AS@W Antidepressant Skills at Work: Dealing with Mood Problems in the Workplace
Realistic Thinking
Step 1 Lean to identify depressive thoughts

Depressive thoughts are unfair and unrealistic. They are distorted because they are inaccurate reflections of yourself and the world around you. The following types of distorted thoughts are common in depression.


Focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive. Focusing on the negative side of experiences and events leads to your whole life seeming to be negative. For example, you receive a performance evaluation from your supervisor: even though most of it is positive, you only remember the bit where "room for improvement" was identified and so you experience this evaluation as mainly critical. Realistic thinking balances consideration of both positive and negative aspects of a situation.


One negative event is seen to be the start of a never-ending pattern. You may think that if you fail the first time, you'll fail every time. For example, you lose a sale that you thought would go through and you start to think that you'll lose every sale. Realistic thinking recognizes that one disappointing situation does not determine how other situations will turn out.

All or Nothing Thinking

You see the world in terms of extremes. You are either smart or stupid, tidy or a slob, happy or depressed. Situations are either wonderful or terrible, successes or failures. Other people are either friends or enemies, good or bad. There is no in-between. Gradual improvement is never enough. For example, if you don't get a promotion you applied for, you think of yourself as completely incompetent, the situation as a total failure, and your employer as completely unfair. Realistic thinking involves seeing events and people as falling somewhere between the extremes - toward the middle, where most things are found.


A small disappointment is viewed as a disaster. For example, you were slightly late in completing a small project, so you see the entire month as ruined: you react to the imagined catastrophe (a terrible month) rather than to the smaller event (a late project). Realistic thinking involves evaluating events according to their actual importance, and not blowing negative events out of proportion.


Labeling involves talking to yourself in a harsh way and calling yourself names such as "idiot", "loser", or other insults. You talk to yourself in a way you would never talk to anyone else. For example, you make a small error in your work and blame yourself harshly, calling yourself "stupid" and "useless". Realistic thinking avoids the use of insulting labels because they are not fair, you wouldn't talk to anyone else that way and they are unnecessarily discouraging.


You feel as though you know what others are thinking about you, and it's always negative. As a result, you react to what you imagine they think, without bothering to ask. For example, your new supervisor doesn't provide performance feedback, so you assume that she thinks you are incompetent. Realistic thinking recognizes that guessing what others think about you is likely to be inaccurate, especially when your mood is down.

Fortune Telling

You feel as though you know what the future will bring, and it's negative. Nothing will work out, so why bother trying? For example, you don't bother applying for a job you would prefer and are qualified for because you're convinced you wouldn't have a chance. Realistic thinking recognizes that you don't know how things will turn out; by staying open to the possibility of positive results, you'll be more hopeful and more likely to achieve a positive outcome.


It's only good enough if it's perfect – and since you can't make most things perfect, you're rarely satisfied and rarely take pride in anything. For example, you are a teacher and expect yourself to have your lesson plans completed before the start of the term; or, you only take courses where you're convinced you'll be able to get one of the top grades, so you miss out on training that would be quite useful. Realistic thinking gives credit for accomplishments, even if the result is less than perfect. Few of us reach perfection in what we do, but our achievements are meaningful.


You think that you know how the world should be, and it isn't like that. You know what you should be like, and you aren't. You know how other people should behave and they don't. As a result, you are constantly disappointed and angry with yourself and those around you. For example, you have a new colleague who lacks complete knowledge about the job you share – you tell yourself that this situation is totally unacceptable and you feel very upset that he was hired. Realistic thinking understands the limitations of the world and of yourself – trying for improvement but also accepting how things are. The world isn't always going to be fair and just.

There are other types of depressive thinking, but these are the most common ones. When you catch yourself thinking depressively, it can be useful to look at this list to see if you are using one of these styles of thinking.

Most thinking is so quick and so automatic that we don't even realize we are doing it. We must learn to become aware of depressive thinking as it occurs. An excellent strategy is to notice thoughts you are having at times you are experiencing a drop in your mood – it can be very helpful to write these thoughts down.

Although depression may seem like a dark cloud that is constantly around, our mood actually varies over the course of the day. Every time your mood sinks, ask yourself this important question: "What was going through my mind just then?" Pay attention to what you were thinking about and what you were reacting to. Write this down. For example, perhaps you were participating in a staff meeting and suddenly felt a deepening of the gloom you've been feeling. What was going through your mind just then? Perhaps you made a suggestion that didn't get much discussion from the group, and you had the thought that "they don't value my opinion at all".

If you record your thoughts for a period of time, you will likely notice that the same kinds of depressive thinking come up again and again. You might find yourself placing a checkmark beside certain thoughts you wrote down earlier ("Oh, that one again."). When this happens, you have probably identified the most common kinds of depressive thinking for you.

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