
It may also help to prolong the effects of depression treatment by reducing the risk of experiencing relapse.
You can practice mindfulness meditation by yourself at home, or join a local class to meditate in a group setting.
Depression can and does improve, but it’s not an overnight process. Even with active treatment, it may take several weeks or months before you consistently feel better.
While you’re recovering, focus on making gradual improvements. Expect your mood to improve slowly, not instantly, and set realistic goals so you can track your progress as you’re getting better.
While you’re recovering, try to avoid making major decisions. Instead, focus on changing your thought patterns and getting a little bit better every day.
Over the long term, even the smallest milestones can add up to huge improvements in your thoughts and moods.
If you have persistent, depressive thoughts that don’t seem to improve on their own, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional for help.
Depressive thoughts are often severe and overwhelming, and dealing with them by yourself isn’t always possible. Reaching out to a professional can give you the support you need to make real progress toward recovery from your depression.
To get help, you can connect with a licensed psychiatry provider online via this online psychiatry service.
Your provider will work with you to find the best form of treatment based on your symptoms and needs.
Negative thoughts are a major component of depression. They’re often one of the most difficult components of depression to deal with.
While it’s impossible to avoid all negative thinking, the right combination of habits, therapy and, if required, medication can help you gain more control over your thoughts and gradually get rid of the negative thought patterns that contribute to your depression.
Need professional help dealing with depression, anxiety or other mental disorders? These easy-to-access online mental health services include psychiatry, online therapy and support groups to help you take control of your symptoms and successfully deal with mental health difficulties.
You can also learn more about dealing with depression through these free online mental health resources.