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What are automatic negative thoughts?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Automatic Negative Thoughts, Self Help, Self Care, Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health Awareness,

When you suffer a mental illness - particularly anxiety - you will usually experience something called 'automatic negative thoughts' (I will abbreviate it to ANT for the purpose of this post) which, in a nut shell, means your brain is constantly running, constantly working on overdrive and constantly banging out thoughts at 1000mph like a super fast conveyor belt.

Most of those thoughts are also usually criticising and belittling you:

'I'm not good enough'
'I said the wrong thing in that meeting and now everyone thinks I am an idiot'
'I am not pretty enough'
'God, I'm so weird why can't I just be normal'
'I really don't like what I am wearing today'
'I swear Ali just blanked me, what have I done? Oh god she obviously hates me.'
'I really want to give this a try but I know I won't be as good at it as everyone else so I won't bother'

Additionally, sometimes those thoughts can be aimed at a partner:

'He would never fancy someone like me!'
'He is being so off with me. He blatantly has the hump with me'
'Why doesn't he understand? no one understands me.'
'He is bored of me now I can tell.'
'I don't blame him going off of me, I am nothing special.'

And so and so fourth, yada yada yada...

All sound a bit familiar?

These thoughts are both destructive and distracting. How many of you can relate to feeling constantly preoccupied from either your work, chores or even favourite hobbies by constant thoughts running through your head? ANT rob you of the here and now. You can never enjoy what is going on in your life in the present moment because those thoughts are always taking you off somewhere else whether it is back to an event from years ago or off into the future while you endlessly list all the shit you need to be getting on with in five days time.

When you have lived with this way of thinking all of your life it is hard to comprehend that you are experiencing ANT because you have never known any different.

When I was first told I had anxiety and ANT I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Suddenly things seemed a lot clearer and most importantly I finally realised that I wasn't weird nor was I alone. That felt brilliant. Instead of being ashamed of my thought process and always wondering what was wrong with me, suddenly I knew. Suddenly it had a name, it was 'a thing' and I didn't have to feel isolated anymore. I could accept myself for who I was a little bit more and even embrace it.

All of those times I came home from school and then sat in my room and over analysed my day: what I said, did, laughed like, reacted like, sounded like, looked like, why I picked myself apart and self criticised all made sense and now I could do something about it.

Not that it is easy of course, finding out why I thought that way was certainly the easiest part of the journey!

It took me about a year to learn to implement different techniques into my every day thinking that allowed me to not only recognise automatic negative thoughts but rationalise them. In that year I went to group therapy, I did an online CBT therapy course (not as in obtaining a qualification) and I also paid for one to one counselling (the waiting list on the NHS was ridiculously long and I couldn't wait) I even gave up alcohol for a year and attended a group for people who suffered substance abuse to see if I could get some understanding on why I felt the need to drink for confidence or to hide my insecurities. I also wanted to learn how people with serious alcohol or drug issues coped and dealt with their issues.

Slowly and surely I am learning and I know that I have to take each day at a time. If I allow myself to stop keeping track or don't take time to assess my thoughts or feelings it can be a slippery slope back into negative thinking. Trust me I have learnt that the hard way!

If you realise or have recently learnt that you too think this way then start monitoring your thought process; be mindful of what you are thinking and why you're thinking that. Be mindful of how you think to and about yourself, are you always beating yourself up or self criticising? Organise your thoughts too so your head isn't full of white noise.

I am going to follow on from this post with a couple of self help posts regarding ANT but for now, I want you to just practice becoming aware of your thoughts. Recognise what you are thinking and don't just let the thoughts spiral in your head endlessly. STOP THEM. Monitor what it is going on in there. Most of the time you will probably find it is all white noise, continuous thoughts about what you are doing, what you need to do, who you need to ring, what happened last night, why did so and so say that etc. all pretty useless stuff.

In this series of posts we are going to aim to quieten the white noise and organise those thoughts. It isn't easy, it is something you will need to work on each and every day but it IS possible and you can make yourself feel better.

Those thoughts are a major culprit attributing to your depression and mood.

The body hears everything the mind says remember? It's YOUR mind so take the control back.


Image Source: publicdomainpictures.net


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