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How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts When You’re Overwhelmed

How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts When You’re Overwhelmed

Imagine these scenarios:

You’re sending out applications to several job openings, and every single response you get is a rejection. You’ve tweaked your resume and hired the best career coaches you could afford. You’ve attended networking events and your wallet is bursting full of business cards. Yet you can’t seem to get a call back for an interview. These rejections keep replaying in your head so you call yourself a failure. You call yourself a loser and quit searching.

Maybe you suffered from a bad break up when you were younger. You were so hurt that you vowed to protect your heart, never letting anyone get close to you again. But now? You’re finding it hard to trust people. You can’t seem to hold a conversation because you have several negative thoughts running through your mind. What if I get cheated on again? What if he turns out to be what I’m running away from? I’ll never find love again.

These thoughts are called automatic negative thoughts or better known as ANTs, and this article will show you how to stop them when you’re overwhelmed.

What are automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)?

Automatic negative thoughts refer to beliefs you hold about yourself, inference from previous events, and can be influenced by cognitive bias.

Although research into automatic negative thoughts began as early as the 1960s when its effects on depression were studied by Dr. Aaron Beck, it was later popularized by Dr. Daniel Amen in the last few years.[1]

According to Dr. Amen, when you think negative thoughts, your brain releases chemical and electrical signals that activate your limbic system. Over time, a surplus of negative thoughts burdens your limbic system which causes these chemical transmissions to establish a neural pathway in the brain. When this happens, you’re bound to experience more moodiness, irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Why some experience these negative thoughts more than others

In a way, ANTs can be helpful. Here’s what I mean.

When you experience an emotionally grueling event, your mind develops structures in place to protect you from getting hurt or heartbroken. These automatic negative thoughts are a way of your mind trying to shield you from harm before it actually happens (or lessen its impact when it happens).

The problem, however, is when these thoughts have become so dominant that they overtake your life.

With several stressors in your life, it’s relatively easy to slip into a spiral of anxiety and depression, especially if you aren’t paying attention to the changes going on in your body.

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Often times, ANTs manifest when these negatively charged thoughts translate themselves into corresponding emotions, leading to physical changes in the body. An example is the body’s response to the fight or flight response.

Only in the case of ANTs, you are trapped. You experience these symptoms over and over again as several negative thoughts run through your mind and you’re unable to get out of the cycle.

But to stop these ANTs, we need to identify what they are in order to reconstruct a healthy concept of self.

How to spot the different types of ANTs

Here’re the signs of 6 types of ANTs:

1 All or nothing thinking

If your thoughts are always in extreme absolutes, there is a high chance that you are susceptible to automatic negative thoughts.

The all or nothing thinker only reasons in black and white with no middle ground. So, when the first wave of adversity hits, the first inclination would be to figure out what’s wrong or right.

With automatic negative thoughts, you’re unable to see the silver lining in situations.

Examples of “all or nothing” statements include:

  • I won’t be able to pass this class. I failed my first test yesterday.
  • I’m so weak.

2 Labelling

Remember the opening example of the job seeker who is frustrated about the rejections and gave up? The perfect example of labelling is realized when you call yourself names or terms that carry negative connotations. When this happens, your brain takes these signals and run with it, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Examples of labeling statements include:

  • “I’m such a loser.”
  • “I’m a failure.”

The unintended consequence is that you begin to feel like a loser even though you’re not. Your body has been primed to respond to negative thoughts and so it responds accordingly.

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3 Thinking with your feelings

The automatic negative thought is more common than most people think and usually masquerades itself by presenting itself as truth.

You never question this reasoning, rather, you listen to your negative thought by default. In the example of the hurt person who is trying to fall in love again, This ANT shows up by making negative conclusions about a habit, behavior, or goal.

Examples of statement include:

  • “I feel like a moron.”

4. The blame game

Known as the most harmful ANT, people who suffer from this negative thought are prone to deflecting personal responsibility for their actions on others. To them, their problems are never the results of their own actions (or inaction).

There is always someone who tends to gain from their misfortune. They are powerless, always at the mercy of someone or something and can never take control of their lives.

If you have this automatic negative thought playing on repeat in your brain, it could sound like:

  • “It’s your fault that I didn’t get the promotion.”
  • “It’s all because of you that I’m so out of shape.”

5 Fortune-telling

Fortune tellers are usually several steps ahead of their life goals and ambition. But often times, this is negative. Here, you are always predicting the worst possible outcome for yourself.

There is never anything positive that can come from any situation because you are constantly drawing from a previous event.

