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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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{ 62 comments… add one }
  • Matilde Lanati

    Thank you Henrik. Very practical and wise your suggestions and methodology to improve our daily life.
    Sometimes we block our own development giving place to our EGO , that is to say, leave our mind lead our life.
    The path you propose is a clear and rechable one to stop catastrofizing. Thank you for your help
    Matilde

  • Rita

    Thank you for the useful information! Tip #7 really stood out for me. I’ve struggled with anxiety for many years and I have a tendency to think of the worst case scenario in everyday life. Becoming a new mom only heightened my fears. Keep in mind that while pregnant I was binge watching Law and Order SVU, Cheaters, and The Steve Wilkos show. And I had the nerve to wonder why my mind was consumed with thoughts of someone trying to harm my child and negative thoughts about my partner. Initially I thought I should stop watching certain things on television but I told myself that I’m just dramatic. My thought patterns and dreams took a drastic turn for the worst during my pregnancy and my therapist told me that I was just nervous about being a new mom. However I knew the stuff I watched on TV was contributing to my anxiety. So I reduced or eliminated certain shows on TV dealing with child abuse, sexual assault, and infidelity. Changing what I watched made a huge difference in my dreams and thoughts over time. Now I mostly watch Baby Shark and Sesame Street.

  • As everyone says, all of these are indeed good tools. My problem is remembering in the moment that I have access to them

  • Carrie

    Henrik’s posts are down-to-earth and effective. I look forward to his beneficial suggestions and positive and caring outlook.

  • Jan

    Thank you Henrik for this very helpful post. I’m a born worrier but recently it’s ramped up a level. I even manage to catastrophise about past events – where my imagination runs riot about what could have happened in a given situation – although nothing did in fact go wrong! As if worrying about the future (mainly health concerns) isn’t enough! I try to catch these negative thoughts before they really take hold by assessing the evidence which supports (or most often doesn’t support) the negative thought, then concentrating on my breathing and reminding myself that the panicky thought and feeling will pass. I agree that avoiding the news etc can help. Thanks again for all your posts. I really do enjoy reading them each week and looking at the comments – I’m sad to know so many others are struggling but it does help to know you’re not alone……

  • Linda

    What a good remind to “focus on just your in-breaths and out-breaths, nothing else,” a virtual yoga ‘mat’ I can even use on the bus, thx!

  • Gayathri

    Thank you Henrik! This really helped me

  • Thanks for writing this!

    I’m a big advocate of #1 because it’s what’s helped me the most whenever negative thoughts come up.

  • Dennis Onyino

    Thanks.

  • Really good post
    Thanks for writing this article, it helps me to keep positivity

  • Anonymous

    Thank you. Very helpful

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