Do you always jump to the worst conclusion? You may be catastrophizing!

Catastrophizing is about always thinking of the worst, and it is not a good habit! Get expert-recommended tips on how to deal with these thoughts.
Stop thinking the worst and catastrophizing for your own mental health! Image courtesy: Freepik
Purvi Kalra Published: 13 Apr 2024, 04:30 pm IST
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Does your mind always gravitate towards negative thoughts? Is it easy for you to get lost in a labyrinth of your own making, and always thinking of the worst-case scenarios. Is that you? If your answer is “yes”, chances are you may be catastrophizing.

What is catastrophizing?

Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion, charactersed by negative and irrational thoughts about situations and events in an exaggerated manner. The individual may imagine the worst possible outcomes that could happen in the situation and can even feel it like a crisis, says clinical psychologist Mimansa Singh Tanwar.

Catastrophizing is when our minds jump to the worst-case scenario, blowing things out of proportion and making everyday problems seem much bigger and scarier than they really are. It is like roaming with a mental magnifying glass that zooms in only to see the negative. For instance, imagine misplacing your keys and immediately assuming someone stole them, leading to thoughts of a home invasion or identity theft, adds psychiatrist Dr Ankita Priyadarshini.

Constantly thinking of the worst can heighten symptoms of stress and anxiety. Image courtesy: Freepik

Is catastrophizing a mental illness?

Catastrophizing is not a mental illness. However, this kind of negative and irrational thinking style can be found in mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and more. People engaging in catastrophizing find it difficult to recognize this thinking pattern as problematic. It can begin to affect their mental well-being and has an impact on their moods, emotions and how to approach a situation.

For example, if the individual has an illness, they may believe this never become better and they may have to live with the discomfort forever will have to live with this discomfort forever”. They may even talk a lot more repeatedly about the distressing situation. This thinking style is unhealthy and leads to poor coping, as the reality is perceived as far worse and more catastrophic than it is.

Is catastrophizing bad?

Catastrophizing can be harmful because it fuels anxiety and stress, making it difficult to cope with everyday challenges. It’s like adding fuel to the fire of worry, making it burn brighter and hotter. For example, catastrophizing about a minor mistake at work can lead to sleepless nights, difficulty concentrating, and strained relationships with colleagues.

How to stop fearing the worst?

There are many logical and practical ways to stop fearing the worst always. Here are some tips suggested by psychologist Mimansa Singh Tanwar:

1. Build awareness

Sometimes always thinking about the worst-case scenarios becomes a habit and it can get difficult to catch yourself doing that. You are so used to listening to that inner noise that you start identifying with it and believing it. “When catastrophizing becomes a habit, it is hard to recognize that you are doing wrong. However, it is important to build awareness about the thinking style which is not helping you cope with the situations better,” adds the expert.

2. Check the evidence

You may have negative beliefs about any event, situation or person. However, it is important to check the validity of your thoughts and check the evidence to support your belief. Adopt an evidence-based approach. If your thoughts have no evidence of surely happening, then dismiss them. Evaluate the likelihood of such outcomes coming true in events or situations earlier.

3. Manage your emotions

With negative thinking, you experience overwhelming emotions. Learn the skill to regulate your emotions, says the expert. Hit pause before you go further in your mind and start identifying with your emotions. Learn the art of staying calm because a clear mind will help you think logically and act with intelligence.

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4. Take a problem-solving approach

With any given challenging situation, it comes down to recognizing what is in your control and what is not. Have a more problem-solving approach. Always bear in mind the fact that it is only your mind that is under your control so try keeping your sanity intact instead of going ahead to change others around you.

Learn to manage your emotions to help manage catastrophizing. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. Focus on the present

When you recognize that you are constantly brooding about the situation, disengage from those thoughts and bring your attention back to the present. Mindfulness is the key to perfecting everyday challenges in life. Keeping your focus on the present moment will help you deal with things in hand instead of worrying about future happenings that might not even happen.

6. Seek help

When you recognise that despite your efforts it is not changing and is impacting your well-being, seek professional help. Speaking to a therapist will help get to the root cause of your negative thinking. Also, a professional is better equipped to share implementable techniques and tools with you to deal with negative thinking.

Also read: 5 ways to stop taking things so personally all the time

Are there any health conditions that cause you to catastrophize?

Health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are commonly associated with catastrophizing. Additionally, chronic stress, traumatic experiences, or a history of negative events can heighten catastrophizing tendencies. It’s important to address both the underlying condition and the maladaptive thought patterns through comprehensive treatment approaches, tells expert Ankita Priyadarshini.

Therapies to help deal with catastrophizing

Treatment options for catastrophizing include therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps individuals identify and challenge distorted thought patterns.

Mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), can also be beneficial in cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts and emotions.

Others like meditation or yoga, can also help cultivate a calmer and more balanced mindset. Additionally, relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, can provide immediate relief from anxiety symptoms.

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage underlying mental health conditions contributing to catastrophizing tendencies.

Purvi Kalra

After testing her skill-set in the field of management and marketing, Purvi Kalra is exploring the world of turning thoughts to words. Her penchant for writing stems for being an avid reader all her life. Her work drives her to be better every day. ...Read More

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