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  • Writer's pictureRacheal Hebert, LCSW-BACS

Conquering Automatic Negative Thoughts

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are patterns of thinking characterized by negative, self-critical, and pessimistic beliefs that tend to pop into your mind automatically, without conscious effort. These thoughts can have a significant impact on your mood, emotions, and overall mental well-being. ANTs are often associated with various cognitive distortions and can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.

Some common types of automatic negative thoughts include:

  • Catastrophizing: Believing that the worst possible outcome is likely to occur, even when there's little evidence to support it.

  • Overgeneralization: Drawing broad negative conclusions about yourself or your life based on isolated incidents or limited evidence.

  • Personalization: Blaming yourself for external events or situations that are beyond your control.

  • Black-and-White Thinking: Viewing situations as all good or all bad, without recognizing the nuances or middle ground.

  • Filtering: Focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring any positive aspects.

  • Mind Reading: Assuming you know what others are thinking, usually in a negative way, without any concrete evidence.

  • Fortune Telling: Predicting negative outcomes in the future without considering other possibilities.

  • Emotional Reasoning: Believing that your feelings are accurate indicators of reality, even if there's no evidence to support it.

It's important to recognize and challenge these automatic negative thoughts, as they can contribute to a cycle of negative emotions and behaviors. One way to do this is by engaging in cognitive restructuring.

Cognitive restructuring is a therapeutic technique commonly used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help individuals identify, challenge, and change negative or distorted thought patterns. The goal of cognitive restructuring is to promote healthier and more balanced thinking, which in turn can lead to improved emotional well-being and behavior.

The process of cognitive restructuring typically involves several steps:

  1. Identification of Negative Thoughts: The first step is to become aware of and identify the ANTs that arise in specific situations. These are the thoughts that contribute to distress, anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions.

  2. Challenge and Evaluation: Once negative thoughts are identified, the individual works with a therapist (or on their own) to critically examine the validity of these thoughts. This involves asking questions such as:

    1. Is there evidence to support this thought?

    2. Am I jumping to conclusions?

    3. What's the worst-case scenario, and is it likely to happen?

    4. Are there alternative explanations or perspectives?

  3. Generating Alternative Thoughts: After challenging the negative thoughts, individuals are encouraged to come up with more balanced and rational alternative thoughts. These alternative thoughts should be more accurate and less biased, helping to provide a more realistic perspective on the situation.

  4. Evidential Support: It's important to find concrete evidence that supports the alternative thoughts. This evidence could be based on personal experiences, observations, or logical reasoning.

  5. Practice and Repetition: Cognitive restructuring is a skill that requires practice. Individuals are encouraged to repeatedly apply the process to different situations and negative thoughts. Over time, this practice helps build a habit of more constructive and balanced thinking.

  6. Behavioral Changes: As thought patterns change, individuals may also notice changes in their emotions and behaviors. Healthier thinking can lead to more effective problem-solving, reduced anxiety, improved mood, and better coping strategies.

Cognitive restructuring is often used to address a wide range of mental health concerns, including anxiety disorders, depression, stress, low self-esteem, and more. It empowers individuals to take an active role in managing their thoughts and emotions and provides them with practical tools to challenge negative thinking patterns.

While cognitive restructuring can be practiced independently, working with a qualified mental health professional, can provide personalized guidance and support throughout the process. If you find that automatic negative thoughts are significantly impacting your daily life and well-being, consider seeking support today.

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