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8 Simple Ways To Stop Catastrophizing


How often does your mind lead you into believing the worst possible outcome? Does your brain always seem to get into an ongoing spiral of anxiety, leading you down a rabbit hole of ‘what ifs’?


If this sounds familiar, read to learn more about catastrophizing and a few ways you can cope.

What is catastrophizing, anyway?

Catastrophizing is a type of cognitive distortion, also known as a thought error. Someone who catastrophizes usually only sees a negative outcome and then decides if that outcome does happen, the result will be disastrous. Here are a few examples of catastrophizing:

  • “If I fail this test, I’ll never graduate and fail in life.”
  • “If I don’t recover quickly from this illness, I’ll never get better, and I’ll be disabled forever.”
  • “If my partner breaks up with me, I’ll never find anyone else, and I
  • ‘ll die alone.”

While everyone thinks this way from time to time, catastrophizing can result from or cause anxiety. If left unaddressed, it can worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. 


Tips and techniques on how to stop catastrophizing

Mental health professionals often use techniques found in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help someone address their catastrophic thinking. These techniques require you first to be aware of the catastrophic thoughts to recognize your actions and then try to stop and correct irrational thoughts. 

Consider the following strategies to help you manage catastrophic thoughts:

1. Acknowledged that unpleasant things can happen.

There will be challenges, obstacles, good days, as well as bad days. Just because one day is terrible doesn’t prove that all days are going to be bad forever.

 2. Recognize when your thoughts are irrational.

The good thing about catastrophizing is that it follows a distinct pattern. Someone can start with the thought, ‘I’m in pain today.’ This one thought can expand with worry and anxiety, turning into ‘the pain will only worsen, who knows if I’ll ever get better.’


3. Say, “stop.”

To put an end to the repetitive, catastrophic thinking patterns, you may have to say ‘stop!’ or ‘enough’ to yourself. Or, you can try doing something repetitive every time you catch yourself, like snapping your fingers every time you notice catastrophic thoughts starting to spiral. Doing so can keep the stream of negative thoughts from continuing and help you shift the course of your thinking.


4. Think about another outcome.

Rather than thinking about a negative outcome, consider a positive one. Or, think about a ‘less-negative, acceptable’ option. It may not be your favorite pick, but this option should be tolerable and not the worst-case scenario. 

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 5. Practice positive affirmations.

Changing your thinking patterns isn’t easy. And when it comes to catastrophic thinking, you have to believe in your ability to overcome the tendency to fear the worst. Choose a positive affirmation like ‘this isn’t easy, but I can get through it’ or ‘I believe in myself’ and repeat it to yourself multiple times a day. 

6. Focus on ‘what is,’ rather than ‘what if.’ 

When it’s hard to see what’s up next; it’s easy to fall into the ‘what if’ trap. ‘What if’ is anxiety-provoking because it put everything in the future, just like anxiety does. What we can be sure of is evidence of the here and now. And by now, you’ve probably figured out that thinking in this way doesn’t lead you anywhere positive. 

In replacing these two words, consider the example of ‘what if I lose my job’ to ‘right now, I can provide a safe place for my family and me and mean take it one day at a time from here because I can only control so much in the present moment’.

7. Recognize that catastrophic thoughts are just ideas.

Ask yourself, ‘are these thoughts catastrophic?’. When you identify thoughts as such, you have the power to change your relationship with them. You may not be able to make them disappear, but you can be more in control of what you do with them.

8. Remember to practice self-care.

Catastrophic thinking is more powerful when you’re tired, stressed, or overwhelmed. Getting enough rest, managing stress, journaling, or meditation are great ways to help you feel better.

 Take away

If you find yourself continuously catastrophizing events in your life and these techniques don’t help, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor. They can help you strengthen some of these skills and learn new ones as needed. There are multiple ways that you can overcome this pattern of thinking and live a life with less anxiety, fear, and worries.

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Is Your Overthinking Sabotaging Your Success?

Take this quick quiz to find out whether your overthinking habit is holding you back from getting the success you know you deserve.


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Take this quick quiz to find out whether your overthinking habit is holding you back from getting the success (you know) you deserve.