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Published on October 23, 2018

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 May 17, 2019

This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone

This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone

The pursuit of worthwhile goals is a part of what makes life enjoyable. Being able to set a goal, then see yourself progress towards achieving that goal is an amazing feeling.

But do you know the biggest obstacle for most people trying to achieve their goals, the silent dream killer that stops people before they ever even get started? That obstacle is the comfort zone, and getting stuck there is bound to derail any efforts you make towards achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself.

If you want to achieve those goals, you’ll have to break free from your comfort zone. Let’s take a look at how your life will change once you build up the courage to leave your comfort zone.

What Is the Comfort Zone?

The comfort zone is defined as “a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance.”

What stands out to me the most about that definition is the last part: “using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance.” How many successful people do you know who deliver a steady level of performance?

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The goal in life is to continually challenge yourself, and continually improve yourself. And in order to do that, you have move out of your comfort zone. But once you do, your life will start to change in ways you could never have imagined. I know because it’s happening right now in my own life.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. You will be scared

Leaving your comfort zone isn’t easy. In fact, in can be downright terrifying at times, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little trepidation when you’re embarking on a journey that forces you to try new things.

So don’t freak out or get overwhelmed when you feel yourself getting a little scared. It’s perfectly normal and all part of the process. What’s important is that you don’t let that fear hold you back. You must continue to take action in the face of fear.

That’s what separates winners from losers.

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2. You will fail

Stepping out of your comfort zone means you’re moving into uncharted territory. You’re trying things that you’ve never tried before, and learning things you’ve never learned before.

That steep learning curve means you’re not going to get everything right the first time, and you will eventually fail when you move out of your comfort zone. But as long as the failures aren’t catastrophic, it can actually be a good thing to fail because …

3. You will learn

Failure is the best teacher. I’ve learned more from each one of my failures than I have from each one of my successes. When you fail small, and fail often, you rapidly increase the rate at which you learn new insights and skills. And that new knowledge, if applied correctly, will eventually lead to your success.

4. You will see yourself in a different way

Once you move out of your comfort zone, you immediately prove to yourself that you’re capable of achieving more than you thought was possible. And that will change the way you see yourself.

Moving forward, you’ll have more confidence in yourself whenever you step out of your comfort zone, and that increased confidence will make it more likely that you continue to step outside your comfort zone. And each time you do, you’ll prove to yourself again and again what you’re really capable of.

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5. Your peers will see you in a different way

Whether we want to admit or not, people judge other people. And right now, people view you in a certain way, and they have a certain idea of what you’re capable of. That’s because they’ve become accustomed to seeing you operate in your comfort zone.

But once you move out of your comfort zone, you’ll prove to other people, as well, that you’re capable of much more than you’ve shown in the past.

The increased confidence other people place in you will bring about more opportunities than ever before.

6. Your comfort zone will expand

The good thing about the comfort zone is that it’s flexible and malleable. With each action you take outside of your comfort zone, it expands. And once you master that new skill or action, it eventually becomes part of your comfort zone.

This is great news for you because it means that you can constantly increase and improve upon the behaviors that you’re comfortable with. And the more tools and skills you have at your disposal, the easier it will be to achieve your goals.

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7. You will increase your concentration and focus

When you’re living inside of your comfort zone, the bulk of your actions are habitual: automatic, subconscious, and requiring limited focus.

But once you move out of your comfort zone, you no longer rely on those habitual responses. You’re forced to concentrate and focus on the new action in a way you never do in your comfort zone.

8. You will develop new skills

Moving out of your comfort zone requires that you develop new skills. One of the many benefits you’ll experience is that you’ll be stepping away from the “limited set of behaviors” and start to develop your ability and expertise in new areas.

Living inside of your comfort zone only requires a limited skill set, and those skills won’t contribute much to your success. Once you can confidently step outside of your comfort zone and learn a new skill, there’s no limit to how much you can achieve.

9. You will achieve more than before

With everything that happens once you move out of your comfort zone, you’re naturally going to achieve more than ever before.

Your increased concentration and focus will help you develop new skills. Those new skills will change the way you see yourself, encouraging you to step even further out of your comfort zone.

Featured photo credit: Josef Grunig via farm3.staticflickr.com

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