Who else has that constant voice in their head? Maybe it’s narrating your to-do list or making those internal comments about a story your friend is telling. Maybe it’s nagging you about that thing you have been putting off. Well, mine does all of those, but it also does something much less helpful. I have a tendency towards having ANTs crawling around my brain. Yes, you heard me right. ANTs! Not the ANTs invading your picnic, no these are Autonomic Negative Thoughts or ANTs for short.
The fact is, we all have these ANTs crawling around our heads. But how do we squash them?
ANTs may be a cute acronym, but the concept of Autonomic Negative Thoughts has been around for a while. These are our involuntary thoughts throughout the day that focus on something negative. They are a prime focus in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where the goal is to challenge these thoughts. We all have ANTs that occur throughout our day, but a large part of self-care is taking time to respond and reset after shaking off our proverbial picnic blanket.
Now that you have some background, what are some of the actual ANTs that people face?
Well, based on an app I use called “Simple CBT,” there are several common ANTs: all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, disqualifying the positive, emotional reasoning, fortune telling, labeling, mental filter, mind reading, minimizing, overgeneralization, personalization and should statements. Personally, my most common ANTs are: emotional reasoning, catastrophizing, and overgeneralization. To dive a little deeper in this example, I’ll define what each of these ANTs mean.
First, emotional reasoning is when you believe that something is true, just because you feel that way about it despite a lack of outside evidence to support your reasoning. Have you ever decided that someone hates you for an irrational reason, or simply based on how you felt after seeing them? Well, you have participated in emotional reasoning.
Catastrophizing is when there is an exaggeration of something to the point where disaster is imminent. An example of this one is walking out of a test thinking:
I failed that test and because I failed, I am going to fail the class. If I fail the class, I will be on academic probation. If I get to that point, I should drop out. That means I am never going to get to my dream job.
Clearly, there are a lot of different paths that could be taken IF the test was failed, and not all lead to utter catastrophe.
The final ANT on my top three list is overgeneralization. This is taking one piece of logic and then assuming it is a trend.
“I am a bad friend because I forgot I was supposed to call my friend.”
Forgetting doesn’t make you a bad friend, especially if it is a rare occurrence.
My guess is that some of these scenarios might sound familiar to you. If so, let’s move on to the good stuff, how to squash these ANTs!
There are lots of methods out there for how to squash ANTs and unfortunately this is not a one size fits all.
I am going to talk about a variety of techniques that have helped me. Feel free to try one or two that you like and see how it works.
- Taking the time in my day to recognize that the ANT is there. We are all going to have ANTs, some more than others.
- Tracking my ANTs in the app I mentioned earlier “Simple CBT.” This app walks you through identifying what ANTs you are having, evidence (or lack thereof) that supports your ANT, and a revised thought that can help you overcome the ANT.
- Grounding exercises. These grounding exercises can assist with squashing ANTs by taking your mind off the ANT and giving you something else to focus your attention on. This can involve something simple I can do in class.
- One I like is alternatively taping my feet on the floor to my breathing pace.
- Another grounding technique is looking around for five things I can see, four things I can hear, three things I can touch, two things I can smell, and one thing I can taste.
- One that I like to do right before exams is taping my thumb to three of my fingers and having a mANTra for each finger and repeating this three times.
- TIPPS another technique I use and is an acronym that stands for temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Temperature change is to give your nervous system a change. That might be a cup of warm tea or crunching ice. You could combine the next part and take a brisk walk in the cold.
- Intense exercise can be a walk, some push-ups, a plank, or even jumping jacks.
- Paced breathing is going to have you focus on your breath.
- Progressive muscle relaxation is where you tighten up different parts of your body for three to five seconds and release. You can use them in order to stop those Autonomic Negative Thoughts in their tracks, but you can also do each one individually to help as well.
- Finally, meditation is one of those things that was recommended to me for years before I actually tried it. It was surprising to me just how helpful a few minutes right before sleep would allow me to drift off relatively fast compared to the nights I spent worrying or going through my to-do list or any ANTs that popped-up. Try it and see what works for you. There are a variety of YouTube videos and apps like Headspace that are dedicated to meditation.
Overall, I hope this has given you an insight into what Autonomic Negative Thoughts are, but also given you a few strategies to help squash those ANTs. We all go through periods of more stress and less stress. You might find you need to add some additional techniques to squash those ANTs during tough times. Remember that whatever you are going through, I believe you can squash your ANTs.
For additional information regarding ANTs see:
Microsoft Word – Examples Of Unhelpful Thinking.doc (drhappy.com.au)
Check out the Simple CBT App: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/simple-cbt/id1530094822