Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Automatic Negative Thoughts: Calming the Storm Within

We are our own worst enemy. Especially if we let automatic negative thoughts power our emotional responses to day-to-day events. Automatic negative thoughts are irrational thoughts regarding potentially negative situations. Such thoughts can take over our rational responses to challenges and render a person unable to make the kinds of choices that promote resiliency, growth mindset and grit in tough situations.

As an educator working exclusively with students who struggle with learning and attention difficulties, I find that many of my students struggle with poor self-esteem and sometimes crippling anxiety. Often, their default mode in a tough or potentially frightening situation is to engage in negative self-talk. Once this negative self-talk begins to become their normal response to a difficult or challenging situation, they become increasingly reluctant to take risks, much to the detriment of their education.

What are automatic negative thoughts? This video by WellCast offers up a good explanation:

Automatic Negative Thoughts often stem from anxieties a person might have. As an educator, I spend a great deal of my time talking to my students about the fact that anxiety, when managed well, can be a powerful and positive tool. Students who are anxious about school often care a great deal about doing well and are conscientious students. Another video that I often show to help put anxiety into a context students can better understand is GoZen's No Need to Worry about Worrying:

Finally, I work hard to help students understand that they have control over their thoughts, but that this is a skill that they have to work on. To that end, students can benefit from three active strategies:

1. Learn to journal, examine and reframe their thoughts.
2. Practice mindfulness.
3. Learn to ask for support.

This TED-Ed Lesson (Automatic Negative Thoughts: Calming the Storm Within) addresses all of the above three strategies by providing educators and parents with a number of useful articles, strategies, and tools that they can use assist either their child or students manage and or stop automatic negative thoughts.  

Every student has LearnAbilities. As educators and parents, let's take the time to educate ourselves about the power automatic negative thoughts can hold over our children and students. With knowledge and strategies,  we have the ability to not only reframe how we speak to our children and students when they struggle with negativity, but to model positivity, resilience, and the active decision to not let our own thoughts hold us captive.