In the world we live in, there are many reasons to wonder about the future and if everything is going to be all right. Between economic, political, and other realities that shape our everyday existence and that bring cause for concern, there’s plenty of fodder for our minds to dwell on. The last thing that you need to do is add issues to your plate that aren’t really issues or blow things out of proportion and induce unnecessary anxiety.
It’s important to think clearly and have measured responses to situations, and one way we can unintentionally cause ourselves anxiety is through catastrophizing. Catastrophizing can affect your mental and emotional health, and it can have a negative impact on your relationships with others.
Catastrophizing defined.There are different forms of distorted thinking or cognitive distortions, and catastrophizing is one of them. Distorted thinking is when you have a negative bias or an internal mental filter that affects your thoughts and feelings.
This bias or filter is a shortcut that your brain makes to help you process the vast amounts of information that bombard you daily. Unfortunately, because the bias or filter tilts toward the negative, it can ultimately make you feel miserable, fuel your anxiety, and deepen feelings of depression.
Catastrophizing is a bias or filter that combines several other kinds of distorted thinking. One component is fortune-telling. This is when a person assumes what the future holds, but the projection is always for negative outcomes. Another component is all-or-nothing or polarized thinking which doesn’t admit nuance to a situation. With polarized thinking, things are either good or bad, a success or a failure, an abject disappointment or a resounding triumph.
Combining these two results in catastrophizing, which blows things entirely out of proportion as one looks to the future with a negative outlook. Catastrophizing makes a person fixate on a possible negative outcome, and they treat it as though it is certain.
Examples and signs of catastrophizing.
There are several ways catastrophizing occurs in a person’s life. An example of catastrophizing might be if you feel a sharp pain in your chest, and your train of thought leads you to surmise that you probably have heart issues, and it’s likely that you’ll be dead soon.
Another example is if you’re in an airplane and begin experiencing some turbulence on your flight, and you interpret that experience as meaning you’re about to crash. Lastly, a late check in the mail may induce fear that it got lost and will never arrive. You may begin to work through all the possible negative consequences of that, including being late on car and house payments.
If you find yourself dreading and assuming the worst possible outcome in a situation when there’s a remote possibility of that outcome turning out, and if you’re feeling this way without evidence for it, it’s likely that you’re catastrophizing.
Catastrophizing often induces dread and anxiety, so you should look out for those in situations where they don’t belong. Additionally, if you’re in chronic pain, catastrophizing can magnify that experience of pain and make it worse.
There may be deeply rooted and plausible reasons why a person ends up locked into this unhealthy pattern of distorted thinking. For instance, if in your life you’ve experienced many negative things such as trauma, abandonment, and chronic pain, you may begin to fear the worst and expect negative outcomes in every situation.
In other words, you become habituated to things turning out poorly, and that distorted thinking gets mapped onto every situation you find yourself in.
Making healthy changes in your thinking.
If you tend to catastrophize, you are not locked into that pattern of negative thinking. Therapy is one excellent way to deal with catastrophizing effectively and begin thinking realistically and with a more positive outlook.
Through therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), you can learn to identify catastrophic thinking for what it is. This is the first step toward building healthier patterns of thought and behavior. Therapy can also help you come to terms with the reality that bad things can and do happen, but that the bad things are not the rule. Good things happen too, and it’s ideal to remain open to the possibility of good days and good outcomes.
Your therapist can also help you disrupt negative, catastrophic thinking, whether by training you to think of alternative outcomes, or simply knowing when to tell yourself “Stop!” to stem the repetitive and intrusive catastrophic thoughts.CBT can help not only in identifying negative and inaccurate thoughts but also teach you to substitute these with healthy thoughts and positive affirmations that provide a more realistic outlook on things.
It’s possible to stop the cycle of negative thinking and begin looking at life situations soberly. If you find that catastrophic thinking is affecting your mental and emotional health, you should reach out for professional help to move your life forward. Contact our office to learn more about how we can help.
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