Negative voices in our head
Within us, there are countless voices, and not all of them are good advisors. Many of them counsel us from fear, anxiety, pessimism, or worry.
In psychology, these thoughts are called "PAN" (Automatic Negative Thoughts), and the acronym in English is very interesting, "ANT" (Automatic Negative Thoughts). "ANT" means ant in English, and no word represents them better because they are like very annoying ants in our head that don't leave us alone. The problem is that while we can move away from a place with ants, we can't escape from our own head.
It's easy to fall prey to this overwhelming dynamic when we give absolute truth to what we think. Instead of questioning our thoughts, we submit to them and obey them as if they were orders to be followed. Negative thoughts drain a tremendous amount of energy from us, leaving us exhausted and demoralized.
The problem is not that we think, but that we forget that a thought is just that: a thought, not a concrete and real reality. And surely you have noticed that many of the things that haunt us so much ultimately do not happen or are not as dramatic as we anticipated.
How can we save ourselves from so much unnecessary suffering?
We cannot avoid thinking. Life constantly presents us with challenges and difficult situations. Anticipating scenarios and thinking about the events we are experiencing is completely normal. The problem arises when, instead of observing these thoughts as something that is in our mind and will pass, we begin to fight with them or feed them until they become a snowball that we can't stop.
We harm ourselves greatly every time we give power to our negative thoughts to control our lives.
It is crucial to be attentive and notice when these thoughts are gaining ground. Just as the sky gradually becomes cloudy, our mind becomes cloudy when we let these thoughts keep advancing. Just as the sun clears the sky, our consciousness clears and clarifies what is clouded in our minds.
Awareness helps us discern what is true and what is not in the mental mess we are in. When we become aware of what is going on in our minds, we regain control and take the reins again.
There is a significant difference between having thoughts and being controlled by our thoughts. The former is normal, while the latter causes suffering.
Strategies to neutralize negative thoughts.
There are practices and skills that protect us from getting trapped in the chain of automatic thoughts. These skills are concrete resources that help us not to succumb to the sirens' songs that reside in our heads.We can't avoid thinking, but we can channel our thoughts. Taking care of ourselves when our minds start to race is our responsibility. How we manage our thoughts will determine how we treat ourselves.
- Learning to observe our minds: making this strategy a daily habit makes us more lucid and aware. As if you were a spectator, take note of everything that inhabits your mind, just observe it and let it pass. If we don't fight against our thoughts, if we don't argue with them or feed them with more thoughts, they will soon dissipate and disappear, as they are just thoughts, not tangible or real realities.
- Identify an avoid triggers of negative thoughts: dwe are experts at hurting ourselves with this... that song that reminds us of pain, that image, that place, certain people. Enough of empowering what torments us! Being responsible for ourselves and, above all, emotionally mature means learning to protect ourselves from those unhealthy tendencies that worsen the problem instead of alleviating it. Learn to be an ally to yourself, don't make it harder for yourself! Replace negative triggers with stimuli that generate pleasant and comforting sensations.
- Reframe your rumination: rumination is excessive thought patterns that won't leave you alone. It's the fantasy of believing that by thinking about something over and over, we are solving it. Well, we're not! It's a mistake that also drains us of so much energy. Before seeking a solution, we must discern what is true and what is mere fabrication. It wouldn't be strange that after subtracting the "fantastic additions," there is nothing concrete to worry about.
- Activate your body: when you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts, channel that energy into your body. Going for a run, actively walking clears our minds and helps us release endorphins that change our way of thinking. Surely you've noticed that after physical activity, you feel better. This resource is a fundamental strategy. We need to develop the willpower to use it even when we don't feel like it.
- Define positive anchors: learn to recognize the people who give us good vibes, the situations or activities that motivate us, the music that uplifts us, the readings that change our perspective, and incorporate them into our lives. Positive anchors are resources that prevent us from being carried away by our negative automatic tendencies. If you do more of what makes you feel good, you will feel better and better. But here's an important clarification... what makes us feel good doesn't always align with what gives us instant pleasure. Making this distinction is crucial to avoid falling into empty hedonism that may gratify us at the moment but later makes us feel guilty.
- Be compassionate: if negative thoughts revolve around our mistakes, limitations, or weaknesses, we must recognize ourselves as fallible human beings in continuous evolution. The smart thing is to learn from our shortcomings and give ourselves time to strengthen what we desire. Mistreating ourselves is never the way to progress or unfold.
- Help others: science has shown that altruistic people are happier. The dynamics of negative thoughts make us only focus on our problems and unable to see beyond them. Helping others allows us to step out of our self-centeredness and makes us feel more at ease with ourselves.
"This too shall pass"
Recognizing the transitory and impermanent nature of a thought brings relief. Many of the thoughts that haunt and overwhelm us have no more power than what we give them each time we feed them with more thoughts, piling them up to create a big snowball that's hard to stop. My advice is not to turn one link into a long chain. Whenever a disturbing thought appears in your mind, use the seven strategies I shared with you, and you'll see that what seems so serious right now will also pass without the added cost of causing yourself so much distress.
Each person is responsible for taking care of their mental health
As Master Po said, "The mind is like a root, it absorbs everything it touches." Therefore, take care of your surroundings, what surrounds you, what you feed your mind, and also be aware of your harmful aspects so that you can recognize and manage them with clarity and consciousness in time.