Many of my sleep coaching clients come to me with statements like that and the belief that they will never be able to get good sleep again. These same people can be caught saying things like “Oh, that never works” or “Everyone is always so clueless” or other generalized negative pronouncements. These people aren’t necessarily depressed (though they may be) but they are falling victim to a deadly cycle and habit known as A.N.T. — Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are seemingly simple thoughts that come from out of nowhere (actually they come from inside your head) and fill your brain with doom and gloom for even the most splendid occasion. An example of an ANT might be someone who, when faced with an absolutely glorious day might immediately think, “Well, it’s nice now, but I’ll bet it will rain and spoil the BBQ. You know it always does.” Another ANT influenced individual may feel they are never good enough, or no one likes them, or they will never have enough money (time, freedom, space, hair, or whatever) that they need to be happy.
ANTs can often be recognized as statements that contain words such as “never”and “always”. They are also often big generalization or the worst case scenarios. Here are some really big ANTS:
She didn’t want to go to the movie with me tonight. She probably hates me and is talking behind my back. I’ll bet all her friends think I am a geek. I will never have any close friends and I will die alone in a smelly back alley somewhere.
Uh, oh! I forgot to mail the letter. They will probably cancel my account and I won’t be able to get any credit in the future. I am such a loser!
ANTS have a tendency to march around in your head when you are trying to get to sleep. This can be especially uncomfortable, because there in the dark with everyone else asleep it is really easy to start to believe those thoughts. After all you can’t do even the simplest thing like sleep. No one else ever has this problem. You’ll probably lay awake all night, feel terrible in the morning, mess up at work and lose you job! See how easy that was to get carried away by the ANTS?
This kind of unhelpful thinking can become a habit (hence the Automatic part of Automatic Negative Thoughts). And that’s actually the good news. A habit can be changed. But first you have to recognize that you are doing it.
Here is a cute music video to help keep you on the alert for the ANT invasion in your life.
I hope ANTS don’t spoil your picnic.
Best Wishes for Peaceful Sleep,