Do You Have an ANT Infestation in Your Head?

Do You Have an ANT Infestation in Your Head

by Daniel G. Amen, MD

I have a terrible ant infestation in my house, and there’s a terrible ANT infestation in our country that’s driving anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief. ANTs are the automatic negative thoughts that ruin your day, steal your happiness, and prolong grief. These days, ANTs are everywhere. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?

“Nothing will ever be the same.”

“Everyone’s going to get COVID and die.”

“The economy is ruined. It’ll take years or decades to recover.”

“I’ll never get another job.”

“I lost my business. I’m a loser. I’m nothing.”

“My best friend died of COVID. I’ll never get over it.”

“The life I knew is over. I’ll never get used to this new normal.”

“There’s so much uncertainty, I can’t handle it.”

During the pandemic, mental hygiene is just as important as hand washing. It’s time to disinfect your thoughts and kill the ANTs to overcome anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief.

WHAT ARE ANTs?

I coined the term ANTs in the early 1990s after a hard day at the office, where I had seen 4 suicidal patients, 2 teens who had run away from home, and 2 couples who hated each other. That evening, when I arrived home and walked into the kitchen, I was greeted by an ant infestation. There were thousands of the pesky invaders, marching in lines on the floor, crawling in the sink, on the countertops, and in the cabinets.

As I wetted paper towels and began wiping up the hoard of ants, the acronym ANT came to me—Automatic Negative Thoughts. As I thought about my patients that day, I realized that just like my kitchen, they were also infested with ANTs that were robbing them of their joy and keeping them stuck in hurts from the past.

WHY ARE ANTs SO HARMFUL?

Negative thoughts cause your brain to immediately release chemicals that affect every cell in your body, making you feel bad. The opposite is also true—positive, happy, hopeful thoughts release chemicals that make you feel good. Your thought patterns can also have long-term effects. Repetitive negative thinking may promote the buildup of the harmful deposits seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and may increase the risk of dementia, according to a 2020 brain imaging study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

WHY YOU NEED TO ELIMINATE THE ANTs

Just because you have a thought has nothing to do with whether it is true. Thoughts lie. They lie a lot, and it is your uninvestigated or unquestioned thoughts that steal your happiness. If you do not question or correct your erroneous thoughts, you believe them, and you act as if they are 100% true. Allowing yourself to believe every thought you have is the prescription for anxiety disorders, depression, relationship problems, and prolonged grief.

You can learn to eliminate the automatic negative thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts that give you a more accurate, fair assessment of any situation. This skill alone can completely change your life if you embrace and practice it.

Note: I am not a fan of positive thinking. It kills way too many people. I advocate accurate, honest thinking. Some anxiety is absolutely critical to good health and success. Pie-in-the-sky thinking and low levels of anxiety are associated with underestimating risks, a lackadaisical attitude toward your health, and making bad decisions.

My ANT killing process is based on the work of two mentors: psychiatrist Aaron Beck, who pioneered a school of psychotherapy called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, depression, relationship problems, and even obesity; and Byron Katie, a teacher, and author.

HOW TO KILL THE ANTs

Here are the simple steps to eliminate the ANTs. Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous, or out of control, do the following:

  1. Write down your automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). The act of writing down the ANTs helps to get the invaders out of your head.
  2. Identify the ANT species. There are 9 types of ANTs. ANT Types
  • All-or-Nothing ANTs: Thinking that things are either all good or all bad
  • Less-Than ANTs: Comparing and seeing yourself as less than others
  • Just-the-Bad ANTs: Seeing only the bad in a situation
  • Guilt-Beating ANTs: Thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to
  • Labeling ANTs: Attaching a negative label to yourself or someone else
  • Fortune-Telling ANTs: Predicting the worst possible outcome for a situation with little or no evidence for it
  • Mind-Reading ANTs: Believing you know what other people are thinking even though they haven’t told you
  • If-Only and I’ll-Be-Happy-When ANTs: Arguing with the past and longing for the future
  • Blaming ANTs: Blaming someone else for your problems
  1. Ask yourself if the thought is true. Are you 100% sure it’s true?
  2. Ask yourself how you feel when you have the thought. The ask how you would feel without the thought.
  3. Make ANT-killing a daily habit. Killing the ANTs takes practice. You can’t just do it once and think you’ve mastered your thinking patterns. When you make it a daily practice, you will feel freer, less anxious and depressed, and less trapped in past hurts or losses.

Anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

28 Comments

  1. Worrying seems different than ANTs. Worrying about potential outcomes seems more about considering what the future could bring in order to be prepared.

    Comment by Ron Huxtable — September 23, 2020 @ 3:26 AM

  2. And what about just observe the thoughts like clouds and not engage to them, not trying to replace them.

    Comment by Lukas — September 23, 2020 @ 3:36 AM

  3. Ive been suffering with major depression & severe anxiety for many, many years now. Although I’m not feeling as depressed as I usually do I’m having an awful time with severe anxiety constantly especially now. I dont know how else to do about it. Im on medications (that really DON’T help) & I’ve been going to therapy for over 26 years. I’m so tired of dealing with this. Im in no way suicidal but if there is a way to heal this I need it asap. I want to enjoy a happy, normal, healthy life. Feeling stuck is not a great way to live. What can be done to help me with this or is it just something I have to live with for the rest of my life?
    Thanks, Tania

    Comment by Tania L Finch — September 23, 2020 @ 3:41 AM

  4. Is insurance
    Covered by your. Services ?

    Comment by Gale McArdle — September 23, 2020 @ 3:43 AM

  5. Great story that left some serious impact on me. Exactly on point about our minds.

    Comment by Lisa Sandel — September 23, 2020 @ 3:43 AM

  6. Thank you for this!!

    Comment by Jennifer — September 23, 2020 @ 3:44 AM

  7. I find this to be true. I have suspected for years when I hear words like should can’t won’t, I tend to shut out the person or situations, yet this is a simple mechanism of coping that is working, I have tried it. Also
    This helps to explain in simple terms. Thank you for your insight, keep up the good work!

