Reducing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

Did you know that the average human brain has up to 70,000 thoughts a day? We’re going to learn how to reduce automatic negative thoughts.

There is little awareness in the public domain of the importance of taking care of our brains more generally, not just to prevent illness but to improve performance, including having better attention, fast reaction times and improved memory. 

This lack of awareness means that it is increasingly difficult for people to understand what practical habits can improve their brain health and function. One of these habits is reducing automatic negative thoughts. Today’s lesson will teach you where these negative thoughts come from and how to break the habit. 

What are automatic negative thoughts (or ANTs for short)?  

Did you know that the average human brain has up to 70,000 thoughts a day? When negative qualities overcome these thoughts, it’s no wonder that this has a significant impact on an individual's feelings and reactions. 

ANTs are the thoughts that often pop up automatically in the brain and cause unpleasant feelings. They are the subconscious or conscious thoughts that occur in response to everyday events. This 'short-cut' thinking means we internalise things that simply aren't true but, in our minds, they appear as genuine - they are irrational and self-defeating. Your brain fools you into thinking that your negative thoughts are accurate and logical, but in reality, they serve only to reinforce negative thinking and emotions. 

There are two main reasons we have automatic negative thoughts as humans. Firstly to some degree, ANTs are perfectly normal. They exist to keep us safe by imagining potential threats and problems that enable us to solve them before getting into trouble. Secondly, it could be because your negative thinking has become a habit. If you do something often enough, you create a neural pathway meaning the more robust the connections become in the brain, the harder it is to break out of that habit. 

What are the effects of ANTS? 

Automatic negative thoughts can have many adverse side effects on the brain and body, ultimately impacting your brain health and memory function. These include: 

  • Depleting beneficial brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine (aka the happy hormone that play a huge role in sleep and memory). 
  • Slowing the production of brain-derived neurotransmitters required for new brain cell formation. 
  • Shrinking the size of your brain but enlarging your brain’s fear centre.
  • Increased stress and anxiety. 
  • Accelerating the brain's ageing process. 

Breaking the habit of automatic negative thinking 

Treating your thought process isn’t easy or straightforward. Shifting the way you think means you're consciously stopping an established thought pattern. However, there is a range of techniques that you can use to challenge and control them. 

  1. Pay attention to your body language and readjust any aspects that may be triggering your negative thoughts. 
  2. Try to gain a different perspective of your negative thinking by looking at it from another perspective. Ask yourself questions such as: is this thought true? Is there another explanation or another way of looking at things? What advice would I give to a friend who had this thought? 
  3. Stop leading your thoughts with ‘I should’. Should statements contribute to anxious thought patterns because they put a demand on you, which could be impossible to live up to? Instead, think of kinder ways to keep yourself motivated to stay on track. 
  4. Journaling or writing down your thoughts can help you see patterns and understand potential triggers causing you anxiety. When you identify these triggers, you can gain control of your emotions and change the narrative. 
  5. Try putting your thoughts on trial. Is there evidence to support your opinion, and can you step back and judge whether your thought is reasonable? 
  6. Practice mindfulness to maintain awareness of your thinking. 

Thinking negative thoughts can become a habit that no longer serves you. Noticing this and testing some new techniques to challenge and control them will only improve your overall happiness and mental health, resulting in a greater ability to store memories. Try these steps to safeguard your mental health and become more resilient.

Recommended Reading

Eliminate Negative Thinking By Derick Howell

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