I see things. Distorted shot of a woman looking anxious

PTSD and depression

PTSD and depression can often happen at the same time because of the impact that stress and trauma can have on mood. Everyone has low moods or periods of  “feeling blue” from time-to-time. However, depression is more intense, lasts longer, and has a large negative impact on your life. Many symptoms of PTSD and depression overlap, including:

  • Feeling detached from loved ones
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions 
  • Decreased motivation to engage in regularly enjoyed activities
Bendell, K. (2020 November 18). What are PTSD and Depression? [Video]. Royal Talks. What are PTSD and Depression? – YouTube

Low mood & the brain

There are many chemicals in your brain that influence how you think, feel, and act. Two important brain chemicals that impact mood are serotonin and dopamine. Often, negative mood states occur when there are low levels of these chemicals released in the brain. 

Boosting these brain chemicals can help you shift towards a more positive mood. There are many activities that can increase serotonin and dopamine, including:

  • Physical activity
  • Goal setting
  • Eating nutrient-rich foods
  • Trying something new
  • Spending time in nature 

Incorporating one (or many) of these activities into your daily routine may help increase your brain’s production of these chemicals, which can increase your mood over time.

Thinking traps

It’s very common for people experiencing low mood (e.g., sadness, depression) to have thinking styles that match (and often worsen) their low mood states. These unhelpful thinking styles – also called “thinking traps” – are thoughts that everybody experiences sometimes but are especially common for people experiencing depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and have the power to impact how they interpret their world and the conclusions they come to.

Identifying when you’re falling into one of these thinking traps can be the first step in getting out of them. Increasing your self-awareness of these styles of thinking can help get you out of negative thought cycles and decrease the negative mood states that often accompany them.

Some of the most common thinking traps include:

Thinking trapExampleCounter thought
Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen despite how unlikely it might be in reality.  “My boss wants to speak with me today, I am probably going to be fired.”  “Although I am surprised my boss wants to talk to me, I don’t know what will happen and I have no reason to think I will be fired.”
Mental filtering: Solely focusing on negative events while dismissing positive or neutral information.  “I received a good performance review at work, but I can’t stop thinking about that one negative comment I was given.”“I should be proud that I have clearly demonstrated high capability of doing my job, therefore I can take this comment as constructive feedback to improve.”
All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things in extremes or as black-or-white; things are either all good or all bad, nothing in between.  “If I’m not perfect, I have failed.”“Is there any middle ground I am not seeing in this scenario? Mistakes happen, but they do not mean I am a failure.”
Labelling: Infer global statements about yourself or others based upon behaviour or reaction to a specific situation“I’m terrible at my job because I was unable to accommodate all patients in my schedule today.”“The demand on the healthcare system is high right now, but this does not mean that I am a failure at my job.”
Magnification and minimization: Magnifying the positive attributes of another, while minimizing your own.  “Everyone else is so competent and put together, they do not want to hear about my struggles.”“I am deserving to talk about my struggles and talking about how I’m feeling may actually help someone else.”
Shoulding and musting: Posing excessive pressure on yourself to meet unrealistic expectations  “I must pick up as many additional shifts as possible or else I will let my coworkers and patients down.”  “My value as a coworker is not conditional on picking up additional shifts. I need to take care of myself first to be the best version of myself for others.”
Personalization: Assuming blame for everything that goes wrong in your life.  “My child got in trouble at school today because I don’t spend enough time with him since I work so much.”“My child may have made a mistake, but I am not in control of their behaviour and can only talk to them about it.”
Emotional reasoning: Interpreting a situation based primarily on your emotions in the moment.  “I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot and look unprofessional in front of my co-workers.”“Although I feel embarrassed, my co-workers have probably also felt this way before and are not judging me.”