Do you assume the worst without knowing the facts?
This past week I witnessed my adolescent daughter navigate some social drama. She was jumping to conclusions about what the other person may have been thinking or feeling without gathering all of the evidence. Her ADHD brain jumped right into worst case scenario negative thoughts.
I was struck by the idea that negative thoughts are something that ADHDers can fall prey to based on failures experienced more often in life as compared to others. The negative thinking can become a pattern over time. Thankfully, learning to acknowledge and understand the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) is a skill that can be learned. It takes some practice but it can help you to self-regulate and ultimately find balance in your life with ADHD.
Understanding Automatic Negative Thoughts
Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are destructive, self-defeating beliefs that can be hard to counter. They often come out of nowhere and take over our thinking patterns without us even realizing it. These thoughts can lead to feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Typical examples include “I’m not good enough”, “I’ll never get it right” or “Nobody will ever like me”. It’s important to remember that these kinds of thoughts are not facts—they are reflections of how we feel in the moment. Essentially, you can’t believe everything your brain tells you.
There are many types of negative thought patterns that can derail our emotions ending in less than desirable outcomes. The ANT that was causing my daughter to feel unbalanced in my story above was from jumping to conclusions. When we do this we make assumptions based on incomplete information or from our own prior experiences. This can be a common problem for those of us with ADHD because we often struggle with one of the core executive functions (EFs) called inhibitory control. Inhibitory control includes self-control and regulating verbal and motor actions. Without it, we are at the mercy of our impulses, and old habitual thought patterns. Unfortunately, ADHD brains are often lacking in this EF skill which, often leads to misunderstandings and incorrect interpretations of situations. This can lead to feelings of frustration and anger. The good news is that there are ways you can combat this tendency towards jumping to conclusions and all the nine different types of ANTs to improve your emotional regulation.
Become a Thought Detective
The first step in overcoming your automatic negative thoughts is to identify them. This means paying attention to when they are occurring and what they are saying. By writing down the thought, you can be aware of what triggers the thought and how it makes you feel. After doing this exercise for a few days, look over the list and see if there are any common themes that appear.
Challenge Your Automatic Negative Thoughts
Once you have identified your automatic negative thoughts, it’s time to challenge them. Ask yourself if the thought is really true or if you have any evidence to disprove the thought. If the thought does not stand up to scrutiny, then it is not based on reality and should be discarded.
Reframe Your Negative Thoughts
Once you have challenged your automatic negative thoughts, replace them with positive ones. For example, if your inner voice says “I will never get anything done”, replace it with something like “I can accomplish great things if I focus on one task at a time.” Or if the thought is “I’m not smart enough”, try reframing it to “I have learned hard things before and I can do it again”. This kind of positive thinking can make a huge difference in how you approach situations. It will also help to build confidence in yourself if done regularly. Reframing your thoughts allows you to focus on the positives instead of being drowned out by the ANTs.
Find Balance with ADHD
Learning to manage ANTs is, in my opinion, one of the first and most important skills to work on. A positive mindset is the foundation for making progress in all areas of life. It’s important for ADHDers to find ways to manage their symptoms so they can live healthy and fulfilling lives. Other lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating well-balanced meals go a long way in increasing feel good brain neurotransmitters. Taking control of your mindset and engaging in regular self-care activities will allow you will be able to find balance despite the challenges presented by your ADHD symptoms.
There you have it! Living with ADHD, just like anything in life, may come with ups and downs but you now have the tools to manage those pesky negative thoughts, increase emotional regulation, and find more balance in life. One of our biggest hurdles lies within our own minds—automatic negative thoughts. However, understanding where these thoughts come from, challenging them with evidence-based arguments, and combining that newfound positive mindset with smart lifestyle changes, will help you manage your symptoms better and live your best life! So take a deep breath and start focusing on those positive thoughts today! You got this!