Last week, I broke down a mental health term I’ve learned more about in recent years – automatic negative thoughts. We all process things in different ways, and negative thoughts are a byproduct of that processing. While I haven’t been able to rid myself of negative thoughts, I have been able to recognize them and try to deal with them in a more direct way than I used to. Here are some ways I try dealing with automatic negative thoughts, as well as some reminders about managing them.
Reminder: you are not alone
It’s easy to fall into thinking that we’re going through this alone, but the truth is that so many people deal with ANTs, and all of us experience negative thoughts. There’s strength in numbers, and naming the fact that you’re not alone is often helpful in stressful times.
Everyone deals with negative thoughts
This is similar to the first point, but what I want to make clear about this is how blunt this is. Saying that everyone has negative thoughts isn’t saying something bad about another person; rather, it’s a reminder that we’re human.
Watch out for “should” thinking
There are many ways to refer to this type of thinking but basically, “should” thinking is when we say that we should have done something instead of what ended up happening. While it might sound helpful at first, it can create a pattern of negative thinking and irrational thinking. It can also end up creating fear and doubt within a person – if you think about what you should or could have done, you think less about what you’re actually doing.
Recognize your own patterns
Everyone’s thoughts are unique to them, and ANTs work the same way. Over time, a few reoccurring thoughts become a habit, which become a pattern. This leads to having the same ANTs over and over again, to the point where you’re doing it…automatically (see what I did there?). Recognizing your own pattern of negative thoughts is a healthy first step toward progress.
Consider alternatives to your original thought
This is something I’m still learning about, but it’s been very helpful in dealing with ANTs. When we have a negative thought, it feels very cut and dry. I didn’t do X because I’m Y. But the reality of the situation is often very different, and finding a more rational, grounding thought can often help us deal with thought patterns we’ve developed while providing protection against building new patterns.