Our thoughts have a lot to do with how we feel. Becoming aware of our thoughts can be a helpful tool in reducing the amount of anxiety and depression we experience.
There are patterns of thought called automatic negative thoughts that are like weeds in the garden of your mind. Author Dr. Daniel Amen refers to these automatic negative thoughts as ANTS. Here are some examples of ANTS.
• All or nothing thinking: These thoughts incorporate words like “always” or “never.” An example would be, “He never listens to me.”
• Mind reading: These thoughts always assume you know how another person thinks or feels without asking. For example, your husband walks in the door and seems distant and you think he’s mad at you. What you don’t know is he is really mad at his boss.
• Fortune telling: This is predicting the future for the worst. An example would be if you think your spouse finds someone so attractive that you think he is going to cheat on you.
• Personalizing: This is when you think things happening around you are always about you. For example, an acquaintance walks down the hall and laughs out loud, and you think he is laughing at you.
• Thinking with your feelings: This is a case of if you feel it, it must be true. If you feel stupid then you are stupid, or if you feel like people hate you then it’s true. Sometimes our feelings indicate our fears, not a truth.
• Blame: Making other people responsible for your life. An example: “If my Dad loved me more, then I would have a good marriage.”
• Guilt beatings: This includes using words like “should” and “ought to.” An example: “I should not make mistakes,” or, “I should never say no to the ones I love.”
• Labeling: These are pejorative labels to describe someone or something. Example: When someone does something you don’t like, you think, “He’s such a jerk.”
Once you are able to identify these automatic negative thoughts, it is helpful to challenge these statements. Say things like, “He does listen to me sometimes; I am just not feeling heard right now.” Another challenge statement might be, “I may feel like this person is mad at me, but that doesn’t mean I am a bad person and everyone hates me.” Another option: “It’s human to make mistakes. I will try to learn from the situation.”
There are many other layers to addressing anxiety and depression, including exercise, medication, alternative supplements, friendships, psychotherapy, spirituality and self-esteem, but watching for ANTS is an important part that can help with changing your perspective. Incorporating a positive attitude can have a huge impact on our experience.
A recent item in our son’s school newsletter says volumes:
“There was a lady that woke up, and she had three hairs on her head. She said, “I guess I will braid my hair today.” She did, and had a good day. The next day she woke up with two hairs on her head and said, “I guess I will part my hair in the middle.” She did and had another good day. The third day she woke up with one hair on her head and said, “I guess I will wear a pony tail.” She had a good day. Finally she woke up and had no hair on her head. She looked at herself and said, “Well, isn’t it nice I don’t have to do my hair today?”
Attitude is everything.
— Ed Bloch, LSCSW, and Jena Bloch, LCMFT, are directors of the Life Enrichment Center in Lawrence.