The Vicious Circle of Negative Automatic Thinking

Cartoon Man with though arrows

When we are stressed and anxious, our Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) assault us involuntarily… the thoughts go round and round… they become more and more unhelpful and destructive – they cause us to ‘feel’ distressing emotions – this prevents us from doing things we wish we could/would – and of course procrastinating gives us even more time to think about all the NATs – this helps to confirm the NATs – and so it goes on and on and on… in a vicious circle…

Task: take a moment to consider the diagram below…

When stress becomes a disorder it causes a shift in thinking – so anxious and depressed people tend to have distorted thoughts and beliefs that cause inappropriate emotional and behavioural responses to even everyday situations – these are known as ‘negative automatic thoughts’, and have the following characteristics:

  • They are not realistic or logical
  • They are thoughts which increase negative feelings such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and stress
  • The are self-defeating
  • They are ‘hard-wired’, and happen ‘automatically’ (automatic thoughts)

Use the following info posts to discover the modern theory of how our thinking causes our problems, and how it can be identified and challenged and changed…. what automatic negative thoughts of yours bring you on this circular journey?

  1. CBT Intro
  2. Fight or Flight
  3. When Stress Becomes a Disorder
  4. Vicious Circle of Negative Thinking
  5. Bad thinking habits – snapshot examples and solutions
  6. Understanding Common Thinking Errors
  7. Another CBT Look at Common Irrational Thinking Habits
  8. The ABC of CBT – starter exercise…
  9. — ‘Demand’ Thinking
  10. Do Thoughts Cause Feelings?
  11. Managing ‘Emotional Reasoning’ with Thought Stopping
  12. An easy start in The Basics of Mindfulness
  13. 12 Irrational Beliefs and Disputing Statements
  14. Silencing your Inner Critic
  15. –  Accurate Self-assessment (Self-esteem)
  16. Social Anxiety – Shyness & CBT
  17. Negative Visualisation & Living in the Present
  18. Constantly Seeking Reassurance
  19. Communication Skills / Listening with Cognitive Awareness
  20. CBT & Interview Anxiety
  21. CBT & Dating
  22. CBT in the Workplace
  23. Smart Coping Skills for The Unemployed
  24. Public Speaking Anxiety
  25. Thought-stop & Relax with Mindfulness
  26. A Mindmap of a CBT Workshop
  27. Download Free CBT Worksheets/Handouts
  28. Self-medicating With Alcohol 
  29. —  CBT Fight or Flight Journaling Handout
  30. The Negative Effect of Unemployment on Mental Health

…. make a decision to work on challenging and replacing them with new healthy thinking with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy!

4 thoughts on “The Vicious Circle of Negative Automatic Thinking

    • Hi Simon.

      Well blocking is not what we advise, but certainly, if you learn and apply CBT to examine and challenge and change your negative thinking, it is entirely possible (and proven) to develop new healthier thinking and end self sabotaging behaviours. It only requires an ability to self critique and be open minded about today’s findings on the science of thinking.

      Like anything, you have to start from the beginning. Perhaps use this blog as a starting point, going to the ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Dublin, Ireland) – The Revolution in Psychotherapy – “thinking about thinking…”’ post first, and working your way downwards. There are links in my posts to recommended reading lists. And of course there are real life practitioners all over the world if you want more traditional one-to-one therapy. Give it a go, you’ve got nothing to lose!

      Good luck.



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