What Turns Wandering Thoughts into Something Worse?

1 week ago 18

Oct. 13, 2021 -- With all the lockdowns and social distancing of the pandemic, people have had a lot of time to themselves over the past year and a half. While some may have filled their time with bread baking or long walks, others may have felt they had too much time to themselves, too much time to think.

These experiences came with more depression and anxiety, which could be linked to the same brain network that is thought to support a meandering mind, called the default mode network.

Scientists interested in this network wanted to understand how wandering thoughts can lead some people to a state of brooding in which the same negative thoughts resurface repeatedly. To gain some insight into these patterns, they recorded more than 2,000 thoughts spoken aloud by 78 study participants who did nothing but let their minds wander for 10 minutes.

Senior researcher Jessica Andrews‐Hanna, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and her colleagues hoped that analyzing these stream-of-consciousness thoughts could yield insights into how people become stuck in negative mental spirals.

They found that most participants thought about the present or future in words that were neither particularly negative nor positive. Almost three-quarters of the thoughts were focused inward on the person or were imaginative.

Negativity Breeds Negativity

But the investigators found an interesting pattern with negative thoughts. The more negative someone's thoughts became, the more likely that their next idea would be related to their previous one. In other words, negative thoughts created a chain reaction of more negative thoughts.

Positive thoughts, in contrast, tended to be followed by completely unrelated ruminations, indicating true mental meandering. The pattern suggested that negativity tends to narrow the range of thoughts, whereas positivity tends to expand it during periods in which the mind wanders.

The researchers also found -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- that negative thoughts that were focused on the self and on the past were more likely to result in brooding, while positive thoughts were less likely to arise.

Marley Hall

The first step towards coping with depression is to seek treatment, but for many people that's not an easy first step.

Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Schwartz joins us now to help shed some light on this topic. Now, Dr. Schwartz, first off, what are some of the signs that let us know we need to start seeking treatments?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

Well, I think the typical signs of depression are sadness and loss of enjoyment, and the key would be, when do they start interfering with your life?

I think at that point you have to say like any medical condition, this hurts enough, and I think that's the trigger to start asking questions about getting help.

Marley Hall

Now, why do some people find it so hard to take that first step and actually seek the treatment?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

I think first of all there is an issue of access to care. There're, obviously, places in this country where there are no mental health specialists or providers.

If you have a general doctor, often you can start there, but some people don't have general doctors either.

So one issue is a lack of people you can see. I think other things come up too. Some people feel they're weak. They have poor character.

Their depression is just not a good thing. They're embarrassed to bring it up or shy to bring it up.

Part of that, unfortunately, is a symptom of depression where people will feel extreme guilt or worthlessness. Their self-esteem would be low.

I think all of those things can interfere with patients seeking appropriate care.

Marley Hall

So, if you suspect you suffer from depression, who should you talk to first, a friend, a family member, a doctor?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

I think any of those are good choices. I think you should talk to somebody and whoever you're most comfortable with.

Some people are actually not very comfortable talking to their spouse or significant other, but more comfortable talking to the more neutral general doctor.

So, I think the one word of advice is talk to any of those people. And then you can go from there, depending how complicated your depression is.

Marley Hall

Now what are some of the important questions to ask when you're approaching a mental help specialist?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

A couple of things, if you're looking for psychotherapy, you really don't want to be on a medication, then you're going to want to ask for a clinical social worker or a clinical psychologist.

So these are the CSW and the PhDs. Cause these are the ones who will do the talk therapy, the psychotherapy.

If you're leaning more towards medication, you're really going to want to talk to your general doctor or ask for a psychiatrist, but of which are medical doctors.

Marley Hall

Now I know ehen people are depressed they are not quite themselves. Do you recommend that they have someone navigate the process with them?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

I think the more sever a depression is–people with very severe depression may not get out of bed, may not feed themselves, often may not think straight to even make their appointments on time.

So, the more severe of a depression somebody has, I think you do clearly have to involve other people.

I think the milder depression, is some people function very well, doing their own thing at their own pace.