    Comment by Carmen Hedges — September 23, 2020 @ 3:56 AM

  8. I’m living in regret that I left my husband 28 years ago. I think about how things would have been if only I had stayed. I so miss my life of luxury (in my head anyway). My life is out of control: weight, finances, and ANTS!

    Comment by Barbara Bailes — September 23, 2020 @ 4:24 AM

  9. Great analogy, ants are a perfect example of what my thought process has been like all my life. The constant voice of indecision, lack of direction and hurts I allowed to be inflicted with, I am thankful to have this guidance to battle my minds 73 year old misery.

    Comment by Sharon Jennings — September 23, 2020 @ 4:56 AM

  10. Yes, that’s what I thought. Thanks

    Comment by Eve L — September 23, 2020 @ 5:41 AM

  11. Dr. Amen is so helpful. I think I would like to talk to someone there.

    Comment by Debra — September 23, 2020 @ 5:47 AM

  12. I have had ANTs for years. Ever since my aunt died mysteriously and I ended up having to take my brother to court. I didn’t have an ANT infestation until then and over the past ten years it has been really hard to get rid of the infestation. I read all the books and tried all the methods that made authors crazy rich on Amazon, because the population has a lot of ANTs apparently, but nothing worked for me.

    What worked for me was gratitude journaling and prayer but I am going to take these tips and implement them as well.

    Thank you Dr.Amen for sharing this information for free!

    God Bless
    Kate Joy

    Comment by Kate Joy — September 23, 2020 @ 5:52 AM

  13. Thank you Dr Amen ,
    I found this extremely useful . It has made me feel a lot better already . I will practise the techinique from now on . You are doing a great job !

    Comment by Beverley Loxton — September 23, 2020 @ 5:59 AM

  14. What did the Pink Panther sing when he killed his ANTs? “Dead ant. Dead ant. Dead ant, dead ant, dead ant…”

    Comment by Evan A Lowenthal — September 23, 2020 @ 5:59 AM

  15. Thank you so much for this article, sure it will help many people around. Haven’t seen in a lot of time something so useful and meaningful . Many blessings!

    Comment by Yvonne Camucet — September 23, 2020 @ 6:35 AM

  16. This is just what I needed to know (read)!
    Thanks for the wonderful information!
    Will definitely help my ANT problem!

    Comment by Sharon Ewing — September 23, 2020 @ 6:39 AM

  17. It helped just to see this this morning to remind me to think about ANTS more often, especially on the particularly difficult days.

    Comment by Maureen Bridges — September 23, 2020 @ 6:56 AM

  18. What great article!! It lifted the blockade I have, in dealing with a narcissist in my life. This article gives me a whole new way of looking at it, and also a whole new way to try to help this person, if I can just get him to read it & apply the suggestions.. Thank you so much!!

    Comment by Cheri F Wantland — September 23, 2020 @ 7:41 AM

  19. Really enjoyed this article. The suggested steps in How To Kill The Ants was helpful and interesting. Thank you.

    Comment by L. Good — September 23, 2020 @ 8:08 AM

  20. Hello Dr. Amen. Great article. I have implemented a few of the ideas with my teenage daughter who is in 12th grade. I have watched you on PBS and have been lucky enough to have purchased a couple of your books. Thank you so much for the work you do. Keep it up and I’ll continue to follow. I also follow you on Instagram or Twitter and enjoy your messages posted there as well.

    Comment by ADELLE LEZAMA — September 23, 2020 @ 8:25 AM

  21. I would like to be a part of Dr. Amen’s email list. I am a therapist for Gambling, Alcohol, and Drugs and this is good information. CBT is my specialty and I look forward to reading more.

    Comment by Donna Meyers — September 23, 2020 @ 9:57 AM

  22. want to injoy life with so much worrie, and sadness, thank for helping people

    Comment by Peggy Rodrigues — September 23, 2020 @ 10:55 AM

  23. Are you sure the term wasn’t coined by Aaron Beck?

    Comment by Sheldon Walker — September 23, 2020 @ 11:21 AM

  24. I find that it helps to find out what kind of ants they are, and whether they’re looking for water, sugar, or protein. If you remove the food, they will “clean themselves up.” Saves having to wipe them up. I suppose the analogy would suggest looking for why they keep returning or swarming at certain times, and to find a remedy, such as a new hobby or routine that changes the habit. I can see how the list of ANTS to look for is helpful for taking away their power.

    Comment by Sandra Kallander — September 23, 2020 @ 12:09 PM

  25. Thanks for this process for eliminating ANTs It’ more useful for me than ‘positive thinking’.

    Comment by Nance in NM — September 23, 2020 @ 1:37 PM

  26. Would you mind expanding a little more on “I’m not a fan of positive thinking.” I think I know what you mean but I’m not 100% positive. Thank you!

    Comment by Liz — September 23, 2020 @ 3:45 PM

  27. I have been a Dr. Amen fan for over 20 years and embrace the ANTs paradigm completely however, I have an additional ANT killer. Read about it on medium.com search for “control the thoughts that are controlling you” it is powerful ANT spray!

    Comment by Jim Hendrix — September 24, 2020 @ 2:26 PM

  28. I liked the article very much, it sure hits home. I am going to try and practice the thing you suggested. Thank You..

    Comment by Catherine Jackson — September 27, 2020 @ 7:31 AM

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