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How to Stop Catastrophizing: 7 Helpful Steps

How to Stop Catastrophizing

One of the most destructive daily habits I carried with me for a long time and I think is a very common one for many people was the thought habit of catastrophizing.

What is catastrophizing?

This is when you build up a nightmare scenario of how everything could go totally wrong in some situation and imagine a big catastrophe in your mind.

You may have a presentation tomorrow and your mind starts to pull up a scenario where you have left your notes at home, you make a fool of yourself, you are embarrassed in front the whole company and your boss yells at you for 20 minutes after the meeting.

Scary stuff for sure.

So how did I learn to handle this one?

Let me share 7 steps that have really helped me out.

Step 1: Loudly say stop to your inner critic.

The catastrophe that has started to brew in your mind comes from your inner critic.

He is telling you: “You will fail because it is what you always do.”

Or that you have not prepared enough.

Or that your boss will not be pleased with your presentation for some reason or other.

Or all of that.

So stop the inner critic quickly. In your mind, as soon as these thoughts pop up, shout:

“NO!”

Or: “NOPE, we are not going down that path again!”

This will disrupt that train of thought and help you to start feeling more level-headed again.

Step 2: Focus on your breathing.

After disrupting the thought be still for a minute or two. Sit down if you can.

Focus on just your in-breaths and out-breaths. Nothing else.

This will calm your body down from the stress and it helps your mind to think more clearly and to return to what is happening right now in this moment instead of being lost in future nightmares.

Step 3: Look to the past for the truth.

Think back to your past.

How many times in the past have these catastrophe scenarios that your mind throws at you actually become reality?

Never or very few times I would imagine. That has certainly been the case for me.

So remind yourself of the actual facts from the past to calm yourself down even more and to draw yourself back to the more centered version of yourself.

Step 4: Talk it through and get input from a level-headed friend.

In many situations in my own life the first three steps have helped me to snap out of the catastrophe scenario and to think more calmly and clearly.

But sometimes that combination isn't quite enough. Maybe there are still some lingering negative thoughts and inner tensions that could start snowballing again.

If that’s the case then one thing I like to do is to let the catastrophe out. I talk it over with someone close to me.

By doing so, by just venting and having someone listening for a few minutes I can often see the situation for what it truly is. And so I calm down.

Or the person listening can help out me out a bit more if needed and lend me his or her perceptive.

That helps me to ground myself in reality again and it has also helped me many times to find a solution or a first step that I can take to start changing this situation into something better if that is needed.

Step 5: Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.

Another thing that often helps me is to ask myself a question that lets me zoom out and see if I'm honestly just making a mountain out of a molehill here (or out of nothing at all).

So I ask myself:

Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?

The answer is almost always that it won't. Even though it might at first seem that way when you're in a stressed out and anxious headspace.

Step 6: Say stop to yourself when you know you simply can't think straight.

When I'm hungry or I need to go to bed and get some sleep then I know from experience that I'm vulnerable to catastrophizing and pessimistic thoughts.

So what do I do?

I tell myself this:

No, no, no, we are not going to think about this now. We will think about this situation or challenge later, after getting some sleep or food.

Doing that simple thing helps a lot.

Because when I'm not hungry or I'm well rested once again then my issue that I was getting worked up about will most often be small to non-existent when revisited with some clear-headed thinking.

Or it will at least be a lot easier to find a solution or a plan to improve things if there's actually a real challenge here that I need to face.

Step 7: Reduce any weekly input that pushes these disaster scenarios into the forefront of your mind.

The people and the other sources out there like TV, social media and various websites or forums have a big influence over your thinking.

So be careful about what you let into your head on a daily and weekly basis. Ask yourself:

Is there a person or source in my life that strengthens my catastrophizing habit?

Examples of such sources could be someone who is very pessimistic, news online or on the TV that often paint up disaster scenarios or a website or social media platform that you find is feeding too much negativity into your mind.

When you've found something like that in your life ask yourself:

What can I do this week to spend less or no time with this person or source?

Then take action on that and spend the time you've now freed up during this week with one or a few of the most optimistic sources / people in your life.

Do this – in the coming weeks or months – with as many sources as needed to piece by piece build a healthy environment for yourself and for your thoughts.

 
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{ 60 comments… add one }
  • Lovely article, the title drew me in. Very interesting and helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Janne Brown

    This article is so TRUE! I don’t worry as much as I used to. I talk to a friend of mine and she is very helpful. I used to worry about what might happen in the future but no more. I take each day at a time and live in the present. That is why it is a gift. I try to surround myself with positive people who make me feel good about myself. I am so glad I found positivity blog because it is very encouraging and I always look forward to receiving emails from Henrik.

    • And I’m glad you like my website and that you shared what works well for you, Janne!

  • Hassan

    I would certainly benefit from reading and following the steps illustrated in the article.

  • Titus Ayeni

    I think when you verbalize your resentment to negative thoughts that creep into your mind every now and then, you find yourself on the winning path and you easily regain confidence composure and begin to have useful thoughts.

  • Laurie

    Thank you, Henrik! Since I live near Philadelphia, the quote by Benjamin Franklin was especially appreciated! Happy Spring to all!

  • Somon

    I sadly have become one of the biggest cotastrphizer ever leading me to self doubt constant worry and depression for years. I hope I can break this

  • STEVE

    Great article, this will really make a positive impact on my life and keep me more stronger in whatever situation that comes my way.
    Thanks big.

  • Love it… I look forward to my emails because they remind me to take the time to think about me!! I get so caught up in the day to day and forget about Me!!! Thanks!

  • This is all great advice, it’s kind of strange how sometimes our mind just decides to not be of any service to us when we most need it and to just start being paranoid and negative instead.
    This was quite a profound read, thanks for sharing!

  • Great post, and one I should pay more attention to. I catastrophize all the time, though not necessarily about how I’ll mess up. Rather, I imagine nightmare scenarios drawn from books, movies, television, the news, putting myself in the shoes of a limited few people (who are often made up) and letting myself imagine that I’m going to suffer just as they did. It’s super unhelpful and damaging thinking, and stops me from having much happier and more productive thoughts. Through your Self Esteem Course I’m learning to give a loud “NO!” to unpleasant thoughts … it’s good to have these extra tools to add on.

  • Yes! Great post. I can feel the fluttering breath and heart beat at the very thought of my past catastrophizing habits. Meditation, breathing, and self-talk definitely helped me reign in this pattern. I found that catastrophizing almost certainly set me up to live out my worst fears. As soon as I could set those anxieties aside, my ‘performance’ improved. But it’s a work in progress and I think some set backs are to be expected.

    • Thanks! And I appreciate that you shared what works the best for you in these situations.

  • Melody

    I find the above to be very true.I also enjoy your newsletters,I do not facebook or twitter for I find them only to depress me to see how others seem to have it so good!I also do not hang out with friends,just a few relatives that do not make me feel less.Which the majority of them do.Please keep sending your e-mails.

  • sowmya

    IT’S VERY INTERESTING.IT HELPS TO CHANGE MYSELF.THANK U SIR !!

  • Very helpfull post. It reminds me of the Mark Twain quote “The worst things in my life never happened”. Thank you and enjoy your Wednesday!

  • Wow what a coincidence. I’m presenting tomorrow, and already I have started to think of all the worst things that could happen and how unprepared I am. I love this blog it speaks to me, right when I need it. I will definitely take the challenge to get rid of this bad habit.

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