We constantly have all sorts of thoughts automatically popping into our heads. In CBT, it’s our automatic negative thoughts (sometimes referred to as ANTs) that we’re most concerned with. Automatic negative thoughts play a huge role in both initiating and maintaining our negative moods. And they often set off vicious cycles and downward spirals that are extremely difficult to break out of. If we struggle with depression, anxiety, or any number of mental health issues, we can experience an endless barrage of automatic negative thoughts all day long.
Automatic Negative Thoughts
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A lot of our thoughts are automatic. A thought just pops into our head without us even thinking about it. Some of our automatic thoughts can be pleasant or neutral, but more often than not they tend to be negative.
Automatic negative thoughts have a strong effect on our mood and how we’re feeling, and learning how to respond to our automatic negative thoughts in ways that help us feel better is an important part of mindfulness based cognitive therapy. So now we’re gonna look at some common automatic negative thoughts that people have that tend to be associated with depression, anxiety and anger.
When we’re feeling depressed we tend to have very negative thoughts. And these thoughts center around three themes: negative thoughts about ourselves, negative thoughts about the world, and negative thoughts about the future. Examples of automatic negative thoughts about ourselves are things such as: I’m such a loser. I’m no good. I keep disappointing everyone. What’s wrong with me? I can’t do anything right. I’m a failure. I feel so helpless. Nobody even cares about me.
And automatic negative thoughts about the world, which is just a general sort of negativity about everything: life is so unfair. Things should be easier. The whole world’s falling apart. Everything’s so stupid. Life stinks.
And automatic negative thoughts about the future: things are never gonna work out for me. There’s nothing i can do about it. I’m always going to feel this way. I’m never going to be happy. There’s no point in trying anymore. It’ll never get any better.
And when we’re feeling anxious we tend to have thoughts that overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen. And we overestimate the severity of what will happen. And we underestimate our ability to cope with things.
And so we have automatic negative thoughts about threats and danger: oh no! What’s happening? This is terrible.
And automatic negative thoughts about our ability to cope with things: i can’t handle this. I’m never gonna be able to do this. People are gonna wonder what’s wrong with me. This is just too much. What am i gonna do? I should just quit now.
And all sorts of what-ifs which are probably the most common types of thoughts people have when they’re feeling anxious or worried what if this happens what if that happens what if what if what if
And when we’re feeling anxious, our thoughts are too a future-oriented, and we end up spending a lot of time and energy worrying about how things might be in the future. And even though these things haven’t occurred yet and may never occur, we tend to respond as if they’ve already happened, or that they’re inevitable. And so we wind up suffering the consequences right now. And even if the things we’re dreading never actually occur, we’ve already made ourselves pay the price and suffer over them whether they actually happen or not.
Our automatic negative thoughts that are associated with anger are things around the need for fairness and respect; becoming aggravated, frustrated or losing patience; violations of rules; and revenge.
This is so unfair. Why does this keep happening to me? I can’t stand this anymore. What’s wrong with him? You can’t treat people that way. He’ll pay for that!
And in the next couple of videos we’ll learn how we can improve our mood and help ourselves feel better by managing our automatic negative thoughts through cognitive diffusion and letting go of thoughts and with cognitive restructuring.
The first step towards reducing both the frequency of our automatic negative thoughts, and how detrimental they are, is to learn to recognize and record these automatic negative thoughts when they arise. This is part of what we do in the CBT Interrelationships worksheet from the first post in this course. In addition to completing this worksheet, it’s good practice when learning CBT to just pay attention for and write down automatic negative thoughts whenever they come up.
The next step is to assess the accuracy of these ANTs. Then we can reframe our thoughts to look at things from different perspectives that don’t have such a negative impact on our moods. And as a result, we start feeling better. We’ll look at how we can do this in the next few posts. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.