Challenge negative thoughts

Recognise Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

It can help to be more aware of the anxious or negative thoughts that can feed the Vicious Cycle and create even more anxiety. These are often called Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). ANTs are the thoughts that often pop up automatically in the brain and cause unpleasant feelings. Some examples of this 'short-cut' thinking are: 'I'm stupid', 'I'm a bad mother', 'I am not pretty enough', 'I am failure', 'I am rubbish at my job', 'I am not thin enough'.

Recognising your ANTs is the first step to challenging them. There are different types of ANTs - grouped according to unhelpful thinking styles. Download the 'ANTs and unhelpful thinking styles' to help you identify any ANTs and find ways of changing them.

ANTs and unhelpful thinking styles

Read plain text alternative to 'ANTs and unhelpful thinking styles' sheet

Catastrophising or 'what if' thinking is particularly common. Life is full of uncertainties and it is easy to worry about all the possible things that might go wrong.

  • What if I lose my job and can't pay my mortgage?
  • What if I get sick and can't work?
  • What if my boyfriend finds someone else?

This kind of worrying can't stop bad things happening and can lead to a spiral of worrying which feeds the vicious cycle. Worrying about things that might happen in the future can also stop you enjoying life in the present.

'The Worry spiral' sheet shows how one small thought can spiral out of control and gives you help to keep these worries under control.

The Worry spiral

Keep a Mood or thought diary

Keeping a record in a 'Mood diary' can help you to recognise how what you are thinking can affect your feelings and your mood.

Use the diary to note down whenever you notice an automatic thought that gives you an unpleasant or distressing feeling. Then use the 'ANTs and unhelpful thinking styles' sheet to identify which types of ANTs you tend to think.

Mood or thought diary

Do you often assume something is true just because you have thought it? Do you give up completely at the first sign of failure? Do you presume what someone else is thinking or try to predict the future, expecting something bad to happen?

If can be difficult at first to look at your negative thoughts in this way. You will find, however, that writing them down can help you to highlight patterns of thinking which can then make it easier to challenge any 'thinking errors'.

Change unhelpful ways of thinking

Once you have used the Mood diary to identify your ANTs, you can look at these thoughts in more detail and change any unhelpful thinking. Trying not to think these thoughts can just make your anxiety worse - it's much better to challenge them and tackle worries directly.

You can use the ''Ten steps to challenging an unhelpful thinking style' sheet to help you question just how inaccurate your thoughts are and help you adopt more positive ways of thinking.

Ten steps to challenging an unhelpful thinking style

When completing the sheet have a look at these examples:

Ten steps to challenging an unhelpful thinking style with example - mind reading

Ten steps to challenging an unhelpful thinking style with example - fortune telling

Challenge 'hot thoughts'

The ANTs which upset you the most and cause the strongest emotional reaction are known as 'hot thoughts'. These are often long-held beliefs and may well hold no truth in reality. It's easy to get into the habit of presuming that these ANTs are 'facts' without actually stopping to question whether there is, in fact, another more positive and balanced way of thinking.

Use the 'Challenging a hot thought' sheet to help you challenge these ways of thinking by finding evidence against the thought.

Challenging a hot thought

Challenging a hot thought with example

When looking at evidence against the thought, consider the following:

  • Are you not seeing or ignoring the evidence against the thought?
  • What would a friend or someone you trust say about your thoughts?
  • What's a more realistic way to think?

You can then find a more helpful and balanced way of thinking.

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