“Well, that’s three more interviews this week; nobody will ever want to hire me.” “I can’t believe I caved at lunch and ate that cookie – I’ll always be overweight and unattractive.” “Why even show my face at that party? I’m too shy to make new friends, so I guess I’ll just be lonely forever”.
Do you find yourself thinking that the worst will happen? Do you think that your entire life will be ruined if something goes wrong? Or do you have a habit of always realizing the worst possible scenario right away, even before anything happens?
Catastrophizing can play a significant role in anxiety and depression for many people who overestimate the likelihood of a bad outcome. By understanding how catastrophizing works and how to stop it, you can live a more positive and fulfilling life – even if your current forecast calls for the opposite.
Everyone experiences disappointments in life, but a catastrophizer might see a setback such as a breakup as the end of the world. There’s a difference between feeling this way emotionally and rationalizing that you’re unlovable or unworthy of love when something difficult like this happens.
So how can you stop yourself from coming up with such irrational predictions for your future before they eat away at your wellbeing and enjoyment in the present?
Start with self-monitoring
Begin by keeping a log of the situations which cause you to think that everything is ruined. Note what happened in each situation and why it bothered you enough for your catastrophic thinking brainwaves to start wafting through your mind like toxic fumes from a factory fire.
Next time you feel overwhelmed by a setback, pause and reflect on the thought that just popped into your head. Is it true? Are you overly reactive to what’s going on right now, or are you letting one bad thing snowball into something more problematic?
Make sure you’re not letting your negative thoughts run away from you! Ask yourself if it’s possible that you’re having these thoughts out of habit and what a more realistic thought might be. For example, if you argue with your friend, then tell yourself, “it doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with this person again” rather than “I’ll never have any more friends because of what I did.”
The most effective way to stop catastrophizing is by acknowledging that it’s a problem in the first place. If you know that some situations always make you feel bad, try to stay away from them or be prepared for the thoughts and emotions that will follow.
For example, if you know that you’ll get upset or ruminate when watching sad movies, don’t put yourself in a position where that will happen. Watch a comedy instead!
Mindfulness exercises can prove tremendously helpful with becoming more aware of your thoughts. In terms of catastrophic ones, mindfulness can help you find the space between what’s happening now and whatever bad outcome you assume will happen.
Catastrophizing can be a difficult habit to break because you might not even realize that it’s happening. So the more mindful you are of your behavior and thought processes, the easier it will be for you to stop catastrophizing in its tracks before feelings of anxiety or depression start taking over.
To help yourself better process unavoidable setbacks, try using acceptance. Accepting that something has happened doesn’t mean you’re happy about it, but it means that you understand and acknowledge the reality of the situation.
It’s not going to help your current situation to beat yourself up over something that has already happened. Instead, focus on how you can make things better. For example, if you got fired from your job, then accept that it’s a hard thing to go through but don’t dwell on the fact that you’re unemployed.
It’s normal to have bad days. No one gets through life unscathed by misfortune or sadness. A bad day doesn’t mean a bad life. But, there comes the point where thinking that it does, scares you away from engaging in the meaningful life experiences that make it a good one!