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How to get rid of catastrophizing thinking


If you are a more anxious person, you probably know what I'm talking about and have already experienced the effects of catastrophic thinking.


If you are a more anxious person, you probably know what I'm talking about and have already experienced the effects of catastrophic thinking. 

In everyday language, one can say it means making a big deal out of nothing. But it is not just a simple exaggeration. So, let's say, something happens to you and you go on anticipating the worst of what could follow. You are wasting mental energy on ruminating, on going around and around and around about a situation, creating all kind of negative scenarios until your anxiety level goes really high. 
Scientifically, catastrophising is a thinking trap, a cognitive error that affects the way your mind functions. Not only does it make you overestimate the threat you are in, but it simultaneously "traps" you into thinking that you don't have resources to cope with the situation.

  • Ambiguity, a situation you can interpret this way or that way- for example, your boss tells you to drop everything and come to his office. You can think of getting a new task, or you can catastrophize about being fired and then you think maybe your wife will leave you, and you'll lose your house, and so on. If you are an anxious person or you had some bad days lately, it can be that your mind will turn more easily towards catastrophizing.

  • Another trigger is fearing that you can lose something that you highly value. It can be your marriage or your husband. Let’s say one evening your husband is not at home when he should be after work. It's getting later and later, and you cannot reach him on his phone. You start anticipating and creating all kind of scenarios of what might have happened.

  • Or another trigger can be a situation that you already fear. For example you fear for your health and then, when your medical results are ready, the doctor calls to invite you to her/his practice. From here you start expecting the worst that could happen, you dismiss the possibility of good news and only think of negative scenarios.

Catastrophizing thinking can turn into an automatic, habitual way of thinking, so you won't even notice that you are in this mode. It is blocking your mental capacity to solve your problem because when you waste so much energy on rumination, your mind gets cloudy and it is harder to focus on the present moment. This often leads to procrastination, and ultimately, it gets on the way of your wellbeing.


Agitation, anxiety, not being present, but living in a gloomy future. You might feel it in your body, as well. People usually feel stomach aches or headaches or have anxiety reactions (rapid heartbeats, sweating, trembling).


Since catastrophizing is associated with some mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, psychotherapy (especially cognitive behavioural therapy) is the most common way to treat it. However, there are some steps you can follow to help yourself since a therapist is not always with you to provide counselling. 

First, you train your self-awareness skills, that is you start noticing what is going on with you internally, observing your thoughts, your emotions and your reaction to them. The best way to do this is to try to notice the very first thoughts that lead to catastrophizing to avoid spiraling. 

As paradoxically as it may sound, try to imagine the worst-case scenario, get it all out. After you exhausted it, notice how you feel, how your body reacts when you do this. You’ll most probably feel very anxious. 

You have to come with the best-case scenario, to try to add a bit of optimism and to release some of the anxiety. Be elaborate and create a positive plan in case everything goes well. The same as the previous step, observe how you feel. You’ll be surprised to notice that your body is more relaxed. This stage is important in preparing for the next step, because it releases some of the anxiety. 

Now it’s time to think again about the starting situation and describe what you think is most likely going to happen. Because you are more relaxed after imagining the best scenario, it’s a good moment to come up with a more realistic, neutral response to the situation you fear. 

Action! Based on what you described that is most likely to happen, come up with an action plan for each of those things you believe could happen. You can start with things that have helped in the past, or find alternative, more optimistic thoughts to replace the anxious one (think of it in advance, to have it ready to go when you need it) or talk to somebody who can offer another, more objective perspective of the same situation.

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