What is Catastrophic Thinking and How Can You Control It?

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Catastrophic thinking, also known as catastrophizing, means more than just being a pessimist. It is a condition where you believe the absolute worst is going to occur. This can cause a lot of anxiety and stress for anyone who has this mode of thinking. Thankfully, there are ways that you can be treated so that you don’t have to expect the worst case scenario to occur.

What is Catastrophic Thinking?

As the name implies, this kind of mindset involves thinking that a catastrophe is going to occur in your life. This doesn’t have to be a major disaster, such as one that might effect a community or nation. Catastrophizing involves thinking what would be the worst case for your life. Instead of a middle ground where you might be concerned but can make some reasonable assumptions to address those concerns, there are only two settings. These would be “everything is all right” and “crisis.”

What is an Example of Catastrophic Thinking?

Imagine that you realize you forgot to pay your phone bill. For someone catastrophizing, this is more than an annoyance.
Suddenly, you are flooded with thoughts that your cell phone will be cut off and that it will be really expensive to replace. You might also think that a relative may try to contact you in an emergency, but can’t reach you.
What has started out as an annoyance could quickly become a life-or-death issue.

Effects of Catastrophic Thinking

The effects of having catastrophic thinking can be:

  • Increased worry.
  • Stress.
  • Anxiety

These emotions could cause you to feel always on edge, quick to jump to the worst conclusion. Many people try to cope with these feelings by self-medicating through drug or alcohol use. These pose a separate set of problems that have serious consequences.

How to Cope with Catastrophic Thinking

There are several ways that you can cope with catastrophic thinking. In the moment, this might mean:

  • Taking a few deep breathes to relax.
  • Reminding yourself that the worst isn’t going to happen.
  • Try to identify why you have these beliefs.
  • Ask yourself if there is another belief that you can substitute and is more logical.

Reversing the Worst-Case Scenario

Dr. Ron Breazeale, Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today that you need to dispute catastrophic thinking to overcome it. This involves understanding what could be the “best-case scenarios.” Are there any logical answers that you can find to address this issue?  Going back to the cell phone bill, some ideas include:

  • The phone company isn’t going to cut me off right away, they want my money!
  • The provider will send me reminder emails, text messages, or leave a voicemail first.
  • Customer accounts would also send a letter in the mail.
  • My relative would find a way to contact me if it was an emergency.
  • My relative is fine and isn’t going to die tomorrow.

By reversing the worst-case scenario you are able to switch from being in a place a offear to one of reassurance.

Professional Help for Catastrophizing

Don’t underestimate how helpful it can be talking to a therapist trained to treat people who catastrophize. A therapist can serve several roles. They can be someone to whom you can express your fears in an emotionally safe place. A therapist can point out your catastrophic thinking, even when you don’t realize it yourself. They can also teach you new coping strategies to help you deal with catastrophizing, and the resulting anxiety, when it occurs in the moment. There are counseling resources in the Rexburg, Idaho area that can assist you.
Always jumping to the worst conclusion can be stressful and cause a lot of strain for yourself and your other relationships too. However, by practicing some coping methods when catastrophic thinking occurs, as well as processing with a therapist, you can let go of that stress and anxiety. Instead of thinking of the worst, you can hope for the best!

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