Mind Over Mood - Identify Automatic Thoughts

This is Part 2 of a series of our blog this week. Today we're going to discuss how to identify automatic thoughts that arise when events happen to us. Note: we may notice how we FEEL (hurt, sad, upset, angry), versus what we're thinking at first, so here are a set of questions to ask yourself to get you on the track of thinking about automatic thoughts. After we ask these questions, we'll apply them to Patty, the woman Teri introduced us to yesterday.

  • What was going through my mind just before I started to feel this way?
  • What does this say about me if it is true?
  • What does this mean about me, my life, my future?
  • What am I afraid might happen?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if it is true?
  • What does this mean about how the other person(s) feel(s)/think(s) about me?
  • What does this mean about the other person(s) or people in general?
  • What images or memories do I have in this situation?

Let's remember the scenario with Patty:

Patty’s Story: Patty was shopping at the grocery store on a Saturday morning, when she saw her neighbor, Jenny, down the aisle. Patty waved at Jenny, but Jenny didn't wave back. Jenny turned her cart around and went to the check out line.

Patty's Possible Automatic Thoughts: (Remember these may not all be realistic, which is why they affect our mood!)

  • "She must be mad at me for something"
  • "I must have offended her"
  • "It must have been something I said the other day"
  • "Maybe she didn't see me"
  • "Maybe she was in a hurry and needed to get out of here quickly"
  • "Maybe she just got done working out and didn't want me to see her stinky and smelly"
  • "Maybe she thinks I'm mad at her for something and she's avoiding me"
  • "Well, we do have lunch planned on Thursday together, so maybe this was a fluke"

It may take you several times to ask yourself the above questions to figure out your automatic thoughts. Once you have your automatic thoughts written down, you can start to challenge them, and find evidence to accept or reject your thoughts. Tomorrow Alexa will show us how to find evidence to accept or reject our thoughts, which helps us with our moods and leads us to the 4th and 5th step in this process.

Source: Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger & Christine Padesky

Written by: Tamara Wilhelm MA, LMHC, LCAC

*Tamara enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, & couples counseling  at Imagine Hope. We also specialize in family counseling, child & adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield & Fishers.