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Catastrophizing and how to stop

catastrophizing Oct 26, 2022
Catastrophizing and anxiety

How to stop Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing over time lead to depression and anxiety. We don't want these right?

Everyone together now.....NO WE DON'T. That's why I'm going to share with you what it looks like and how you're going to teach your brain to stop doing it. 

If I fail this test, I'll never get into college and my whole life will be ruined.
What if this sickness is actually something more....like cancer?
If my partner leaves me, I'll be alone forever, I'll never have kids of my own. 
I heard that story an 18-wheeler that crashed. What if that's me next time I drive by one? We'd all die. 

Does this sound familiar? It's pretty common and normal to catastrophize. In fact, our brain is almost wired to do so. It's protecting us from possibilities and dangers. The problem comes when it starts interfering in our life and we start making changes in our life so that the catastrophes don't happen. 

You can think of Catastrophizing as a way to magnify a situation. Making something much worse than it actually is. Making it sound very important. Something you MUST pay attention to and think through. 

Why we Catastrophize

Here are some common reasons individuals get stuck catastrophizing. 

Uncertainty. Simply put, when something is vague, we have to fill in the missing pieces. For instance, imagine your boss saying, "can you come to my office later today....we need to have a chat" --- Pause! Think about this for a second. Did you automatically think it was something positive or negative? I bet it was a negative feeling. This is because we obviously don't want the negative thing to happen, so the body starts preparing for it. 

We enjoy certainty. It's tough for our brain to accept that maybe this conversation could be positive that you'll have with your boss. 

Anxiety and fear tend to attach to our value systems. Things we care about. I'm catastrophizing about losing my job because if I did, it affects my family, where I'm going to live, if I can eat, and my way of life. I'm not so much focused on if my grass dies and we get infested with ants...because well....it's not part of my value system. 

Past negative experiences can make catastrophizing happen more. The brain is really good at remembering the bad and prepares for it in the future. Last time it rained, I got sick and had to miss work for a week. I never got paid for that week and it really hurt us financially.  So guess what happens the next time it rains. The brain says, hey, remember me. It's possible you'll get sick and it just follows through to all the things that "could" happen. 

Catastrophizing and anxiety

There is a difference between catastrophizing and anxiety. The main difference is that anxiety actually can be useful. It's supposed to warn us when we are in immediate danger. That's the keyword though, immediate danger. We have to see it, not think something is going to happen. That's catastrophizing. When we are guessing the future and the things that could happen. It typically has no benefits. 

When someone spends their day catastrophizing it starts brining hopelessness, sadness and depression. It seems harmless, but over time, the brain is forseeing negative experiences not positive. Why aren't we ever saying, I'm going to go talk to my boss and he's going to give me a raise, with this raise I'm going to go on a vacation. 

We don't do this because we don't need to problem solve something like that. We don't worry about the positive. 

So how do you know when it's time to take care of your catestrophic thinking? Well, anytime you're having it. Even if it's not affecting life just yet. We must retrain the brain to think differently and this is how we do it. 

Challenge Negative Thinking

Challenge, Challenge, Challenge!

We don't put all our eggs in one basket. We can accept that the catastrophe could happen, but we also need to give alternatives. For instance, can I come up with multiple other scenaeros. For instance, using the boss example, when I go into my bosses office, he could give me a raise. He could tell me what a good job I'm doing. He could tell me something wrong I did. He could tell me to take the day off. He could tell me that he's promoting me. 

Now, taking these alternative stories, which one seems likely? Or another way I like to think of it is standing in front of Judge Judy and actually giving evidence. First I'll start with my original catastrophizing thought. I'm catastrophizing about losing my job because if I did, it affects my family, where I'm going to live, if I can eat, and my way of life.

Judge, let me first give you some evidence that backs up that this is going to happen......

cricket...cricket....cricket

Most of the time we're going to have such a difficult time coming up with some evidence and even if we did, we still can't prove anything. So if I said, I showed up 10 minutes late for work 3 times this week, that still doesn't prove anything. That's a fact proceeded by a complete guess. 

I would need evidence that said, If you are 10 minutes late more than 3 times you will be terminated. It's written right here on the board. YES! Now that is evidence. 

But alas, without this, we're just grasping at straws. Instead, lets now share with the judge some reasons why me getting fired is actually not likely. My boss never said being late determines if we get fired. I've worked at this job for 8 years and am often late, it hasn't been a problem so far. I did not hear my boss specifically tell me, "you need to come to my office and talk about you being late" --- 

This is also where we can add alterative possibilities. 

So Judge, what is your final conclusion? What do you think she's going to say? Evidence suggests that your catastrophic thinking is correct. NOOOO.

So if the judge isn't buying it, why are we?

So we spend time challenging our thoughts, writing them down, pretend you're in a court room. Again, you can accept all possibilities, tolerate uncertainty, but you're not putting all your emotions toward one idea. Call yourself out. Yep, I'm catastrophizing right now. I'm willing to take my mental health seriously and offer up some other solutions.

Positive affirmations and negative thinking

Positive affirmations is great as well. Notice the good in the world. Literally take time to notice. You can set an alarm to go off every so often to remind you to take a moment and notice. Practice self care. Get enough sleep. Drink water. Avoid the things in your life that don't bring you joy. 

So here's the takeaway, catastrophic thinking does harm over time. Take it seriously, make it a point to challenge every day if you have to. It's worth it so you can remove this unwanted anxiety and depression.

One thing to note is that those who struggle with OCD may have to take a separate route. This route is exposure and response prevention. We challenge thoughts when it's related to anxiety. We don't challenge thoughts when it's related to obsessional thinking because if we do, it ends up trying to use logic, which we all know doesn't mesh well with OCD. 

What's similar to catastrophizing are intrusive thoughts. This tends to be a big trigger that leads someone down this path. I created a video on how to not click on these ads... (which are your thoughts). Go see that right now. You're going to need it to get a step ahead!

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