Anxiety and depression are really two sides of the same coin- where you see one, you often see the other. For people suffering from anxiety/depression, just getting out of bed to start your day can be a chore. So, here’s what happens. You wake up, find your way to the bathroom, turn on the shower…and that’s when the ANTS start flowing.
What are ANTS. They are Automatic Negative Thoughts. And they can be merciless. Here’s what it sounds like:
“I have to get dressed and get to work. You wonder if your favorite shirt is clean. Which for some reason reminds you of that favorite shirt you had in high school. Which reminds you of that school dance you went to, the first time you wore that shirt. Which reminds you of the time you asked the cute girl to dance, and she said no, which reminds you of the stupid feeling you had as you walked away…”
So, you’re not 5 minutes awake, your standing naked in the shower and for some reason you will never understand, you’re remembering a time in your life when your self-confidence took a punch in the gut.
Another great start to another morning.
You’ll probably never see this in any textbook about anxiety/depression, but you’d be surprised how many people tell me they hate their morning routine. They wake up, their mind slowly comes to life, and then the negative thoughts start to flow. The negative thoughts that say:
Labeling: You’re not good enough.
Minimizing: Yeah, you’re a nice person, but nice guys finish last.
Maximizing: That joke I told yesterday really bombed, didn’t it, man I can’t do anything right.
Mind Reading: The boss was just being nice to me; he really didn’t like my idea. I don’t know why I keep opening my gob.
Fortune Telling: There’s no way I’m ever going to get back in shape. It’ll never happen. I just can’t do it.
Emotional Reasoning: That feeling in the pit of my stomach, that’s proof that I’m never going to meet someone. Other people can find love after a divorce, but they’re the lucky ones, it’ll never happen for me.
Catastrophizing: my gut tells me I’m going to flunk this test I’m about to take (emotional reasoning), I just know I’m going to fail (fortune telling) and my teacher will think I’m stupid (mind reading) and everyone will think I’m an idiot (labeling), yeah I’ve done pretty well so far in the course but so what? (minimizing) I’ll probably end up flunking out of school.
Does this ring any bells? I had a client a few years ago, his morning flood of ANTS became so troubling, he started showering at night. If that wasn’t possible, he’d skip the morning shower all together.
Why does this happen? Frankly, I don’t know. It just seems to be a quirky feature of this two-headed creature. But we do know what you can do about it.
If you’re suffering from anxiety/depression, your negative thoughts fuel your negative thinking. It’s a vicious cycle. If you spend any time on social media, you’re quickly told the solution to your problem. Positive thinking. That’s the answer to all your problems. Just snap out of it. Turn your frown upside down. Look on the bright side.
Anyone tired of hearing that? It gets old fast, doesn’t it? So, what do you do?
You learn the strategies of cognitive behavioral therapy and then you start your morning this way, engaging in Rational Self Talk:
“Okay, my Counsellor and I have talked about my anxiety/depression and how this leads to having a lot of ANTS. I used to take my ANTs at face value and believe them, merely because of sheer repetition in my head. I no longer do that. My Counselor has taught me a new motto, DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK”.
So, now each morning I step into the shower. I have no control over what pops into my head. I will not try to force these thoughts out of my head – that’s doesn’t work. I will notice these thoughts. But I will no longer instantly believe them. I will ask myself the question, “Is this negative thought fair, is it true?
Yes, I’m about to take an exam. I’ve studied for it. No, I’m not going into this final with an A average, but I’ve been getting low to mid Bs all semester. It’s a tough course. In the past, I’d be standing here in the shower, fortune telling and catastrophizing, getting myself all worked up. I am anxious about this exam. I won’t pretend that I’m not. But if I was looking at this situation, as if it was happening to someone else, I think the only reasonable conclusion to come to, is that this person will probably get a decent grade. That is a reasonable conclusion to make. It won’t make my anxiety go away completely, but it allows me to distinguish between a rational thought and an irrational, anxiety fueled ANT”.
And that is the beginning of your journey, as you learn how to manage, (not control, but manage), your automatic negative thoughts.
Mental Health Clinician