In my last blog post on perfectionism, I alluded to the idea of automatic thoughts. These are the thoughts that you don't plan to have, or try to have- they seem to just happen. They may catch you off guard. And sometimes they can be dangerous.
Daniel G. Amen, M.D. is a clinical neuroscientist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: A Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. This is a fascinating read if you are interested- I am going to focus on a small section of the book related to automatic negative thoughts- ANTS! Just like the tiny creatures, automatic negative thoughts can become pervasive and before you know it, you've got a problem.
One core idea that guides my work as a therapist is that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected. This means if your thoughts are primarily negative, you are more likely to be depressed or anxious. It also means if you engage in destructive behavior, odds are that you will start thinking negatively about yourself. So, all this talk about ANTS is very important- if the negative thoughts you have are automatic, how are you supposed to change them? Are you destined to a life of negative emotions and behaviors as well?
Thankfully there is something you can do about it. Amen presents a concise way of dealing with the ANTS. Today we will cover the first four steps.
How To Get Rid of ANTS
- Amen states the first step to getting rid of your automatic negative thoughts is to acknowledge that your thoughts are very real- neurochemistry is involved. In order to make a change, it's important to realize that your thoughts impact your feelings and actions.
- The next step Amen suggests is taking some time to notice how negative thoughts impact your body. When you think "I'm terrible at this," does your body feel light or heavy? Do you feel energized or lethargic? How about when you're stressed and thinking of everything you need to get done- are your shoulders creeping up toward your ears? How does your back feel? Has your breathing changed?
- Now what about a positive thought? If your thought is "That was such a great night out with friends," how does your body feel? What about a thought of gratitute: "I am so grateful to come home to my family every day" Pay attention to even the smallest changes in your body when your thoughts change.
- The fourth step Amen proposes is noticing your body's reaction to every thought you have. A lot of people have a disconnect between their minds and bodies. The truth is that your mind and body impact each other, all the time. In the next few days, try noticing what's going on in your body in relation to your thought life. You might be surprised!
Check back on Thursday for Part II of ANTS!
Source: Amen, D.G. (1998). Change your brain, change your life: The breakthrough program for conquering anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, anger, and impulsiveness. New York: Three Rivers Press.