Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

Our thoughts can become overwhelming and stressful, especially if they are negative. You can overcome and stop automatic negative thoughts with a few simple techniques to control and challenge your thinking.

Our world and our lives are hectic, and our brains do a lot of thinking, more than 6,000 thoughts per day. The majority of our thoughts tend to be negative, and having negative thoughts is perfectly normal.

stop automatic negative thoughts

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Why Our Negative Thoughts Are Normal

It is human nature to think about negative things in our lives and they are there for a reason.  

Your ancestors needed to be on the lookout for danger and threats to survive. These thoughts helped them think about things before they happened and fix problems as they arose and learned from their mistakes.

During your daily life, your brain allows you to solve something before you get into trouble. The thoughts you are having are there to keep you safe.

Harmful Automatic Negative Thought Habits

Our negative thoughts can sometimes be harmful, especially if they have become a habit.

Most of your thoughts are repetitive by nature, and tomorrow, you may be thinking about the same things.

Interestingly enough, if we are doing something enough times, we get good at them, which creates a neural pathway in our brains. Our brains recognize the behavior or action, and it becomes repetitive, making it easier to do. 

When it comes to repetitive, automatic negative thoughts, it can be harmful.

You may think your repeated negative thoughts are keeping you safe, but they are holding you captive —a chronic cycle of stress.

Automatic negative thoughts can have this effect on our brains:

  1. Accelerate the aging process of the brain
  2. Increase the size of your amygdala, which is the brains fear center
  3. Your natural feel-good chemicals in your brain like serotonin and dopamine become depleted
  4. You increase the risk of psychiatric diseases

Social Anxiety And Negative Thoughts

Most negative thoughts are self-defeating, irrational, and may help increase your social anxiety.

It’s been shown that people with social anxiety have an increased negative thinking thought process.

If you have social anxiety, you may think people may make fun of you, you aren’t good enough, and you have strong negative feelings about yourself. 

These thoughts and feelings about yourself are only holding you back.

Why We Call Automatic Negative Thoughts ANTS

I have mentioned in earlier posts, Dr. Aaron Beck. Dr. Beck is a psychiatrist and is the founder of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Beck had been working with patients who had depression and noticed his patients had negative thoughts during their treatment.

He found the automatic negative thoughts like “I’m no good,” and the like affected their mental health and went along with their depression.

To make it easier to remember, Beck gave the acronym of ANTs for automatic negative thoughts.

A very popular psychiatrist and best selling author named Dr. Daniel Amen helped popularize the term in his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Body.

Dr. Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad

According to Beck,

“[the] cognitive triad consists of three major cognitive patterns that induce the patient to regard himself, his future, and his experiences in an idiosyncratic manner” (1979).

Dr. Beck’s cognitive triad shows that depressed people automatically have negative views of themselves, their experience, and what correlates to their future.

This cognitive model shows, ” the other signs and symptoms of the depressive syndrome” are consequences of the activation of the negative cognitive patterns” (Beck 1979)

Dr. Beck found that a depressed person “tends to perceive his present, his future, and the outside world in a negative way.” The cognitive triad.

How To Stop ANTs Automatic Negative Thoughts

Your automatic negative thoughts can lead you to depression and cause stress and anxiety. It’s essential to learn about your thinking, understand why you have them, and get rid of those pesky negative thoughts.

Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat ANTs, anxiety, and depression will help you conquer your negative thoughts. Most of these techniques to stop your negative thoughts can be used by yourself or with a therapist.

Question Your Thoughts

When you have automatic negative thoughts, the first step is to recognize them and begin by questioning your thinking like:

  • Is what I’m thinking true?
  • Is there another explanation?
  • Does this thought serve me well?

Most of the time, these negative thoughts are distortions and not accurate, but often we believe them.

Continue to challenge your thoughts and ask yourself, “Is this an accurate statement”?

If your friend was thinking this about themselves, what would you say to them? Most likely, you would offer a different way of how they could think about themselves.

Challenge yourself in the same way you would help your friend.

Write Down Your Negative Thoughts

Next, write down your automatic negative thoughts and begin a thought record, which will help you see patterns. Certain situations or people may trigger your negative thoughts.

In time you may see a pattern and feel less overwhelmed that your repeating automatic negative thoughts are only a handful of thoughts instead of a whole bucket.

What Is Your Mood?

Pay attention to your mood and how you feel, and then rate these moods on a scale between 0 to 100.

For instance, you may feel:

  • nervous or anxious
  • irritated
  • angry
  • depressed
  • frustrated
  • rejected
  • sad

If you feel anxious about 75 percent, then the other 25 percent of different moods you think would fill up the remaining scale.

Don’t overthink it. Make a rough estimate of the percentage as the main point of rating your mood is to see just how much your attitude influenced your thoughts.

Reframe Your “I Should” And “I Shouldn’t” Thoughts

The ” I should” and “I shouldn’t” statements can contribute to your anxious thought patterns.

Pay attention to your thinking, and when you notice yourself saying “I should” or “I shouldn’t,” rephrase them with something more positive that benefits you.

Rephrase examples:

  • I should eat healthier –rephrased to– I will eat healthier today eating these foods
  • I should go to the gym –rephrased to– I will go to the gym at 6
  • I shouldn’t smoke –rephrased to– I choose not to smoke, and I feel great when I don’t

Listen to your thoughts and find kinder ways to keep yourself motivated to do things and keep moving forward. It takes practice and mistakes, but I know you can do it if you put your mind to it.

Practice Gratitude

Something we often overlook is practicing gratitude for ourselves. When you are feeling grateful, it’s hard to have negative thoughts.

Instead of focusing on your negative thoughts, take the time to appreciate the good in your life.

  • you have a place to live
  • food on your table
  • good health 

Take some time to write all the things down you are grateful for and think about them.  


Find a quiet place in your home and quiet your mind. Let go of the negative thoughts running through your mind.

Mindfulness meditation can help calm your mind, along with exercises like yoga and tai chi.

Consider Professional Help For Negative Thoughts

One of the best and top therapies you should consider is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

CBT helps you reframe your thought process, turning your negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  

If you feel overwhelmed by negative thinking, consider seeking out a therapist, or try Online Therapy.

I wish you the best and more positive thoughts.

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