Automatic negative thoughts are not easy to decipher because they are mostly random.
While moments of doubt exist in almost everyone, according to experts, the level is what will decide the best course of action. Why is it important to stop negative thought patterns?
It is necessary to have a good handle on your train of thought because negative thinking is a major part of mental health problems like anxiety, depression, stress, and addiction.
Automatic negative thinking is also a huge factor in people with low self-esteem. So, exactly, what are automatic negative thoughts? How to stop automatic negative thoughts?
What Are Automatic Negative Thoughts – ANTs
According to a 2020 report, on average, humans have over 6,000 thoughts per day.
Some are positive, and others are negative. The latter can have a bad impact on your mental health.
Automatic negative thoughts fall in the problematic category. Moreover, they come and go at a fast pace.
They are often overwhelming and responsible for increasing your stress because they are irrational. Famed American doctor and neuropsychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD defines negative thinking in the following way:
ANTs are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep coming all by themselves. ANTs can cause people to be depressed and fatalistic, which have a profound impact on their lives
Concretely, those thoughts manifest through statements like “My future is bleak,” “I’m worthless,” and “I can’t get started.” This kind of negative thinking is really harmful because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the person can quickly find themselves in a loop of negativity.
In a way, the negative thinking feeds the gloom in the person’s life, and they rapidly end up believing that things can never get better for them.
Psychologist Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., an assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, who has appeared on the TODAY Show, told VeryWellMind:
Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all linked, so our thoughts impact how we feel and act. So, although we all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, it’s important to know what to do when they appear, so we don’t let them change the course of our day
In order to tackle those situations, it is essential to be able to identify the most common automatic negative thoughts.
9 Common Automatic Negative Thoughts
Dr. Amen is a real expert on this matter, and he has covered it extensively in his 1996’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. The nine ANTs go as follows.
1. The All or Nothing Thinking (Everything Is Either Black or White)
This ANT is associated with terms like “always,” “never,” and “everything.” The behavior follows extreme patterns from one side to the other. One missed opportunity can undo months of hard work.
If you identify this train of thought, it is time to adopt a different strategy. For example, if you have two consecutive cheat days in your diet, there is no need to stop the entire thing.
2. Focusing on the Negative
In this case, even when things are good, the mind prefers to focus on the negative. An example would go like this, a person just lost 12 pounds. Instead of celebrating this accomplishment, they prefer to focus on missing their 15-pound goal.
3. Fortune Telling
This has nothing to do with psychic powers or anything of that nature. Instead, it is when the mind chooses to center on all of the things that can go wrong in a situation.
4. Mind Reading
Here, you think you know what someone is thinking. Additionally, you assume that they have negative thoughts about you without any real proof.
5. Thinking With Your Feelings
There you have negative feelings, and you do not even bother to question them for even a second.
6. Guilt Beatings
Your negative thought patterns lead you to a form of excessive guilt. The mind is always circling around terms like “should” or “have to.”
Automatic negative thinking also involves labeling yourself or others with words like “lazy,” “fat,” “stupid,” or “loser.” This ANT is also a bit self-fulfilling.
8. Taking Things Personally
It might be difficult to admit, but most of the time, other people are not thinking about you. Moreover, if they do not treat you as well as you would like, it is best not to see it as a personal insult. There might be other factors at play in the situation.
Experts see this ANT as really problematic because it can truly alter your relationship with others. There is absolutely no need to blame them for your problems. While French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people” It is best to look at your situation with a clear eye.
Moreover, there are even healthy ways to express anger. Covering the most common automatic negative thoughts is important in helping understand how to change your thought process.
How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts?
How to change your thought process? How to stop negative thinking patterns? These questions are linked to reclaiming your train of thought.
6 Ways to Replace Negative Thoughts
- Do not be afraid to question yourself.
- Keep a paper trail, a so-called thought diary, and write down your automatic negative thoughts.
- Be your own critic, and when the ANTS show up, find creative ways to push back and reduce their impact on you.
- Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. This might sound mundane, but research has proven that this does work. Some experts say that people dealing with excess negative thinking should replace the ANTS with PETs (Positive Empowering Thoughts). It is a powerful way to reframe your circumstances.
- Take the power out of your negative thoughts by viewing them as dull and boring. Since ANTs tend to be repetitive, you can diminish their strength by saying, “There you go again.”
- To change your thought process, it is necessary to drop certain terms like “I should” or “I should not” and replace them with more positive affirmations. For example, “I should clean up my room” can easily become “I enjoy cleaning my room on Saturdays.” You move from a chore with a negative undertone to something more beneficiary to your overall well-being.
Treatment for Negative Thinking Disorder
There are some simple ways to overcome negative thinking, reduce stress, destroy negativity and get rid of depression.
6 Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety
- Getting more exercise can be a good thing when negative thinking is becoming overwhelming.
- Adopting a healthier diet is always a plus when dealing with stress and anxiety.
- Reducing screen time could also help improve your situation. Research has found a direct link between excessive screen time and worsened mental health conditions.
- Meditating can be an efficient way to shut things down for a little while and quiet your mind when things are starting to get out of control.
- Practicing gratitude does wonder for some people in different aspects of their life. Gratitude helps mental health and is a great tool to gain more emotional strength.
- If none of these tips work to improve your situation, it is okay to seek professional help to address some of your issues. The field is evolving, and there are new ideas surfacing that might bring positive changes to you.
Mental health is becoming a bigger part of the conversation about what it means to be human. The topic is large and contains many different elements. Negative thinking is an issue that affects a lot of people, and it is not always easy getting the best out of these automatic negative thoughts.
Thankfully, some treatments for anxiety and stress do show promising signs.