Negative Automatic Thoughts

Inner Radio

All the body’s organs work. The heart beats. The lungs breathe. The brain thinks. Only a dead brain is free of thoughts. The conscious mind is endlessly active. If we become aware enough, we can listen to these thoughts. They are usually like a constant stream of dialogue, an inner radio.

This radio has different channels. Some channels are sombre and down, like Goth FM. This channel produces self-critical, pessimistic thoughts. Some are upbeat and hyper, like Party FM. This channel produces excited, self-congratulatory thoughts. Many are mundane and boring, like a super-dry news channel. But no matter what the channel, the radio is never off. We can never switch off our thinking. Our Automatic Thoughts.

Sometimes one channel seems to get stuck on. The Threat Channel relentlessly tells us about anxiety provoking possibilities. The Regrets Channel drones on and on about past mistakes. When this happens, we humans have a tendency to try to drown out the radio noise. We might try to stay busy. Relentless activity, such as work, over-powers the sound of the radio. We might endlessly distract ourselves with social media or video games or TV. We might drink or take drugs. These are all examples of avoidance techniques. They are usually very effective in the short-term. In the long-term however the old radio station remains in the background waiting for avoidance to end.

Tune in before tuning out

Mindfulness meditation offers a radically different way of coping with these thoughts. Rather than avoiding negative thinking Mindfulness invites us to pay more attention to these radio stations. We are encouraged to distance ourselves from the emotional content of these channels. Have a curious, non-judgemental stance. When we do this, we find that the thoughts lose much of their sting. They are just the movements of the brain. Just as the breath is the movement of the lungs. The heart beat is the movement of the heart. Just a radio station, nothing more.

Changing channels

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) invites us to challenge the messages we are being told. Does the Threat Channel have accurate information about the dangers of the world? Are we as pathetic and helpless as Goth FM would have us believe? Repeated noticing and challenging of Negative Automatic Thoughts can lead to the channel being changed. After all, these channels are merely mental habits. Like any bad habit, these can change.

If you have ever wondered to yourself, why am I depressed? Why am I anxious? One place to look is your Negative Automatic Thoughts. It can be painful to do this to begin with – and this is why we try to drown them out with avoidance techniques. You may want to have a guide, such as a mental health professional, to help. But with insight comes the promise of change. To change the channel to something that works for you, instead of against.

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