“ANTS”: AUTOMATIC NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

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This little guy is really happy and at his age I doubt that he has too many negative thoughts! Unlike his Grandad!

My wife and I participated in the third session of the Memory Matters “Brain Boosters” program. The subject was ANTS or rather “Automatic Negative Thoughts” and provided a really interesting and insightful look at how we make emotional connections throughout our brain using the electrical signals in its system. It was startling to learn that we can have a thought a second which equates to 86,000 thoughts per day and scientists have determined that approximately 80% of these are ANTS!

Through MRI imaging, researchers have proven that negative thoughts stimulate the areas of the brain that promote depression and anxiety. They’ve also proven that positive thoughts set off a cascade of positive hormones throughout the body that results in feelings of calm and peace.

Program Director Cathee writes: ” unless you think about your thoughts they are automatic or ‘they just happen’. Since they just happen, they are not necessarily correct. Your thoughts do not always tell the truth. Sometimes they even lie to you. Unfortunately, if you never challenge your thoughts you just believe them as if they were true”.

The program gave us insight in how to avoid the ANTS by talking back to them and controlling them before they cause distress. There are nine such ANTS. Examples range from: “my kids never listen to me”, to “I’m always going to be late”; or “she’s mad at me” to “no-0ne trusts me any more”; or “I need to call my Mom more often ” to “my boss is mad at me because she didn’t say hello”. Or perhaps the worst in many circumstances – the blame culture. Example: “it’s not my fault, it’s his”!

By supplanting these negative thoughts with good ones we “cool” the brain and it releases chemicals into our bodies that provide comfort and a feel-good spirit.

I have learned over the years that the power of the “team” and reputable places of learning can provide significantly better direction and/or solutions to life problems compared with the individual alone. Problems should not be worries which are for the most part opportunities for solutions. The French philosopher Balzac once said that “wisdom cannot be told”! So wisdom derived from teams of experts is useful whether they be at Memory Matters or say, The Cleveland Clinic.

In researching this post I found this summary written by The Cleveland Clinic and it neatly summarizes Cathee’s message and teaching last week.

“Most of us experience our thoughts as facts. When you experience your thoughts as real and automatic, you live much of your life caught up in your thoughts and not present to what is happening right now. But by spending time in meditation and learning to live life mindfully, you’ll begin to experience your thoughts as passing mental events, and you’ll learn to observe your thoughts. When you’re the observer of your thoughts, you create space around them. When you’ve created that space, you can look at your thoughts dispassionately, question your own thinking and not believe everything”.

So the moral in this story is to thoughtfully respond and not react in a knee-jerk manner. To take time to practice changing these ANTS into positive thoughts.

No, it’s not easy but practice makes perfect!

Here is a real life example which relates to my Mum (Mother) who is still trying to assimilate and live in an English Nursing Home. (For those who have only just read this post, please read the previous four to see where I am coming from on this topic).

I had arranged with British Telecom to have a land line installed in my Mum’s room. However their service being slow to poor (that’s an ANT!) gave me and she a problem which Cathee resolved. Everyday I called my Mum on the Care Home’s mobile phone she complained, and her complete loss of short term memory would not allow me to explain the date of installation. Time and again I tried, maybe dozens of times, but my Mum would get more and more distraught.

So Cathee’s plan was to get her distracted with an attention grabbing topic that could be repeated everyday in every phone call. The idea was to tell my Mum I was writing a book – the story of her life – so that I could present it to her Great- Grandchildren! This wonderful positive thought not only made me happy but sent positive electrical signals through my Mum’s brain too. So now I ask short questions of her and tell her the answers will help me write the book. She loves her Great-Grandchildren with a passion and that positive thought is locked into her memory. It’s easy now to recall it.

One day the little guy in the photo will receive the book!

Please share this if you believe it would help someone you know. Please call 1 843 842 6688 for confidential consultation and information on any of our Dementia Day Care, Support Groups or pro active programs such as Brain Boosters.

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