How to stop catastrophising:
Prepare for the worst case scenario.
I don’t do horror movies. They trigger primeval reactions and throw my imagination into negative overdrive. I’m too skilled at turning shadows into monsters, scary ones that freeze my mind and chill my soul to the bones. Mind you, when the beasty’s finally revealed in all its glory, it’s always an anti-climax. No matter how realistic it is, it doesn’t live up to the nameless terrors I conjure up in my head. And that’s a clue to a neat way to defuse those nightmare scenarios that can plague an anxious mind.
Want to know how to stop catastrophising? Then this is for you.
We’re good at catastrophising, taking a set of signals from our environment and projecting them into the future to guess what might go wrong. It’s likely we evolved this skill to make sure we anticipate danger and deal with it before it kills us. Your mind wants you to take notice so you stay alive. That’s why anxiety comes ready made with feelings that’re really hard to ignore. Not only that, they’re deliberately unpleasant to make you do something about it.
This is the modern world
There’s a problem, though. Modern day threats are (mostly) harmless. The ones that are life threatening, we deal with and move on. We run or fight, handle the aftermath as best we can, treating wounds, getting our breath back, letting the adrenaline rush subside.
But you can’t fight the boss, that meeting, a speech and you can’t run away from money worries or mortgage payments. There are countless worries and other annoyances nibbling away, so there’s nothing to do but let your mind run riot, imagining all the things that could go so very wrong.
Do this to stop catastrophising
When you find yourself so wrapped up in your worries and anxieties that you don’t know what you’d do if the bad thing happened, what can you do?
Deliberately sit yourself down and uncover that worst possible outcome by following your thoughts to the end of the line. You know, that bit where you lose your job, crash your career, lose your home, spouse, family. I know it feels unpleasant but that’s just your mind telling you it’s important. The point is, this whole system of worry and anxiety exists to get you ready for the disaster that could come.
So get ready. Prepare. Figure it out.
If it really did happen (and however unlikely these fantastical nightmares might be, I’ve never yet come across one that was impossible), what would you do? I mean it. What steps would you take? You hope like hell it’ll never happen but if push came to shove, what would you do?
Write it down. One step at a time, like this: If [bad thing] then I’d do [action].
Guess what, you’ve just made a plan. And that’s all you need to defuse the what-ifs that crowd your head during the night. Anxiety’s there to make you prepare. (That’s almost a meme-worthy saying, don’t you think? I might use that on twitter)
Now you’ve got a plan, use it to stop catastrophising:
Next time the spiral begins:
1. Tune into the disaster thought/vision/narrative
- “What if I mess this presentation up so badly I lose my job?”
2. Thank your mind for alerting you to this (remote) possibility
- (after all – it’s just a survival mechanism looking after you)
3. Remember your plan
- If [I got fired] then [we’d live off savings for six months whilst I find another job].
- If [I couldn’t pay the mortgage] then [we’d sell up and buy something smaller we could afford]
- If [I’m late for my interview] then [I’d phone the company, leave a message saying when I think I’ll arrive, continue my journey calmly, arrive refreshed & ready]
There’s nothing quite like ‘If [bad thing] then [do Plan A]’ to take the wind out of anxiety’s sails & de-catastrophise the situation. After all, it’s designed to get you ready, so if you’re ready it’s done its job & can go away.
If this seems too simple, well that’s because it is. It’s simple & it works. It’ll feel uncomfortable or a little silly at first but I bet you’ll be surprised when you look back and realise how quickly the spiralling disaster dissolved away.
Give it a go a couple of times & let me know how you get on.
Next time, how about we bring some balance back when your mind gets too one-sided in its disaster predictions of the future.
If you’d like to have a chat about how cognitive hypnotherapy helps free you from the pains of catastrophising, drop me a line here.
I’ll get back to you asap.
Useful Link: “Catastrophising”: Oxford English Dictionary Definition