A jaded job seeker would make statements like:

  • “I’ll never get the job anyway. What’s the point?”

6. Mind-reading

Like the previous ANT, this negative thinking occurs when you think you know exactly the cause of someone’s behavior towards you. You’re sure that they can’t be thinking positive things about you, don’t want to see you succeed, or hate you in general.

Mind-reading, when unstopped, can lead to isolation because you have concluded that no one is ever going to be kind to you.

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Examples of mind-reading statements include:

  • “My boss hates me.”
  • “My colleagues don’t respect me as the group leader.”

These negative thoughts can become so pervasive that they cripple your interpersonal relationships and professional life. Luckily, there are ways to stop them.

How to stop automatic negative thoughts

Here are some steps to take to stop automatic negative thoughts when you’re overwhelmed:

1. Identify the ANT you’re dealing with before you move forward.

The first step to take to solve a problem is to identify that the problem exists in the first place. Then, in the case of ANT, it’s imperative that you understand the specific patterns or triggers that lead you down the negative spiral of anxiety and depression.

Are you constantly shifting blame to others? Do you always make predictions about how people see you and re-run these thoughts on a regular basis? Have you created negative labels for yourself thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Start from there. Identify the types of ANTs that keep repeating themselves in your mind before you move forward to tame them.

2. Confront these negative thoughts with rebuttals (positive thoughts). Then speak them back to yourself.

If the opposite of negative thinking is positive thinking, then stopping ANTs is as easy as reframing these thoughts into positive ones to stop the cycle of negativity.

According to researchers, positive automatic thoughts have been shown to counteract and blunt the effects of negative automatic thoughts and stress in general. People with higher levels of positive automatic thoughts were also found to see their lives as more meaningful and full of happiness.[2]

But it doesn’t end there. Take this step further by taking out a blank sheet of paper:

In one column, write out the negative automatic thoughts that are constantly plaguing you. In another column next to it, write out the event or situation that triggered it. Then in a third column, reconstruct this thought from a negative one into a positive one.

Here’s an example of reframing an ANT:

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  • Old thought: “I’ll never get a job. It’s pointless.”
  • New thought: “Getting my dream career takes effort and strategy. I’ll continue to work hard.”

3. Practice mindfulness and/or meditation

Ever heard of the saying that a busy mind is a devil’s workshop? The idea is that automatic negative thoughts by nature invade the mind. The feelings they leave in their wake are akin to anxiety and panic disorders in most people. So, how can you quieten the mind?

Mindfulness and/or meditation is an age-old practice that doesn’t only quieten an erratic mind, its effects on lowering the heart rate, blood pressure, and elevating your feel-good hormones have been well-documented by researchers.

As a beginner, you may want to try out this Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners.

4. Seek professional help

Sometimes, getting rid of automatic negative thoughts when you’re overwhelmed is as easy as seeking professional help. You need to realize that you can’t do it alone, and that you need the support of others.

The support could be in form of cognitive behavior therapy or some other kind of therapy approved by your mental health professional. Some of these interventions can be done in private settings while others are best completed in group settings.

All in all, you are in charge of your own life and happiness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, automatic negative thoughts can be crushed.

But the only way is to identify them early enough, challenge them, and replace them with an abundance of positive thoughts as you live your daily life

Featured photo credit: Randy Jacob via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Margaret Olatunbosun

Creative coach who teaches high-achievers how to thrive at the intersection of creativity, passion, and profit.

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

9 Ways to Reach Your Full Potential Every Day

9 Ways to Reach Your Full Potential Every Day

Why does it seem like time goes by so quickly? We start a week and before we know it, it’s already the weekend. How can you make the best out of each and every day?

I want you to be able to reach your fullest potential every single day. Even during the days where you relax and recharge, I want you to enjoy every moment.

When it comes to reaching your full potential every day, it’s all about planning. If you’re not a good planner, you’ll have to start learning! Those who are good with time management and are organized usually experience a more productive day.

So, how to reach your full potential? Here’re 9 ways you can start trying.

1.  Focus on the Big Picture

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” — Mahatma Gandhi

We live in a society filled with so many distractions, so we can easily get caught up with the stress and frustrations of life. Focus on the big picture. With so many distractions, it’s so important for you to focus on what you want.

What does the big picture look like to you? What are the goals that you want to accomplish? When it comes to reaching your potential every day, it’s important that you know what the big picture looks like.

Why do you do what you do? What is the reason that you go to work or come home and provide dinner for your family? When you have purpose and reason in your life, you’re more able to live out each day to your fullest potential.

