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How Depression Affects Our Thinking and Decision-Making Skills

Depression has a way of draining the life out of you, leaving you feeling uninterested in things you once loved. Depression takes its toll not only on your mental health, but also on every aspect of your life including work, school, family, and other relationships. Listlessness, passivity and a negative outlook are the core features of depression, and these features may influence your cognitive abilities – hampering your thinking and decision-making skills.

Connection between Depression and Cognition

A recent study showed that individuals with severe depressive symptoms make less productive decisions and are less likely to engage in adaptive decision making. The researchers found that this correlation was because people with high levels of depression were less likely to seek out available information to help them solve a problem and were more likely to use fewer resources.

Depression impairs a cognitive function called executive skills. These are the skills we engage when we plan and organize ways to complete a task. For instance, completing paperwork at your workplace is an executive thinking task. This is because it involves planning how to complete the assignment, what resources you will use to get information for the task, and how you will lay out the facts on the document. In depressed people, this executive function is significantly slowed.

A 2018 study by a group of psychologists at the University of Sussex, UK has found the underlying cause of this link. The study revealed that in depression, the brain appears to age faster; consequently, people with depression may be at an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline later in life.

How to Boost Thinking Skills in Depression

Severe depression can lead to a decline in your cognitive abilities. This will no doubt reduce your performance at work, school, and even how enjoyable your interpersonal relationships are. However, there are a few things you must know – and do – to rev up your thinking skills and boost your executive function.

1. Check your Thoughts

Your therapist will train you on cognitive behavioral techniques that help you understand your thought processes and stop negative thoughts on their tracks. Using this approach, you will be taught how to think happy thoughts and starve those negative ones.

This may take a lot of practice and patience, but the idea is that once your mind regains a positive outlook, it feeds other areas of your brain, especially the parts that coordinate executive functions. In addition, a positive mental outlook gives you both mental and physical strength to carry out and complete tasks.

2. Stay Organized

A great way to boost your decision-making and cognitive skills is to stay organized. First, break large tasks into small, achievable chunks and take it from there. Large tasks may seem overwhelming until you break them down into smaller chunks that make their execution and completion seamless.

Furthermore, create to-do lists. This helps you keep track of your progress and manage your time more efficiently. Without a to-do list, work will seem arduous and more difficult to achieve. This only complicates things as it would keep you feeling overwhelmed and unable to even begin.

3. Handle Fewer Decisions

In dealing with cognitive impairments with depression, it may help to keep things simple. Reduce the burden of decisions you have to make by making some activities routine. For instance, instead of getting worked up by what clothes to wear to work or which food to eat for breakfast, you might as well simplify that decision by wearing a particular outfit on a certain day or eating the same thing for breakfast every morning.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Reduced thinking skills and processing speeds are not uncommon in sleep deprived non-depressed people. Now in people with depression, going several days without adequate sleep may exacerbate the problem.

During sleep, the brain repairs itself and makes stronger connections to retain information it has processed during the day. One step to increasing your brain’s thinking speed is to sleep more. The American Psychological Association recommends 6-8 hours of sleep every night for adults. Having less than this may reduce your ability to think well. It's important to talk with your family doctor and psychiatrist about the quality of your sleep.

Take Small Steps

Depression has a way of draining you physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Depression literally slows down how your brain processes information and, in turn, how much information it can process. To get out of this, you need to be patient with yourself and adopt strategies that improve your brain power and mitigate those depressive thoughts and emotions.


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