A.N.T.s.... what I do with them
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
ANTs or Automatic Negative Thoughts... is a concept that I was introduced to quite a while ago in therapy... but the therapist I had retired, and nobody else framed it quite that way... but in the angsty cleaning and purging I have been doing I came across the big, black, plastic ant she gave me to help remind me to stop and question whether the self deprecating statements I make are true... or ANTs... or even when I think them in my own head and start getting discouraged and down on myself. What I say to myself often has more impact than what other people say to me... because they say it and leave (generally), whereas, when I start saying negative things to myself I am stuck with myself and my thoughts. And it can pop up anytime of the day or night, and in any situation. ANTs can be mildly negative or viciously undermining, but they all tend to be insidious. They are like the ants that infest your lawn (or your kitchen if you’re unlucky) in the Spring... you think you get rid of all of them, but they always seem to come back!
So, what I was taught to do with ANTs ( not the little ants, those I really have no clue, besides live with them or bomb the heck out of them).., is to 1. pause... 2. Challenge... 3. Question... 4. Reframe... 5. Ask for outside input if the previous 4 steps don’t have the necessary effect.
So, for me... I am at a healthy weight now, but I used to be morbidly obese (over 300 pounds and I am 5’10”... well, I used to be... now I am 5’8”)... Though I took a couple years to get to my target weight through diet and exercise, and making lifestyle changes ... so it wasn’t an abrupt change or anything and I had time to become accustomed to the changes... I still, at times, think of myself as a morbidly woman... even though I am not. (What my brain says is more along the lines of “ you can’t possibly do xyz you are stupid fat cow”). That’s The ANTs at work! So I go through the process and pause and say “hey! Wait a minute, where did that come from?” Why would I say that about anyone, much less myself? What is really going on here? Am I feeling anxious about doing this activity/social engagement? And then I reframe... (because for me it is usually actually about my anxiety rather than my weight) I would say something like... “okay, take a deep breath... and decide if completing the activity is necessary, if so just buckle down and finish... and it will be over... and if it’s not necessary decide if completing it is worth the anxiety level, or if completing it will give a sense of mastery and empowerment that will help combat the anxiety!
It sounds long and drawn out, and like it would get in the way of actually making a decision or changing a thought process... and at first for me it wasn’t a natural thing. And lately I have gotten away from doing it (which is not a good thing given my recent medical and living situation issues exacerbating my anxiety issues), but I found after I did it once or twice it becomes a split second thing. The pause is what takes the longest for me, because I have to stop and realize I am actually saying that awful stuff to myself about myself and usually without good reason... and it’s things I would NEVER say to another person, ever, because it would be cruel! So, the pause to analyze takes the longest (and often hurts the most). The rest just happens naturally with practice!
So, that’s what works for me when those nasty ANTs get to crawling through my head... what do you do? What works best for you? Or does it even happen in your head? If it doesn’t... can you tell me how you got those ANTs out for good?