I can easily turn things into a catastrophe in my thinking. A recent example happened this week when my little French Poodle mix stopped eating. I took Nikki to the veterinarian and reported her symptoms. Blood tests and X-rays revealed nothing. The vet suggested an ultrasound if she didn’t get better; I thought it was cancer. One of my daughters said, “Dad, stop thinking this is a catastrophe.” Indeed, Nikki was healthy and had an upset stomach. Believing that a catastrophe is about to happen is not unusual in my thinking.
I am much less prone to thinking in terms of disaster. There are various reasons I have improved. One of them is psychotherapy. As a young man, I was unhappy with this catastrophic thinking. My psychologist pointed out that I was living as though a sword was about to drop on my head.
What is catastrophe thinking?
- Catastrophe thinking is when your mind twists information into an imagined scenario of everything that can go wrong. It is a type of cognitive distortion.
What is cognitive distortion?
A cognitive distortion is a pattern of inaccurate or irrational thinking that can lead to negative emotions and behaviors. It involves thoughts not based on reality and can lead to distorted perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world. Examples of cognitive distortions include unfounded assumptions, sweeping generalizations, and thinking the worst. Individuals can improve their mental health and well-being by identifying and challenging cognitive distortions.
Believing everything is a catastrophe blocks tackling challenges as problems appear more daunting. You could be afraid to drive for fear of injury or car damage.
- I expect more bad things to happen when bad things happen to me.”
- “When bad things happen to me, I blame myself for them.”
- “I have no control over the things that happen to me.”
- “When bad things happen to me, I cannot stop thinking about how much worse things will get.”
- “When I have a physical problem, I likely think it is very serious.”
- “When I fail at something, I give up all hope.”
- “I respond to stress by making things worse than they are.”
- Expecting a disaster is when your mind twists information into an imagined scenario of everything that can go wrong. It is a type of cognitive distortion.
Some people can be overwhelmed by catastrophic thinking, and it’s hard to recognize unless they acknowledge the issue.
Ways to stop catastrophic thinking
Catastrophe can be a difficult mental habit to break. However, it’s possible to change the way you think with practice.
- Mindfulness practice
Studies show that mindfulness practices can reduce catastrophic thinking connected to pain. One practice to reduce disaster thinking is journaling.
You can use a notebook, pen, or voice memo app if you don’t want to write to record your thoughts when you begin a disaster. Journaling can help you keep track of thought patterns and help you stop thinking disaster. Consider scheduling time during your week to review your journal entries and write the recurring themes you notice.
- Would you say your negative thoughts to someone else?
Voicing out loud your negative thoughts instead of in your head might be helpful. Saying aloud, “My boss wants to see me fire me. I am a failure,” or “I feel pain. I must be dying,” could be enough to make you see your thoughts might be irrational. You’d probably not tell your partner, child, or colleague what you think. If not, consider asking yourself why.
- Challenging yourself
Recognizing when you spiral can help you challenge yourself to stop the cycle. You can practice moments of stillness to connect with how you feel in that moment. Over time, the practice could help you develop an awareness of how to manage your thoughts.
Take 1 minute to observe your surroundings. Practice verbalizing what you observe.
Exercise can reduce anxiety and stress.
You may add daily movement, such as
- water aerobics
For children and adults alike, turning everything into a catastrophe comes down to blowing things out of proportion. It creates barriers to facing challenges because problems seem much larger and harder to handle. You may fear getting injured or disfigured in accidents or damaging your car beyond repair, so you may avoid driving.
One last suggestion. Limit the time you spend watching the news, and be careful about what you view on Television. Being aware of the news is important, but spending over 30 minutes viewing news items is unnecessary.
Television programs can be violent and promote catastrophic thinking.