I am so used to thinking the worst, that when my therapist suggested I tried doing a Thought Challenge exercise, to help me have more balanced thinking, I thought I would never be able to do that. Going through the steps of the Thought Challenge exercise made all the difference.
I’ve always had a tendency to think about worst case scenarios, but before giving birth to Emma I could let the catastrophic thinking go. I realize now that before having postpartum depression I was coming up with more balanced thoughts to replace my negative thoughts without even being aware I was doing it. I remember thinking things like “What if my baby is born dead?”, but I was able to push that thought out of my mind immediately. I wouldn’t even start feeling the despair and some healthier part of my mind would come to the rescue saying something like “that is extremely unlikely and I have no need to think about it”.
I am not sure what happened to my hormones or my perception of life and myself, but since Emma was born I am no longer able to keep my catastrophic thinking under control. Now I start thinking that Emma is not gaining weight because she has an undiagnosed congenital defect or because I am a completely incompetent mother, and there’s no stopping me. By the time I realize how negative my thinking is I am already feeling so depressed and in despair that I can’t get out of the hole.
Doing Thought Challenge exercises has helped me practice healthier coping skills. Here’s how I challenged the catastrophic idea that Emma was dying.
I started by describing all the reasons I had to believe she was dying:
- Maybe she’s not gaining enough weight because she has a serious illness.
- She looks so fragile.
- If I am not able to feed her better she will get sick.
Then I wrote down the evidence against my automatic catastrophic thinking:
- The Dr. said that it is common for newborns to lose some weight on the first few days of life.
- The Dr. didn’t seem worried and said she was doing fine otherwise.
- Even if she was sick, she would most likely be treated successfully.
And then I came up with a more balanced thought:
“Emma’s lack of weight gain is concerning, but she is extremely unlikely to die from it”
Here’s a picture of this CBT activity: