Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a silent yet thunderous storm inside our most intimate place—the mind. Characterized by a wide array of symptoms, one of the worst effects of PTSD is the way it takes over our thoughts, spreading negativity that can consume us if left unchallenged. In this blog post, we’ll explore the labyrinth of negative thought patterns that often grips those with PTSD and the innovative techniques to break free from their hold. Treating PTSD is a journey that we at Clearwave Mental Health are confident you can manage with the right tools.

Unpacking Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

The mind is a thought-generating machine, churning out millions of conscious and unconscious thoughts every day. However, after the effects of traumatic experiences, the mind can start to produce Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) at an alarming rate. These ANTs are intrusive and typically have no factual basis, instead, they are driven by fear, anger, and sadness—key emotions associated with PTSD.

The problem with ANTs is twofold. Firstly, these thoughts are often biased toward the negative, so the lens through which a person with PTSD views the world is inherently skewed. This negativity bias further warps their perception of everyday situations, leading to maladaptive responses and heightened stress. Secondly, ANTs are automatic, meaning they surface without conscious intention, leaving the individual feeling out of control and at the mercy of their own mind.

Identifying the ANTs

The battle starts with recognition. Identifying these ANTs is like shining a light into the shadowy corners of your mind. By recognising when a negative thought is automatic and therefore not wholly grounded in reality, an individual can take the first step towards learning to challenge and change them.

Understanding Their Origin

Understanding the root cause of ANTs is vital. Past traumas, especially those unaddressed and unresolved, can act as fertile grounds for the growth of negative thoughts. These ANTs often serve as mental defense mechanisms against the fear of a similar, dangerous event occurring in the present or future.

The Power of Therapy in Challenging ANTs – Treating PTSD

Therapy is a proven ally in the fight against the tyranny of ANTs. Through various methods, therapists help individuals with PTSD to challenge and change these negative thought patterns.

Jenna is treated by Dr R Pardell with TMS Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT is a specific type of therapy designed to help patients understand and reframe the way they think about their trauma. This can be done through written exercises, where patients detail their traumatic experience and the beliefs it has created. With the guidance of a trained therapist, patients then work to reassess and restructure these traumatic memories in a healthier, more adaptive way.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET)

PEP encourages patients to confront their trauma-related fears and memories in a safe and controlled environment. By facing these fears head-on, patients can learn that although the event was dangerous, it is no longer an ongoing threat in their lives. This process can help lower the intensity and frequency of negative thoughts.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR combines elements of cognitive therapy with a mechanism for bilateral stimulation to help people process their traumatic memories. This can lead to significant changes in how the trauma is remembered and ultimately reduce the negative impact it has on a patient’s life.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT focuses on acceptance of difficult thoughts and emotions, rather than struggle against them. By learning to accept the presence of these negative thoughts, patients can then focus on taking effective action towards living a meaningful life regardless of their past traumas.

Lifestyle Changes and Coping Strategies

PTSD Therapy is not the only tool in the toolbox for combating ANTs. Making specific lifestyle changes and employing coping strategies can be equally effective in managing negative thought patterns.

Exercise run through park - Treating PTSD
Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

Mindfulness and Meditation

These practices focus on the present moment, allowing individuals with PTSD to become more aware of their thoughts and to notice when negative thought patterns occur. By cultivating a non-judgmental attitude towards these thoughts, mindfulness and meditation can decrease the emotional charge they carry.

Regular Exercise

Physical activity has been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression, all of which can contribute to a reduction in ANTs. Exercise also provides a regular release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosters.

Creating a Safe Space

Having a designated safe space in the home or at work can be crucial for treating PTSD. This space can be a refuge from negative thoughts and a reminder that they are in a safe environment. Fill your safe space with cozy items such as pillows and blankets and find personal items with meaning that will resonate with you. This combination of textures and comfort items can help draw your attention away from the negative internal dialogue.

Social Support and Community

Maintaining strong social connections can provide support and a sense of normalcy, which are both important in challenging negative thought patterns. Support groups can also be a healing place, as they provide a community of individuals who understand and have similar experiences.

The Journey of Recovery – Treating PTSD

Recovery from PTSD is a process, and changing negative thought patterns is just one part of that process. It’s important for individuals to be patient with themselves and to understand that healing takes time.

Establishing Realistic Goals

Setting realistic and achievable goals for changing negative thought patterns is key. This could be something as simple as challenging one negative thought per day. Over time, as this becomes easier, larger goals can be set.

Celebrating Small Wins

Every time an individual successfully challenges a negative thought, it’s a victory. Celebrating these wins, no matter how small, can provide the motivation to continue the fight against ANTs.

Seeking Professional Help

For some, changing negative thought patterns related to PTSD can be a daunting task. Seeking help from a mental health professional can provide the support and guidance needed to develop the skills to effectively manage these thoughts.

Changing negative thought patterns related to PTSD is possible, but it requires work and a multifaceted approach. Therapy, lifestyle changes, and a commitment to the recovery process are all important elements in this transformation. By understanding and challenging these automatic negative thoughts, individuals with PTSD can begin to reclaim their minds. Remember, you are not your thoughts, and you have the power to change them.