5 of the Best Ways to Control Your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Avena
Your thoughts are powerful!
They can have a profound effect on the way you feel, behave, and interact with others.
When you have a positive thought or feel happy, the stress hormone cortisol decreases and the brain produces the neurotransmitter serotonin, which creates a feeling of well-being. Embracing positive, accurate thoughts can help you make better choices, which can lead to improved mental and physical health.
Habitual, negative self-talk can train the brain to see things pessimistically. When left unchecked, negative thinking can distort perceptions of reality. Negative thinking can effectively rewrite your brain’s neural networks, reinforcing pathways that make it more likely you’ll continue seeing the glass as half empty.
Additionally, having negative thoughts can reduce activity in the area of the brain involved with self-control, judgment, and planning, which can lead to poor decisions. This pattern of negative thinking can initiate a downward spiral of mood and behavioral issues, which can have a detrimental effect on your job, relationships, and every area of your life.
Automatic Negative Thoughts
A term coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) can cause your brain to release chemicals able to negatively affect every cell in your body and make you feel bad. The opposite is also true – positive, happy, hopeful thoughts release chemicals that can help you feel good.
Types of ANTs
ANTs generally fall into one of these nine categories:
- “All or Nothing” Thinking – Thoughts that are all good or all bad.
- “Always” Thinking – Thinking in words like always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything.
- Focusing on the Negative – Only seeing the bad in a situation.
- Fortune Telling – Predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation with little or no evidence for it.
- Mind Reading – Believing that you know what another person is thinking even though they haven’t told you.
- Thinking with Your Feelings – Believing negative feelings without questioning them.
- Guilt Beatings – Thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to.
- Labeling – Attaching a negative label to yourself or someone else.
- Blame – Blaming someone else for your problems.
Challenge Your ANTs
Based on a method developed by bestselling author and speaker Byron Katie, called the Work, Dr. Amen recommends writing down any bothersome, worrisome, or negative thoughts, then challenging your ANTs by asking these 4 questions:
- Is it (the negative thought) true?
- Can I absolutely know that it is true?
- How do I react when I think that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought? Or, how would I feel if I didn’t have that thought?
Whenever an ANT enters your mind, write it down. Then ask these 4 questions to challenge the ANTs.
Having cleared your mind of negative thoughts, you should feel more positive and better able to meet life’s challenges soon after completing this exercise.
Exterminate the ANTs
It’s vitally important to exterminate the ANTs that can steal your happiness. Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous, or stressed, write down what you’re thinking and then exterminate that ANT.
Use these 2 helpful tips to exterminate your ANTs:
- When an ANT enters your mind, train yourself to recognize its type and write it down.
- Talk back to the ANT – this takes away its power so you can gain control over your mood and feel better.
After exterminating your ANTs, it’s important to get into a regular habit of challenging negative thoughts and focusing on positive ones. Here are some of the best strategies for retraining the way you think…
5 of the Best Ways to Avoid Automatic Negative Thoughts
- Focus On Self-care
Practice good self-care with brain-healthy habits such as exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, meditating, getting good sleep, and challenging negative thoughts. Your daily health routine is one of the best things you can do to help your overall wellness.
- Write It Down
The process of journaling gives stressful or negative thoughts another place they can live besides your brain. Once those thoughts have been expressed, they often lose their intensity and urgency, which will allow you to mentally relax. Writing in your journal 10 minutes before you go to bed can help release the stresses of the day and put you in a restful state of mind.
- Spend Time Alone
Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may help clear your mind and provide benefits for both your physical and mental health. Repeating simple words like “May I be safe and secure” can increase positive thoughts and emotions and decrease negative ones. Such Loving Kindness Meditations can help reduce pain and improve other mental health concerns.
- Visit a Haven
Choose a haven – a place where you feel comfortable and that you can imagine with all your senses. If it’s the beach, visualize the ocean, feel the sand between your toes, and the warm sun on your skin. Spend at least 20 minutes a day on this refueling, life-changing exercise, and you may find that your thoughts and outlook are more positive.
- Practice Gratitude
Write down five things you’re grateful for every day. Focusing on the things you’re thankful for can help calm the deep limbic (emotional) areas of your brain. People who express gratitude on a regular basis tend to be healthier, more optimistic, make more progress toward their goals, have a greater sense of well-being, and are more helpful to others.
Control Your Thoughts
When you stop believing every negative, fearful, and harmful thought you have, you can start to regain control of your thoughts…and life.
With practice, your thinking can become more positive, which can help improve your emotional health.
Try this powerful exercise to exterminate your ANTs today!
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