Are you afraid of heights, flying, insects, needles, storms or public speaking? If you are, you’re certainly not alone. Fear is as old as the human race and is deeply rooted in our operating system. Its role is to protect us against a perceived threat and may be as simple as mistaking the top of a cherry tomato for a spider or as serious as feeling that our life is in danger.
In the spring and summer of 2020, it feels like we’ve been overserved with fear. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have more questions than answers and we feel uncertain about the future. While fear of the unknown is real, our thoughts about it are not always real. What we think is powerful and we need to keep in mind that our thoughts lie; they lie a lot.
Unfortunately we can easily buy into negative thoughts and if we want to enjoy life, even in this time of the pandemic pause, we need to take charge of our wellness on all levels. We need to eat properly, get rest, exercise, drink plenty of water and manage negative thinking to reduce stress.
It’s important to recognize when our thoughts are inaccurate. Credit goes to bestselling author and speaker Byron Katie and her method of asking ourselves four questions when those pesky negative thoughts attempt to take over.
Choose one thought. For example: we’re never going to get out of this pandemic.
- Is this (negative thought) true?
- Answer: I really don’t know.
- Can I absolutely know that it is true?
- Answer: no.
- What happens when I believe that thought?
- Answer: I feel afraid.
- Who would I be or how would I feel without this thought?
- Answer: I would feel that I am in charge of my future.
It’s time now to turn the thought around. Ask yourself this question: what is the opposite of that thought?
Answer: We will get out of this pandemic.
American psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen supports Byron Katie’s method; he created the term ANTs or automatic negative thoughts, referring to the gloomy or complaining thoughts that seem to multiply in our mind.
If fear based thoughts have ever held you back from trying something new, again you’re not alone. The problem is though that these thoughts, left unchecked can create an undesirable result and steal joy, when we could be having fun. When we recognize our automatic negative thoughts for what they are, we can stop the multiplying and refocus our thoughts on something more positive.
Dr. Amen has several categories for ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), among them:
-Always thinking: when we think in terms of always, everyone, never, no one, everything and every time.
– Focusing on the negative: only seeing the bad in a situation.
-Fortune telling: predicting the worst possible outcome.
-Mind reading: we believe we can read someone else’s thoughts (and they’re not good) without them telling us or without us asking.
Dr. Amen advises that once we’ve identified the ANTs, we can remind ourselves that it’s simply a thought and that thoughts aren’t truth. Then we stand up to them and don’t allow them to limit our joy and finally we flip the ANT to a PAT (positive affirming thought). In the example we used earlier: ANT (automatic negative thought) we’re never going to get out of this pandemic. PAT (positive affirming thought) we will eventually recover from this pandemic and I plan to enjoy myself every day until we do.
As with any new habit that benefits our wellness, it takes training to chase away the ANTs; the great news is that as we practice, we take power away from negative thoughts and gain control over our attitude and ultimately our happiness.