How to Avoid Negative Thoughts During a Crisis

Stuck in COVID-19 isolation, it’s easy to veer into the deep end of negative thoughts. Many of us are dealing with profound, real-world challenges such as job loss, health crises, and protecting our children. The reality of the situation is difficult enough, but when we allow widespread fear and negativity to enter the picture, the emotional toll can be crippling.

Psychiatrist and author Dr. Daniel G. Amen describes this natural gravitational pull as “ANTs,” or “automatic negative thoughts.” Originally, our brains developed to worry constantly in order to keep us alive as primates. But the predisposition toward fear and concern can interfere with living our best lives.

Dr. Amen describes several “species” of ANTS, including:

  • “Always” thinking. Gravitating to words such as: “always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything.”
  • Blame: Quick to blame others or external circumstances for your own problems.
  • Focusing on the negative. Only seeing the bad in a situation.
  • Fortune telling. Predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation.
  • Mind reading. Assuming that you know what another person is thinking which, of course, is the worst possible thing.
  • Labeling. Attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else.

So how do we eradicate an ANT infestation? Dr. Amen suggests a three-step approach:

STEP 1: Recognize it. Becoming aware of our negative thoughts and then realizing which “species” they are is the first step to overcoming these harmful parasites. Shine a bright flashlight on your negative thoughts and examine if your belief is fact or fiction.

STEP 2: Confront it. Instead of accepting the negative belief as a truism, expose the thought for the imposter it is. Just like the bully who wanted your lunch money in sixth grade, negative thinking will back down quickly when you stand up and confront it.

STEP 3: Flip it. If you were tasked with replacing the malignant thought with something more productive, what could you swap in its place? Could, “Staying at home for a month is a total disaster,” become, “This is an opportunity to do the things I never had time for.” Instead of a curse, could you imagine a way to make this period a blessing?

There are enough actual problems right now as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s not add to the mix by also allowing ANTS to invade. Now more than ever, let’s seek the positive angles wherever possible and limit any negative thinking for the many, actual challenges we face.

I hope you use this time of reflection to emerge even stronger. Stay safe and evict the ANTS.