Do you ever feel like your mind always seems to jump to the worst-case scenario? Your brain could be engaging in catastrophizing.
Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression will make your brain more likely to jump to the worst possible conclusion. However, anyone can experience the damaging thought process of catastrophic thinking.
So what does it mean if your mind tends to always go down a negative road and imagine the worst? Is there a way to stop it? Let’s talk about catastrophizing and how to handle it.
What Is Catastrophic Thinking?
Catastrophic thinking is the process of your brain taking one thought and snowballing it into a catastrophe. You start with one thought, negative or positive, and can’t help but wonder “what if the worst possible outcome occurs?” You don’t try to imagine the worst. It just happens. This type of distorted thinking, or cognitive distortion, can have damaging, long-term effects on your psyche and mental health.
Here are a couple of common examples:
- I haven’t heard from my grandmother in a few days. She could be seriously injured or dead.
- My friend isn’t answering my text. They obviously hate me.
- I’m five minutes late to work. I bet my boss is going to fire me.
Catastrophic thinking doesn’t even require negative thoughts to occur. You could have a lovely day. If your brain is wired toward negative thinking, your day could be ruined by the thought of “what if this is the last time I ever truly feel this happy?”
Catastrophizing and Chronic Pain
Catastrophizing not only impacts your brain but your body as well. People suffering from chronic pain can experience catastrophizing. They can think “I will always feel this way” or “What if my life never gets better than this?” This hopelessness amplifies that chronic pain. It’s a vicious cycle.
To minimize this pain, you need to address it both at its source and in your mindset. Go to your primary care doctor and discuss your symptoms. They can start with tests for painful conditions such as Lyme or rheumatoid. Once you get answers on the cause of the pain, you can work with specialists to talk about solutions and get additional information. These conversations need to happen with a healthcare professional.
And once you’re on your way to a physical solution, you can challenge these irrational thoughts with the truth. You’re actively working towards a solution, so of course, this pain won’t be forever. With medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, you can live a life with less pain, both emotionally and physically.
Ways to Stop Catastrophizing
So now that we understand what catastrophic thinking is and how it works, let’s talk about ways to stop catastrophizing in its tracks. One way to treat mental disorders is through something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Training in CBT gives you the skills to reset your body and calm your mind. While you can practice these skills during a crisis, it’s best to use these skills every day. In doing so, you’ll reduce the overall stress and anxiety in your day-to-day life.
Here are the 4 techniques you can use to stop catastrophic thinking.
1. Stay Cognizant of Your Thoughts
It’s easy to get swept up in the whirlwind of our thoughts. If we don’t pay attention to the essential signs of trouble, it’s easy to end up in the midst of a panic attack. By then, you’re in crisis mode. It’s much easier to handle smaller thoughts of discomfort preemptively before it snowballs.
So stay mindful of what passes through your brain. Try to address thoughts when they first start passing through.
2. Challenge Negative Thoughts with Logic
Many of the catastrophizing we do with our thoughts come from our hearts, not our heads. If you experience a negative thought, challenge it with logic.
Why do I feel this way?
Is there validity to this concern?
How likely is this outcome, really?
Tracking your thoughts through apps like Thought Diary helps you deconstruct negative thoughts. You no longer have to think about the worst-case scenario. And if you do, you can backtrack and reassess.
3. Practicing Mindfulness and Breathing Exercises
You have so much more control over your body’s response to stress than you realize. It isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of practice, but practicing deep breathing can reset your body. Dedication to this technique can be life-changing for people with anxiety disorders.
When learning mindfulness, it’s easiest to listen to meditation exercises that walk you through the process of deep breathing. Only after a lot of guided practice will you be able to evoke those responses on your own when you experience stress.
4. Seek Professional Help
There’s no shame in getting help. If you consistently experience the stress of catastrophizing every thought, getting professional help could change your life. It’s difficult to pull yourself out of that thinking and learn helpful techniques on your own.
Finding a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will give you the best chance of learning the skills you need to challenge catastrophic thinking. You can also find a psychiatrist to prescribe medication. Medication can help you get your anxiety or mood disorder under control while you work on your skills.
While it feels like it at the moment, catastrophizing thoughts are not the end of the world. You have the power to stop these thoughts and combat the panic they cause. And you should never feel ashamed if part of that journey involves a medical professional.Published in
Author, Artist, Photographer.
Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.
She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.