What Is Catastrophizing And How Can You Stop It?

We're all prone to worry. A healthy amount of anxiety may even serve a positive purpose -– to help us detect unsafe situations. But in this day and age, with the high exposure to stressful stories in the media and our habit of being constantly plugged in, it's likely that our worrying spills over into the less-than-helpful category. If you or someone you know has been labeled as a 'worrywart' or has a tendency to imagine the worst possible outcome, you may be catastrophizing.

"Catastrophizing is that not-so-fun trick your brain tries to play on you where you get caught in this death spiral of extreme 'what ifs' that may push you into panic, immobility or fight-or-flight mode," Megan Rhoads, a clinical psychologist in California, told HuffPost. What does catastrophizing look like? Let's say you and your spouse get into an argument over who was supposed to switch the laundry, and now you're panicking over how you're going to make it as a single parent because there's just no way this marriage will survive, read: major relationship anxiety. Or you had to call in sick from work again, and you just know it won't be long before they fire you. Sound familiar? This cognitive distortion causes the brain and body to actually feel as if they're in a true crisis (via Psychology Today). Reason and rationale typically won't calm a person who suffers from catastrophizing, but there are some tools you can develop to gain control over it.

Therapy may ease catastrophizing

Finding a therapist who specializes in the conditions closely associated with catastrophizing (anxiety, depression, PTSD, and OCD) could be life-changing for anyone who has been told their excessive worrying is dramatic, irrational, and detrimental. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be the golden ticket to becoming aware of negative thinking and catching yourself before catastrophizing kicks in (via Healthline). A therapist can help to rewire those harmful thought patterns.

"Challenge your negative thoughts by coming up with at least three other ways that situation could go. Furthermore, replace the pessimistic outcome with an optimistic one. This will help your brain incorporate more possibilities and therefore have a realistic approach," Shagoon Maurya, a counseling psychologist and psychotherapist, told HuffPost.

Furthermore, it may be helpful to notice what's going on in your immediate environment when you start to catastrophize. Are you hungry? Have you been working at a screen for a long while without any fresh air or sunlight? Have you been on social media too much? Do you need some fun and light hangout time with a friend? Don't forget the basics when tackling catastrophizing.

Mindfulness and positive thinking

Even the best therapy sessions require that we are active participants and utilize the skills we've learned to make real changes outside the office. Mindfulness essentially means that we've set an intention and are using awareness to watch what's happening in our minds. Thoughts are powerful, and we get to choose which ones get through the barrier and create a belief. Walking, positive affirmations, making art, having a cup of tea, complimenting someone, journaling -– there are many avenues to center mindfulness in our daily lives. And the more we practice these methods, the more obvious it'll become that catastrophizing has no place in a peaceful mind. In fact, you'll likely be quicker to notice when you are catastrophizing because peace will become your baseline.

"[When I realize I'm] making a mountain out of a molehill and that the mountain is built on fear, anxiety, or stress, I name my emotions, validate the emotions, take a 10-minute timeout to breathe, and then I come back to tackle the situation," Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice, told HuffPost. "If I can't seem to get out of these thought spirals, I reach out to a loved one who is very rational. They help walk me through the thought spirals and remind me that it is my fear or anxiety talking. Once I have calmed down, I can then work on problem-solving."