Catastrophising is one of the quickest ways to fill up your stress bucket. Often, we know it’s an irrational response and it can be extremely emotionally draining. But why do we do it in the first place and how can we take control of our thoughts again? Read on to find out about my top tips on how to stop catastrophising!
I’ve been having this conversation with clients a lot recently and also got a message from one of my LinkedIn connections asking if I would give some advice on it.
You may empathise with the way he said he was feeling: He felt stuck in the state of mind that whatever was stressing him out now, was there for life, “crazy but true”.
He would also worry about things in the future he had no control over, even nice things like booking a holiday, worrying about it now when the holiday was 6 months away. He said that he realized how stupid both of these actions were, but couldn’t break the habit.
So, here is some advice on how to stop catastrophising and ease that long-term thought process.
What is catastrophising?
The first thing to understand is where it comes from in the brain. Catastrophising is your brain’s natural survival response. In times of stress, we have to think negatively and consider the absolute worst-case scenario in order to fight or fly or freeze.
If a polar bear was about to attack, you wouldn’t weigh up your options; you’d think ‘I’m going to die, I need to get out of here now!’
And it’s much the same in life. As stress levels go up, we need to think of the worst-case scenario in order to ensure that we are well prepared for it.
However, this leads to anxiety and we often worry about things that never actually happen. We take time away from where we are in the present, going over and over different scenarios which all end up a bit of a waste of time and energy.
It even stops our enjoyment of things. Looking forward to something like a holiday is half the pleasure of the holiday itself, right?
So, now you know why you catastrophise, what can you do to stop it? Here are some pointers.
How to stop catastrophising
1. Accept it
Having acceptance around a fact vastly reduces anxiety. My explanation above should reassure you that your brain is working fine, it’s just trying to look after you and keep you from danger. So, accept that it will catastrophise.
Once you do this you’ll be surprised at how quickly the feelings will pass. When we make a conscious effort to stop doing something, it seems that that’s all we can think about (I crazily tried giving up chocolate once, but all I dreamt about was chocolate!).
So don’t try and stop doing it – accept that it is your brain’s natural response. Don’t get annoyed or stressed if you start to think negatively. Instead, recognise it as the irrational response of your primitive brain.
2. Spend some time catastrophising
I know, it sounds strange, but when it comes to how to stop catastrophising, giving yourself permission to catastrophise can be very effective.
Set some time aside to think negatively so that it does not encroach on your thoughts all day. Say to yourself that you have that limited time to catastrophise, but then you will stop and get on with the other things in your life.
Feel free to come up with a plan B or plan C – it might even reassure you that you have some contingency plans in place. But don’t go all the way to plan Z!
Set yourself a time limit for this and distract yourself with another task once your ‘worrying time’ is over.
3. Balance it up
Take on this challenge: For every scenario of what might go wrong, you have to think of what might go right! Carry on thinking negatively if you like, but balance it up with some positive forecasts as well.
This will not only limit your negative thoughts but will also engage the objective, intelligent part of your brain and ‘steer’ you away from the stress response.
Your mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality – so take some time to think about “what if it went right?”
If you can’t think the situation going completely positively, at least try to think of a scenario where there would be a less negative outcome.
4. Be your own best pal
Imagine how you would respond if your best friend was speaking to you about their worries in the way you are to yourself. What advice would you give your friend? How would you reassure them?
We are often our own harshest critics and have unachievable expectations of ourselves. By dissociating from the conversation by imagining it’s about someone else, you will remove the negative emotion. Listen to your own advice – you’re never wrong!
I hope you found these tips about how to stop catastrophising helpful and that you soon start enjoying the here and now instead of worrying about something that may never happen.
Stop filling up your stress bucket by negatively forecasting the future. 99% of the things you worry about never actually happen!