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If you are able to see the big picture in your life, you don’t have to just live day-to-day. When you know your purpose, you will be motivated to live each day to your fullest potential: How to Find Purpose in Life and Make Yourself a Better Person

2. Plan!

Planning how you want to spend each day is key to reaching your fullest potential each day. Without any planning, you will just get pushed around and have no direction in life. Reaching your potential every day is about planning your day in alignment with what matters to you.

Focus on what is important in your life. Maybe it’s providing for your family or spending quality time with your spouse. When you are able to live in alignment with that matters to you, you will be able to reach your fullest potential every day.

Plan your week every Sunday evening. That way, you’ll be able to see your week’s schedule before starting your week (6 steps to plan your week). Make sure to add when you plan to start working and end working into your schedule.

It will be important for you to know when it’s time to turn off work-mode and start spending quality time with your family. It’s also important that when you plan your week, you are realistic with what you want to accomplish.

Set yourself up for success, not for failure. Create a to-do list for each day of the week on Sunday evening. Have about 4-5 tasks that you want to accomplish each day. If you have a big project, you should only include 2-3 tasks for that day.

An action that has helped me reach my potential each day is to check off each task once I complete it. It feels good knowing that at the end of the day, I was able to complete my To-do list. Remember, set yourself up for success! Make sure you reward yourself after a long day of being productive.

3. Time Management

Planning and having good time management is a combination that leads to reaching your fullest potential every day. When you’re able to plan out your day and how you want to spend your time, you not only get more done but you also have extra time to spend on what you enjoy.

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Having good time management is important for you to learn because when you value yourself, you will value how you spend your time. Try these 7 Effective Time Management Tips To Maximize Your Productivity.

4. Positive Attitude

When it comes to reaching your fullest potential every day, it’s important to have a positive attitude. When you have a negative attitude, you start viewing yourself and your life as being negative. How can you possibly reach your fullest potential when you have a negative attitude about yourself?

It’s all about your perspective and how you view yourself and your life. In order to have a productive day, you must have a positive attitude. With a positive attitude, you’ll be able to stay focused on what you want to accomplish every day.

Here’re 11 Tips for Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

5. Stay Focused on the Task at Han

Staying focused takes discipline and commitment. With so many distractions, it’s easy to get off track and not get anything done. That’s why staying focused on what you need to get done is key in reaching your fullest potential.

If you get distracted by your phone, make sure you put it on silent when you’re trying to finish a task. Not only will you be more disciplined, but you’ll also get a lot more done! Anything that distracts you from completing a task needs to be put away.

Learn How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide).

6. Have Goals

If you want to reach your fullest potential each and every day, you need to have short and long term goals.

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Take a piece of paper and write down what you want to accomplish now and in the future. This goes back to planning. Have your goals and have deadlines.

Then plan each and every day taking the necessary steps to accomplish your goals. It’s all about setting goals and then following through.

Find out How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully.

7. Embrace Simplicity

When you want to reach your fullest potential, simplify what needs to get done before the day starts.

One routine that has helped me save time is picking out my outfit the night before. This way, I don’t feel rushed in the morning.

Simplify your morning routine. If you can find different ways to save time and make your life simpler, you’ll be able to focus on reaching your fullest potential every day. When you are constantly all over the place and your life is far from being simple, you’ll experience stress and frustration on a daily basis. Simplify your life!

8. Recharge

You can only reach your fullest potential if you take the time to recharge. When you are constantly working without any rest, you will eventually burn out.

Taking the time to rest and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul will allow you to become re-energized for the next day. Use different strategies that help you relax. Try meditating or yoga.

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It is not only important for you to recharge your mind– your body needs time to recharge too. Reaching your fullest potential every day can become stressful if you don’t manage your time well and take the time to recharge.

Take a moment and think about what recharges you. Maybe it’s spending some quality time with your spouse or taking a nice walk in the park. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you enjoy the process. It’s easy for our minds to wonder, so when you’re recharging, focus on recharging!

9. Enjoy Each Moment

“To get all there is out of living, we must employ our time wisely, never being in too much of a hurry to stop and sip life, but never losing our sense of the enormous value of a minute.” –Robert Updefraff

With so much going on, it’s easy to just go, go, go and not take the time to smell the flowers. Enjoy the moments that you experience throughout each day. This will help you feel grateful and appreciative with what you have in your life. Enjoy the simple things like having a roof over your head and being able to afford food for your family.

Although being productive is important, taking the time to enjoy each moment is important too. This article can help you: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying

Featured photo credit: Melody Jacob via unsplash.com

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