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 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.

 

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75 comments… add one
  • Isn’t it incredible how much power we have over our own minds, if only we learn to identify our thoughts and are aware of them? I just really want people to know that, to be able to do what they want and be the best version of themselves – it can be hard, but it can also be done and is so, so worth it! Ps svensk här med!

  • I love this stuff! I’ve spent way too long letting my anxiety get the better of me, but now I’m pretty much the one in charge and I’ve learnt that some emotions are just there, they’re not connected to what’s actually happening in my life (no matter what my mind tries to say about it). Härligt.

  • Rebecca Adams

    I love these blogs. They truly help put things into perspective! Thanks

  • Shirley Lackner

    I spent a number of years on ‘red alert’ waiting constantly for my addict son’s latest calamity and also lived through his suicide attempts. It took me a number of years after his wonderful, amazing recovery to shake off the feeling that a catastrophe was looming ahead but self talk and walking in nature have been my salvation. Thank you for this reassuring article.

  • Anna

    Thank you Henrik! We have to believe in ourselves that we have the power to control our thoughts And direct it on the right path, why add problems and negative thoughts when life’s situation is not easy!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you very much, this really helped me

  • .

    Thank you, very good advice for these times, especially.

    We can help those who may not know they are encouraging negative thinking by being gentle with them about our own needs and allowing opportunity for change, while still supporting close relationship.

    Sometimes it helps others see they have the same needs. It can give them courage to see someone else taking healthy steps while being respectful.

    Following this advise in this article can help others see it can be done.

  • Anonymous

    A negative mindset can cause a lot of issues, that I have realized. Thanks Henrik for these steps, taking out time to help those who are struggling with mental health issues is really amazing and on behalf of anyone who your guidance has helped I want to say thank you.

  • Ruth

    Thank you for this great article.

  • Yvonne

    Thank you so so much I have been on the brink of giving up but your words encourage me to carry on. I apply them to my daily life and practice them everyday. You are a life saver. God bless your work

  • Our monkey minds will get us into trouble if we allow them to guide our thinking. I have found meditating and allowing my harmful self destructive thoughts to pass without allowing them to occupy space in my head is the most helpful.
    Thanks for another great article Henrik.
    Greg

  • Very Nice article!

  • Kunwar

    It’s great. The steps you stated are helpful for difficult times we all feel now and then in life.

  • I had a chance to come across your website recently. Your amazing website was a pleasant detour for me, which led me here in your comments box. I read a some articles. Believe me all is good. I’m very happy and Satisfied. Keep it up good work. I really awesome experience.

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