Cognitive distortions are errors in thinking, which are generally irrational or exaggerated. These thoughts are not usually based on facts, but we believe them to be true. When we believe these distortions, we find ourselves having high levels of stress and anxiety, which also effects our overall self-esteem. Catastrophizing is one of those cognitive distortion (aka magnifying). It consists of the way we magnify things out of proportion, which causes us to think about terrible scenarios that we believe could happen.
Examples of catastrophic thinking
If I don’t stay up all night studying, I’ll fail my test — and if I fail my test, I’ll be kicked out of school.
I have a missed call from my mother — someone I love must have died.
There’s a weird freckle on my elbow. It’s cancer. I’m going to die. Tomorrow.
The biggest issue with these thoughts is that they usually feel true and valid. This is why it is important to remember that they are simply thoughts, which you can have control over. Minimizing these thoughts can help reduce your anxiety. Negative thoughts increase your cortisol levels in your brain, which is known as the stress hormone. If your cortisol levels are constantly too high, you could have increased health problems in the future.
How to stop the tendency to catastrophize
In order to not catastophize, we must put our experience into perspective. It is key to remind ourselves that no matter what we do, we will have unpleasant experiences. This is a part of life and cannot always be avoided. What we can avoid is our reaction to these experiences. Just because you woke up with some pain today, does not mean that you are going to wake up in pain every morning.
This is a tactic that helps you become aware of the thoughts you are engaging in and countering them with reasonable thoughts that put it into perspective. If you gently tell yourself that you are catastrophizing and it is time to stop, you may be surprised that you stop spinning to the worst case scenario.
This is by no means an easy task, especially if you have a lifelong habit of catastrophizing. The great news is that we have the ability to change habits and the first step is becoming aware of the fact that you do this. This will constantly remind you that you are engaging in thoughts that make your life more difficult. Try starting small - the better you get at remaining calm over small things, the better you will be able to remain calm with the bigger issues. This especially helps because when you begin the spiral of thoughts, one negative thought can lead to another. This is known as catastrophic thinking and usually occurs along anxiety and depression.
Sometimes you just need to stop and focus on the here and the now. If what you are thinking does come true, you can deal with it at that moment. There is no need to spend more time panicking about it now. While you want to challenge your catastrophic thinking, you don’t want to beat yourself up for having anxious thoughts. Our brain has these tendencies and it’s not our fault. Don’t be angry at yourself, just focus your energy on letting go of the habit.
Get in touch with a professional
It is common to struggle overcoming catastrophic thinking alone and that is okay. If you are attempting to stop these thoughts and it is not working, it may be time to work with a therapist. They can help you find the root cause of your catastrophic thinking and recommend a specific treatment plan based on your needs. Click here to get started with a therapist who can help!