Have you ever experienced a picnic that was ruined by a sudden invasion of ants?
(Realistically, many of us have not been having picnics or other social gatherings due to the pandemic. However, I truly hope all of us have had picnics in our pre-pandemic lives!)
It can be a wonderful experience sitting in nature with friends enjoying tasty treats. If the sunny weather changes and becomes rainy — or if a group of ants arrives to also enjoy our food — we will most likely get up and find a dry location and/or try to get rid of the ants.
Therapists like to help our clients recognize and manage the reality of ANTS in our daily lives.
We can learn how to recognize and then minimize 10 cognitive distortions that we label ANTS: Automatic Negative Thoughts.
Here are some of the most common negative thoughts that most of us can recognize as discussed in the book “Ten Days to Self-Esteem” by David Burns, M.D:
1. All or nothing thinking — You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
2. Overgeneralization — You view a negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat.
3. Mental filter — You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
4. Discounting the positives — You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.
5. Jumping to conclusions — You conclude things are bad without any definite evidence.
Mind-reading — You assume people are reacting negatively to you.
Fortune-telling — You predict that things will turn out badly.
6. Magnification or minimization — You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.
7. Emotional reasoning — You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot so I must be one.”
8. “Should” statements — you criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts”, and “have tos.”
9. Labeling — Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself “I’m a jerk” or “a loser.”
10. Blame — You blame yourself for something you were not entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that you contributed to a problem.
In the real world of picnics and live ants, there are some practical ways to avoid this problem. It is wise to avoid sticky or sweet food that ants would be attracted to, and it’s also wise to find a protected spot for your picnic before you settle down.
In the world of automatic negative thoughts, there are practical therapy techniques also.
Self-talk is usually so automatic and subtle that you don’t notice it or the effect it has on your moods and feelings. You react without noticing what you told yourself right before you reacted. It’s only when you relax, take a step back, and really examine what you have been telling yourself that you can see the connection between self-talk and your feelings.
In addition to recognizing some of your automatic negative thoughts, there are also four general categories of negative self-talk.
Some people can relate to the warrior, which promotes anxiety.
Others recognize the critic, which promotes low self-esteem.
Still others can mostly relate to the victim, which promotes depression.
Then there is the perfectionist, which promotes chronic stress and burnout.
The most effective way to deal with automatic negative thoughts is learning to counter with positive supportive statements. Learning to write down your thoughts and feelings and rehearsing positive statements will make a tremendous difference in your self-compassion and emotional health.
EAP supportive counseling can help you recognize some of your destructive self-talk and self-critical patterns. We can help you find ways to enhance your self- kindness to lower your stress and find practical ways to enjoy yourself and others more. Call 901-683-5658 if you would like to slay the ANTS at your picnic and enjoy your life and relationships more.
All sessions are being conducted via telehealth due to the pandemic.
Susan Erdman, LCSW, CEAP
Susan Erdman has a master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in New Orleans and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee in Memphis. She has worked as an EAP counselor since the 1990s. Before her work in the EAP, she was a mental health specialist at Methodist University Hospital in the eating disorder and dual diagnosis programs. Previously, she worked as a Catholic sister in a retreat center and as a personnel manager in a department store in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is an avid reader and yoga and fitness fan, and she loves to travel in the Mid-South and beyond.
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