How Automatic Negative Thoughts Take a Toll

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Negative thinking patterns can be a significant source of distress. Negative thoughts can trigger anxiety and depression, impair your physical health, strain relationships, and much more. 

What are Automatic Negative Thoughts?

Automatic negative thoughts or ANTs are unintentional, random negative thoughts that cross our minds. It is believed that around 50,000 such thoughts cross our minds each day. 

ANTs are at the root of distorted thinking that deforms perceptions about our experiences, other people, and ourselves, often leading to anxiety, low self-esteem, body image issues, depression, and other mental health challenges. 

Negative thinking patterns often stick in our minds, provoking or adding to our feelings of discomfort or distress and making every situation seem worse than it is. 

In his book, Change Your Brain Change Your Life, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, an American psychiatrist, recognizes nine most common types of automatic negative thoughts:

  1. All or Nothing Thinking (Polarized Thinking)
  2. Always Thinking (Generalization)
  3. Focusing on the Negative
  4. Thinking with Your Feelings
  5. Guilt Beating
  6. Labeling
  7. Fortune Telling
  8. Jumping to conclusions (Mind Reading)
  9. Blaming 
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All or Nothing Thinking

Also known as polarized thinking, this ANT represents a tendency to think in extremes. When all or nothing ANTs flood our mind, we tend to think in black or white terms – we see things either good or bad. 

Always Thinking

This type of automatic negative thoughts, also known as a generalization, occurs when we think in terms that overgeneralize, such as always, never, etc. (“I will never finish college.” “You will never change.” “I always say something stupid.” “Everyone thinks bad of me.”)

This kind of thinking causes you to feel as if you don’t have control over your behaviors. 

Focusing on the Negative

This ANT represents our tendency to see the only negative aspect of every situation, disregarding the positives.

Thinking with Your Feelings

Thinking with your feelings is a tendency to assume the feeling you have about something is correct (“I feel I am never going to lose weight.”).

Guilt Beating

Guilt beating involves thinking in terms such as “must,” “have to,” “should,” and “ought to” – we use excessive guilt to control our behavior.


This ANT involves using negative terms to describe yourself or others. It is also about thinking in global statements about ourselves or others based on a situation-specific behavior. 


Fortune-telling spins around predicting the worst even if you don’t know what will happen.

Mind Reading

Mind reading involves believing that you know what other people think or how they feel without them telling you. 


One of the worst cognitive distortions, this ANT involves blaming others for your failures or problems and refusing to accept responsibility for your own behavior.

How Can Automatic Negative Thoughts Cause Damage?

If you feel a failure, think that the worst things will happen, or assume the feeling you have about something is correct, you will tend to give up before you have even tried. These defeatist attitudes can be detrimental to your mood, mental health, physical well-being, and relationships. 

ANTs and Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety often stems from negative automatic thoughts that generate strong negative beliefs and feelings about ourselves. 

Our thoughts and emotions are intertwined in the most profound ways. What you think can affect how you feel and what you do. For instance, negative thoughts will tend to flood your mind when you feel sad, making your negative mood even gloomier. 

Negative statements about yourself contribute to anxious thought patterns and feelings because they set standards that it is often hard or impossible to live up to. Believing that you should look, act, or feel a certain way only adds pressure and leads to more anxious thinking, dragging you into a vicious cycle of anxiety and depression.  

Automatic negative thoughts often trigger social anxiety. For example, if you are about to talk in front of people and experience negative automatic thoughts such as “They will laugh at me,” “I will never be good at this,” or “I am a loser,” you will most likely be overwhelmed by anxiety. 

ANTs and Self-Esteem

Negative automatic thoughts about your appearance, skills, or intelligence can lead to self-esteem issues and low confidence. Many negative messages we send to ourselves were internalized during our childhood, based on what we learned from others. 

Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families with insecure attachment internalized negative beliefs about themselves, believing in them as the only truth. Such beliefs contribute to low self-worth in adulthood, causing you to feel inadequate, unlovable, and worthless. 

For instance, negative voices in your head about your look can lead to body image issues and low self-esteem. Thoughts such as “I am so skinny,” “I will never lose weight,” or “I should go to the gym every day” can cause you to begin body-shaming yourself and focus only on the negatives. As our body image and self-esteem directly influence each other, you start feeling bad about yourself as a whole person, disregarding the positives. 

Or, if you grew up believing that you had to be the best in everything you do, you might have become obsessed with perfectionism, setting unreasonably high standards for yourself. You might engage in polarized thinking and tend to be self-judgmental, seeing yourself as a failure each time your performance is below perfect. 

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ANTs and Relationships

Negative automatic thoughts can cause various problems in your relationships with other people. For example, mind reading can cause problems in your social interactions since you anticipate how people will treat you. 

Blaming is a form of toxic thinking where you tend to blame others for your problems, believing that you are not accountable. Blaming makes you a victim, powerless to change your behavior, which can be destructive for your relationships. 

How to Overcome Negative Automatic Thoughts?

negative quote to overcome automatic bad thoughts

To change the way you think, you need to recognize these cognitive distortions and understand that they hold you back and affect your well-being.

Changing the way you think about yourself, other people, situations, your past, and future means putting a conscious effort to stop the established thought patterns. 

Mindfulness can be an excellent tool to take a closer look into your negative thought patterns without self-judgment. It can help you understand the profound connection between your thoughts and emotions, empowering you to focus on positive thoughts instead.

Also, journaling or expressive writing can help identify and observe your negative thinking patterns. This can help you clarify what you think and how you feel, alleviating symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

However, one of the most successful strategies for changing negative thinking patterns is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT strategies help you recognize and stop the automatic negative thoughts and think more flexibly about yourself and others. Changing how you think can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve self-esteem, and enhance your relationships.

Staying in place of ANTs keeps you stagnant. When you are ready to step into what is possible book a time to speak with me. We can create a custom coaching package to support you on your journey

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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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