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:


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 usually 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 or news online or a 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.


About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehack, The Huffington Post and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chris

    I always appreciate the down-to-earth way you approach everyday problems that few others stop to think about. A sincere thank you goes to you Henrik for sharing your uncommon wisdom with the world. You are making a difference to many.

  • Rachael Boyle

    Thanks ever so much. I actually do that everyday before I go to bed, think of what might go wrong tomorrow!
    This is really helpful, thanks again :)

  • Joan

    I have used these too in the past. However, I just got out of a lot of counselling and I learned that being skeptical of the inner critic is easier. I just couldn’t will it to stop. And I don’t call it the inner critic, calling it the negative thought loosens its validity on me and gives me more power. It puts me back in the driver’s seat. Sometimes it felt as though I’ll leave the house and go crashing over a mountain or something. That’s how bad it was for me.

    Oh, and I also don’t speak to my mother anymore. That was a great source of pain for me. Always yelling and being mean. Now she is elderly and being taken care of by the VON nurse. I had to survive.

    Because nothing is worth the loss of my self-esteem.

  • j.j okocha

    directive vision.


  • Cathy prince

    Brilliant article, so thought provoking. I don’t worry and stress nearly as much as I used to in fact hardly at all these days and yes life is so much better for me and then of course it has a positive effect on everyone around you.

  • Tom

    I have struggled with this same problem, I find it is great to read others methods of coping. Thank you for your perspective Henrick.

  • i can relate because some of your pointers are the same things i do whenever i am stressed. in fact, i am working on the same article now in the hope that once written it can help unload the stress. nice practical tips here Henrik,

  • Hi, I find the article very motivating. Yes, we probably have gone through this kinds of negativity in our lives. At times, I myself anticipate worries even before it pops up, which is not good. We just continue thinking of all the bad things that might happen that makes us a feel disappointed with our life. “STOP” is the right word, always find good in everything and in every situation. Thank you for sharing this one.

  • Stephanie

    I’m definitely guilty of this, but I’ve experienced many events that certainly were catastrophic. Where the last thing I expected someone to do, they did. I don’t think I do it because of an inner critic, but because of PTSD. It’s hard to tell yourself to stop when you feel like… well this stuff has happened, so why shouldn’t I mentally prepare for the worst?

    It’s certainly no way to live, but it’s a tough one to break.

    • Ok

      Hi, i understand that some. For the head, i dont have to, am not required to terrorize myself in place of a terrorist. Things do happen, things we would never expect. But we dont need to terrorize ourselves where others or events leave off. Its not our responsibility and it doesnt serve us or our healing.

      Now for the heart, things really can be better what is imagined. It can feel difficult, challenging, awkward for me to go beyond the bad what if to the good what if. But if i practice, it gets easier, then after more time I can relax in it a little more. I believe it can be that way for you, even little by little is progress. Going forward after a setback is progress, not failure.

  • Fantastic article, thanks for the positive influence and advice!

  • Great article! I have a close friend who is a master at coming up with the worse case scenarios. She knows this about herself and I tend to be the friend who gives her a more positive perspective. I, too, have my moments though. It’s so easy to spiral into a negative black hole! Taking time to focus on my breath has to be what has worked best for me. In fact, in works for many things in my life!

  • Harbouring fear is such a common preconditioned behaviour that really gets most of us when we are trying to move forward in our daily lives. I’ve learned time and time again that the things we sometimes spend wayyy too much time worrying about rarely if not ever actually manifest. We need to take that energy and put it towards some visualizing of what we really want to manifest in our lives. I was raised in a worrisome household, although it was filled with love, and sometimes we associate love with worrying…this one was a challenging conditioned behaviour i had to learn to let go of. As mother of three, i deeply love my children and thus worry about them, but must trust in and have faith in their presence to be safe and sound… and to ultimately stop worrying. Thank you again for your post…great read.