What are automatic negative thoughts? (simplified read)

Have you ever asked yourself “what are automatic negative thoughts?” Then this post is for you!

Let’s start with an example.

You have a test, and you feel that you haven’t quite prepared for it. Your first thought as you begin the exam may be, “I am going to fail!.” That’s a negative thought.

First, I would like to say that it’s completely normal to have negative thoughts from time to time.

However, if one is caught in an endless cycle where negative thoughts recur repeatedly, it can be an issue, and one may need to seek professional help.

As stated earlier, this post is about negative thoughts and seeks to provide a simplified explanation and understanding as to what exactly they are.

What are automatic negative thoughts?

Automatic negative thoughts can be images or words that occur spontaneously in your mind.

At first, it can seem irrelevant, but in truth, it can really affect us.

It’s important to note that negative thoughts can affect one’s wellbeing, mood, and quality of life.

Often, people can refer to negative thoughts as automatic negative thoughts (ANT’s) or simply- negative thoughts.

Some characteristics of negative thoughts

  1. Occur spontaneously.
  2. Can be images: Often, people think negative thoughts are thoughts only, but they can manifest as an image too.
  3. It is rooted in core beliefs formed early in life and then later appear as negative self-talk.

Why should we understand this concept?

Understanding what automatic negative thoughts are is a cornerstone to understanding why we behave the way we do. Why? Thoughts can largely determine our behavior and overall mood.

Because thoughts largely affect the way we feel, most evidence-based therapies emphasize the importance of learning skills to change thinking and, ultimately, behavior.

For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) explores the link between thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

List of Negative Thoughts

There are many kinds of negative thoughts, and if you learn how to recognize them, it will be easier to diminish them and the impact they have upon you.

I want to note some cognitive distortions, which are essentially negative thinking styles.

Here are some examples:

1. Catastrophic thinking: When one thinks of the worst in a situation. i.e. “If I fail this one test, I will fail in life”

2. Overgeneralization: Making broad statements or interpretations based on a single or few events, i.e., “I am always late for the bus” instead of saying “I was late yesterday for my bus.”

For a complete list of the cognitive distortions, please read Good Therapy. They have a summarized list that is simple and easy to read.

How automatic negative thoughts are harmful

Negative thoughts trigger our fight or flight response which is crucial in how the body functions physiologically.

So what exactly is a fight or flight response? Well, let me start by saying that fight or flight responses can manifest as heart pounding, heavy breathing, perspiration, etc. This is essentially how the body reacts to stress.

Fight or flight responses trigger cortisol release. The continuous and persistent release of cortisol can lead to elevated cortisol levels. This, in turn, can cause chronic stress to the body.

In a recent podcast, Dr. Leaf mentioned how negative thinking could also adversely affect us. She stated:

The energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, resulting in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings, and so on.

Key Takeaways:

Since my blog is about self-care, mindset, and mindfulness, I felt that it was an essential anchor post to lay the groundwork regarding negative thoughts.

This post will be central in future blog posts that I write.

Look out for the next post that will discuss how to stop negative thoughts.

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