Do you struggle with anxiety? Feel depressed? And feel like it’s holding you back in school and in the rest of your life? You might have an ANT invasion. ANTs are automatic negative thoughts, and they can infest your brain and steal your happiness.
That’s what happened to Marcus, a 14-year-old, who came to see me because he was having a lot of trouble with his schoolwork and feeling depressed and angry. In his first session with me, he told me:
“I’m an idiot.”
“My teachers hate me.”
“I can never be as good as other kids.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I hate school.”
Marcus had an ANT invasion. Maybe you do too.
In this article, I’ll show you four ways ANTs invade your brain and three strategies to kill the ANTs to help you overcome anxiety and depression.
4 Ways ANTs Invade Your Brain
ANT Invader #1. Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals that impact the way you feel.
It’s estimated that humans have up to 60,000 thoughts a day. Whenever you have a sad thought, a mad thought, or a hopeless thought, such as “I’m going to do terrible on this test,” your brain releases chemicals that make you feel bad. Conversely, every time you have a happy thought, a loving thought, or a hopeful thought, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good. And it happens almost immediately.
Thinking too many negative thoughts can make you feel bad—about yourself, about your ability to do your schoolwork, about your teachers, about everything—and can get in the way of achieving your goals.
ANT Invader #2. Thoughts are powerful, and your body reacts to every single one you have.
Your physical body reacts to every thought you have, whether it’s about schoolwork, your significant other, or your sister. Your thoughts can either make your body feel good, or they can make you feel bad. Sad, mad, or nervous thoughts can make your stomach feel queasy, give you a headache, or cause your hands to sweat. Good thoughts slow your heart rate, allow your muscles to relax, and let you breathe more deeply.
ANT Invader #3. Your thoughts are hardwired to be negative.
Negative thoughts are critical for our survival. Take our cave-dwelling ancestors, for example, whose negative thoughts helped prevent them from getting eaten by a saber tooth tiger. Now, tens of thousands of years later, negative experiences continue to have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones, according to research in Review of General Psychology.
Psychologist and author Rick Hanson has written that the brain is wired for negativity bias. Bad news is quickly stored in the brain to keep us safe, but positive experiences have to be held in consciousness for more than 12 seconds before they stay with us.
ANT Invader #4. Thoughts lie.
Did you know that your thoughts lie? They lie a lot! Just because something pops into your head doesn’t mean it’s true.
3 Ways to Kill the ANTs
ANT Killer Strategy #1. Don’t believe all your thoughts.
You don’t have to believe every stupid thought in your head. You can gain control of your thinking, calm your mind, and focus your attention to help you overcome anxiety and depression and achieve the success in school you want.
ANT Killer Strategy #2. Learn the 7 Types of ANT Species
There are 7 types of ANT species that could be holding you back in school and in life:
- All-or-Nothing ANTs. These ANTs think in absolutes—things are all good or all bad—and use words like all, always, never, none, nothing, no one, everyone, and every time.
Example: I never do well on essay tests.
- Just the Bad ANTs. This ANT can’t see anything good! It sees only the bad side of any situation.
Example: I only got a 90 out of 100 on the exam. I’m worthless.
- Guilt-Beating ANTs. These ANTs think in words like should, must, ought to, or have to that are actually demotivating.
Example: I should work on the outline for my term paper, but I don’t want to.
- Labeling ANTs. Attaching negative labels to yourself or someone else strengthens negative pathways in the brain and keeps you stuck in your old ways.
Example: I’m a lousy student.
- Fortune-Teller ANTs. Don’t listen to this lying ANT! Fortune-teller ANTs predict the worst possible outcome with little or no evidence.
Example: The other students are going to hate my speech.
- Mind Reader ANTs. This ANT thinks it can see inside someone else’s mind. It thinks it knows how others think and feel without even being told.
Example: My study partner must be mad at me because she didn’t reply to my text right away.
- Blaming ANTs. Blaming others for your problems makes you a victim and prevents you from admitting your mistakes or learning from them.
Example: It’s my teacher’s fault I didn’t get a better grade.
ANT Killer Strategy #3. Talk back to your ANTs.
To kill the ANTs, you need to identify the species, then reframe the thought with honest, rational thinking. Here’s how to do it using a couple of the examples above.
ANT: I’m a lousy student.
ANT species: Labeling
Kill the ANT: If I stay focused and study really hard, I can get good grades.
ANT: My study partner must be mad at me because she didn’t reply to my text right away.
Ant species: Mind Reader
Kill the ANT: I don’t know that for sure. Maybe she’s just busy studying for another class. I’ll speak to her about it.
With a bit of practice, you can choose to think helpful thoughts and feel good, or you can choose to think toxic thoughts and feel anxious and depressed.
It’s up to you!
Learn more secrets to student brain health success at https://changeyourbrainchangeyourgrades.com.
About the Author: Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.