Negative Automatic Thoughts

One effective way to overcome negative thoughts is to write them down on paper as they come up. Your thoughts are beliefs that guide how you think and act. Sometimes we assign meaning to things that aren’t grounded in facts. For instance, you might think “Nobody likes me.” Since your thoughts lead to feelings, strong emotions can be a clue that your thoughts are out of sync with reality. 

Negative automatic thoughts are common to social anxiety disorder but all of us battle these thoughts day to day in some form or another. These thoughts can be conscious or subconscious and they are often irrational.Thoughts can influence how we think and act. It’s common to hold our deepest held beliefs to ourselves, and it’s these beliefs that can be the most detrimental. 


One relatable scenario is a job performance review. Your review is predominantly positive with one or two areas for improvement but you fixate only on the negative and leave feeling awful. The review could leave you feeling disappointed, sad, resentful, or anxious. This is because automatic thoughts often produce intense negative emotions. We often get absorbed in the emotion without thinking about the trigger, which keeps us stuck. It helps to work backward from the emotion to track the thought. Understanding our thoughts can help us moderate the extremity of our emotions. These strong emotions are often the trigger to drink or use and they can drain you of concentration and energy. 

If you choose to engage in therapy, or challenge your thoughts on your own terms, you will question your deeply held beliefs. Using a thought record, much like tracking your substance use with a journal, can help you reframe your perspectives.  If one of your thoughts after drinking too much was “I am a failure,” you can go through a process of challenging these beliefs and examining all of the areas in your life where you have been successful, resilient, devoted, and effortful.

One strategy you can try is to make your thought objective. Here’s an example:

Nicole didn’t respond to my email, she probably thinks I’m annoying.

Nicole hasn’t responded to my email yet because she has been busy. 

The more you practice identifying irrational thoughts, the easier it becomes to adjust your thinking to match reality. As you change your relationship to your thoughts, you will feel less anxious and more confident.

To manage your automatic thoughts, you might: 

  • Name one positive affirmation you can repeat for the next week
  • Practice mindfulness by using a thought record, writing down your negative automatic thoughts and reframing them 
  • If a friend were to reach out to you about a similar problem, what would you say to them? Saying this to yourself is a way to engage in self-compassion. 

The way we talk to ourselves influences our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. When you catch yourself speaking harshly to yourself, think of the way you would speak to a friend who was struggling with their perception and gently prompt yourself to shift your inner dialogue. It’s important to reframe your harsh thoughts and when it comes to drinking and using, it’s essential to normalize bad days and get back on track. 

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