Even if you haven’t heard the term “catastrophic thinking,” you’re probably familiar with what it is. Catastrophic thinking derives from ruminating on things and anxiety-provoking thoughts. These thoughts are irrational and usually develop from a small or minor situation; the thoughts then spiral into fear of a negative worst-case scenario.
Some common examples of catastrophic thinking:
Catastrophic thinking is more than being a “little on edge” or the “worrywart” of your friend group. Experiencing catastrophic thoughts is very anxiety provoking. It has even been proven to “spike our stress hormone (cortisol) and reduce our ability to react effectively.” In short, the more we do it, the worse it becomes.
So how do we stop catastrophic thoughts?
The following are some helpful steps you can take to diminish your catastrophic thinking:
1. Acknowledge your thoughts
Realizing and accepting that you do in fact struggle with catastrophic thinking is the first step towards being able to fix it. This, however, does not mean you should judge yourself for having those thoughts. Observe them and catch them when they arise but don’t be angry that they do.
2. Discover the truth
Once you realize that you’re beginning the catastrophic thought process, you can start making the necessary changes. This starts by rationalizing with yourself. Ask yourself, “How many times have the things I’ve worried about actually come true?” The answer is probably rarely or none.
Let’s use the missing a family member’s phone call as an example. Say you check your phone and see a voicemail from your uncle asking you to call him back. What’s your immediate thought pattern? Is it “Uncle Bill never calls, I wonder what he wants? Since he NEVER calls me, something must be up. Oh no, I haven’t talked to my mom since last night, something must have happened to her. She was driving home late last night and she probably got into a car accident. She’s probably in the ER at the hospital right now.” These thoughts can spiral out of control pretty quickly so, as soon as you realize that they’re occurring, it’s important to put a stop to them. But how do you do that?
Start by giving yourself the facts of the situation. “Uncle Bill called me 2 hours ago and left a message.” Then give reasons as to why your catastrophe may not be true. “If there really was a family emergency, he would’ve called and texted me multiple times, not just once.” Or “He sounded upbeat and friendly in his voicemail, so maybe he’s just calling to say ‘hi’ or pass along some good news.”
Once you weigh your options, you begin to realize that your catastrophic thoughts sound far-fetched in comparison to the rational, more possible situations.
3. Find a coping plan
Like any experience or situation that causes you stress, it’s important to find a coping strategy to deal with it. This coping plan will look different for each person, so it’s imperative to explore your areas of interest to determine what exactly will help change your thought patterns. For some, it may be going to therapy. For others, it may be calling a friend, writing, journaling, exercising, cooking a nice meal, coloring, doing a puzzle, or drawing. Regardless of what your coping method looks like, it should involve taking care of yourself emotionally, mentally and physically.
If, despite your efforts, you find your catastrophic thinking remains or is getting worse, contact your therapist. Together you will discover strategies that will help you get your worries under control.
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