You know those negative thoughts that happen out of nowhere… the ones that criticize you, cut your confidence down, and make you feel anxious? Thoughts like “I’m such a failure”, “They must hate me”, or “I’m so ugly”. We don’t plan to think about these things, but somehow they pop into our head, destroying our confidence. It often feels like these thoughts cannot be controlled, and they can easily take over our mind.
These interfering thoughts are known among therapists as automatic negative thoughts (ANTS).
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Most people experience these negative thoughts at some point or another. Some experience them more than others; and if you experience these thoughts very often in a way that is distressing and interfering with your ability to live a happy life, please talk to your doctor or therapist about it. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to kill those ANTS and help increase your confidence!
Adults are not the only ones that have ANTS. Many children also struggle with this, so it is important to have open discussions at home about how these thoughts interfere, and what your child can do to help them from taking over. If you or your child struggles with ANTS taking over, try these 5 therapist approved tips based off of evidence-based counselling approaches to help reduce anxiety and increase confidence!
5 Expert Tips to Help You Cope With Negative Thoughts
1. Use the 3-3-1 rule to ground yourself
When the ANTS start taking over, start looking at what is around you instead of focusing on these internal thoughts. Take note of what you are seeing. Try to label 3 things you see, 3 things you hear, and 1 thing you smell. This can refocus your mind before you start getting caught in a ANT trap.
2. Do not fight the ANTS
Do not think about a pink elephant. No matter what: do not think about a pink elephant. Close your eyes and do not picture a pink elephant. Try it. Impossible right? No matter how hard you tried to avoid thinking about a pink elephant you still thought of it, and pictured it in your mind. ANTS work the same way. The harder you try to fight them, the more they seem to take over. Instead of fighting these thoughts, therapists suggest allowing yourself to have the thought, but reminding yourself that it is just a thought and nothing more. Allow the thought to pass through your mind, acknowledge it, and then try to move on.
3. Find the facts
When these anxious thoughts come up, it is easy to allow yourself to believe them. Instead of getting caught in this ANT trap, allow yourself to find the truth. For example: If a common ANT for you is “No one wants to spend time with me”, come up with a list of facts that disprove your thought. You may think about a time when someone asked you to hang out, or maybe write a name of a friend down. You can do this step in your mind or on paper! Whatever is most helpful. Another example might be “I’m horrible at my job.” You want to find the truth in this statement. When thinking more about it, you might remember a presentation you did well or a compliment you received from a co worker. This type of reflection can help you disprove the ANT.
4. Give your ANT a name
No, I’m not kidding. As foolish as this may sound, giving your ANT a silly name can help take away the power that it has over you. If your child is struggling with a certain thought, help them come up with a funny name for it. Some examples might be “My Brain Bug” or “Miss Perfect”. Giving the anxious thought a name makes it lose its power and also allows for easy conversation with a child about the thought. This can also be used for adults. When the thought comes, you can allow yourself to think it, but then remind yourself this is just my “Brain Bug” taking over again.
I will write a future post all about supporting your child who has anxiety, and will go more in detail about how to use this technique!
5. Deep breathing using the 3-4-5 method
Often times ANTs can cause us to have reactions in our bodies such as racing heart, shortness of breath, or being unable to fall asleep. Deep breathing has been seen to help settle these reactions. Try breathing in deeply for 3 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds, and then exhaling for 5 seconds. Repeat this process as many times as needed until you are feeling more calm.
Take Home Message
Automatic negative thoughts are something that many people (children and adults) struggle with. Thankfully there are ways that you can stop these thoughts from taking over. When you are not trapped in these thoughts, your confidence will improve and your anxiety will decrease.
The tips in this post are from the evidence based counselling approaches Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Comment below if you are interested in learning more about either of these types of therapy!
I hope these tips are helpful for both you and your loved ones! Remember that although many people struggle with some ANTS if these thoughts are interfering with your life, preventing you from enjoying normal activities, please make sure you talk to a professional!