So I think it's a question of severity and yes the folks in the middle I think you have to gauge what they need and what will make their treatment effective.

Marley Hall

For the folks who find it difficult to make that first step, what advice do you have for them?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

Just make the first step! It's very interesting, if you talk to people who are depressed, they usually do suffer, not just for two weeks, sometimes, it's 2-3 years before they seek treatment.

So, my advice is, just do it. Just get yourself in, if you're that impaired, start asking questions. And whatever is within your comfort range, you get the ball rolling and get treatment.

Marley Hall

That's good advice! Thanks so much Dr. Schwartz! Please join us again for the next episode of 'Depression in Focus'.

It’s important to note that most study participants were young and educated and may have only said things that they were comfortable with the researchers hearing. And because the authors didn't ask participants about their moods, the investigators could not associate specific patterns of thought with any mental health conditions.

Although the findings, published in Scientific Reports, do not on their own point to solutions for depression or anxiety, they may offer a starting point for future research into how negative trains of thoughts begin -- and perhaps how to derail them.

Marley Hall

The first step towards coping with depression is to seek treatment, but for many people that's not an easy first step.

Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Schwartz joins us now to help shed some light on this topic. Now, Dr. Schwartz, first off, what are some of the signs that let us know we need to start seeking treatments?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

Well, I think the typical signs of depression are sadness and loss of enjoyment, and the key would be, when do they start interfering with your life?

I think at that point you have to say like any medical condition, this hurts enough, and I think that's the trigger to start asking questions about getting help.

Marley Hall

Now, why do some people find it so hard to take that first step and actually seek the treatment?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

I think first of all there is an issue of access to care. There're, obviously, places in this country where there are no mental health specialists or providers.

If you have a general doctor, often you can start there, but some people don't have general doctors either.

So one issue is a lack of people you can see. I think other things come up too. Some people feel they're weak. They have poor character.

Their depression is just not a good thing. They're embarrassed to bring it up or shy to bring it up.

Part of that, unfortunately, is a symptom of depression where people will feel extreme guilt or worthlessness. Their self-esteem would be low.

I think all of those things can interfere with patients seeking appropriate care.

Marley Hall

So, if you suspect you suffer from depression, who should you talk to first, a friend, a family member, a doctor?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

I think any of those are good choices. I think you should talk to somebody and whoever you're most comfortable with.

Some people are actually not very comfortable talking to their spouse or significant other, but more comfortable talking to the more neutral general doctor.

So, I think the one word of advice is talk to any of those people. And then you can go from there, depending how complicated your depression is.

Marley Hall

Now what are some of the important questions to ask when you're approaching a mental help specialist?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

A couple of things, if you're looking for psychotherapy, you really don't want to be on a medication, then you're going to want to ask for a clinical social worker or a clinical psychologist.

So these are the CSW and the PhDs. Cause these are the ones who will do the talk therapy, the psychotherapy.

If you're leaning more towards medication, you're really going to want to talk to your general doctor or ask for a psychiatrist, but of which are medical doctors.

Marley Hall

Now I know ehen people are depressed they are not quite themselves. Do you recommend that they have someone navigate the process with them?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

I think the more sever a depression is–people with very severe depression may not get out of bed, may not feed themselves, often may not think straight to even make their appointments on time.

So, the more severe of a depression somebody has, I think you do clearly have to involve other people.

I think the milder depression, is some people function very well, doing their own thing at their own pace.

So I think it's a question of severity and yes the folks in the middle I think you have to gauge what they need and what will make their treatment effective.

Marley Hall

For the folks who find it difficult to make that first step, what advice do you have for them?

Dr. Thomas Shwartz

Just make the first step! It's very interesting, if you talk to people who are depressed, they usually do suffer, not just for two weeks, sometimes, it's 2-3 years before they seek treatment.

So, my advice is, just do it. Just get yourself in, if you're that impaired, start asking questions. And whatever is within your comfort range, you get the ball rolling and get treatment.

Marley Hall

That's good advice! Thanks so much Dr. Schwartz! Please join us again for the next episode of 'Depression in Focus'.

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