Challenging Negative Automatic Thoughts

Hi friends :)

I thought I'd do something a little different today. I try and keep most of my mental health posts into some sort of series, but I came across this yesterday when I was sorting through mountains of old paperwork and figured it was well worth sharing!

We all experience automatic thoughts, even negative ones. There's not necessarily anything wrong with these thoughts at all; for example an automatic thought could be seeing a kitten or a puppy and an "awwwww" coming out before you can catch it. A negative automatic thought could be seeing and smelling an overflowing bin out on the street - yes Brighton, I'm looking at you - and thinking "God damn, that's gross..".

An automatic thought isn't something we can control; but thoughts do not have to lead to actions. We aren't helpless passengers to our minds, despite what you may believe at the time. What makes automatic negative thoughts problematic is that they aren't the most logical or rational, and they're very hard to change if you believe the thought to the very core of your being.

We use the CBT approach to try and challenge these thoughts, by following these questions:

~ My thought
~ Is it true?
~ Can you absolutely know it's true? 
~ How do you feel when you believe the thought? (consider physical sensations and emotional response)
~ Who would you be without the thought, how would you be? 
~ Can you think of one stress free reason to keep the thought? 
~ Turn the thought around

I had a very hard time with this exercise when it was first introduced to me at Addaction. I was absolutely certain about the thoughts I was having being true and got very angry at being challenged. Some I have been able to release, others I can't. There are also some that I will test the boundaries with and see what happens, but I have to be feeling rather brave for that one. I think that's my black-and-white thinking coming into play there! 

Distorted thought patterns are par-for-the-course with anxiety disorders and it is very important you seek help before you get stuck in the pattern forever. I think I've come as far as I can, and will just have to put up with my boyfriend giving me strange looks and/or saying "don't be ridiculous" when I say things that don't exactly follow a rational train of thought!

There are various flavours of negative automatic thoughts:
  • over-generalization - "No-one messages me or invites me anywhere, I'm going to be lonely forever."
  • filtering - "I made mistakes on my essay, my tutor must think I'm so stupid!"
  • all or nothing/black and white - "There's too much to do and it's too hard. I'm not going to even start trying."
  • personalising - "He seems in a bad mood. I must have done something wrong.."
  • catastrophising - "What if I didn't secure the windows properly and someone breaks in, or Lily falls out?"
  • emotional reasoning - "I feel fat, therefore I am fat."
  • "mind reading" - "I know they're talking about me and calling me a freak."
  • fortune telling error - "I've been poorly for too long for anything to change now."
  • 'should' statements - "I should be better by now."
  • magnification or minimisation - "I can't think of an example to put here. My readers are going to think I'm absolutely useless!"

There is a fantastic explanation >> here << about the above issues. As you can see, I'm guilty of the vast majority!!

Have a go at the exercise and see what happens! Do you catastrophise or over-generalise? Let me know!

If you have any questions just drop me message! :) 

Until next time <3


  1. Really enjoyed this post hun, have also done a bit of CBT so was nice to read and remind myself of a few bits :)


  2. I think I might be verrrryyy guilty of these automatic thoughts, so I will definitely keep this little exercise handy for when one strikes. Thanks for a great post, it's got me thinking

    Lyndsay xx | Fizzy Peaches ♡

    1. I love hearing these posts are helpful! Good luck :) xx

  3. *saves post* I really need to get better at this


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