Why We Catastrophize and What to Do Instead

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Catastrophizing is at the root of most anxiety disorders. Negative thoughts are natural, but if they take up most of our time, we live in a continuous state of crisis that damages our health. So why do we catastrophize, and what can we do to alleviate these thoughts?

Understanding Catastrophizing

The belief that we are constantly in a dire situation and always assuming the worst is called catastrophizing. In most cases, people even exaggerate their problems, causing severe anxiety.

Small thoughts can escalate into doom scenarios, often causing sufferers to enter a state of panic. Of course, some minor incident often causes these thoughts, but this typical snowballing effect of the thought process can lead to the person reaching a state where they can’t breathe or feel their heart pounding.

It is improbable that all these worst-case scenarios can happen, and people also underestimate their capability to cope in the face of adversity, even if the worst was to happen.

Why Do We Catastrophize?

Fear and low self-esteem are the leading causes of catastrophizing. Most of us believe that we are helpless in many situations and can’t handle problems. We all suffer from negative thoughts, but some people cannot help but constantly live in fear of the worst. Research indicates that some forms of catastrophic thinking stem from traumatic experiences in childhood. These traumatic experiences are either perceived or real. Perceived experiences often come from parents expecting perfectionism or overreacting to certain situations.

In other cases, someone who has lived through fears that became a reality has trauma that expresses itself through fear of bad things happening. People who have lived through a traumatizing experience, like a parent leaving home, losing their home, or even dying because of alcohol or drug abuse, will often experience impending doom even when something good happens to them.

These individuals are afraid that a bad situation can occur before they even realize it, creating the need for them to always remain in charge. One example is someone who fears their partner may leave them, creating constant situations where they fight. In this situation, creating a scene ensures that they protect themselves from getting hurt if that eventuality ever happens.

Other causes of catastrophic thinking are anxiety disorders, sudden stress like losing a job, a medical diagnosis of something life-threatening, fatigue, and chronic pain.

We are all prone to catastrophizing sometimes, but if these thoughts are constant or interfere with our daily lives, they are a problem.

What to Do to Remove Catastrophic Thinking

It is natural for us to concentrate on bad thoughts because that is how our brains ensure we survive. Research shows that we think negative thoughts 70% of the time. While we all have negative thoughts, these are not a real problem for most of us. However, it is good to know how to remove these thoughts when they become problematic.

Recognizing Catastrophizing

Recognizing negative thoughts requires awareness. Meditation and mindfulness are excellent ways to build awareness of these since they are based on the principles of living in the present. Prayers are also a form of mindfulness, and it works for many people.

Writing negative thoughts down makes them easier to identify. In addition, these practices remove the ideas from the mind, making the person aware that they are usually nothing more than just scenarios of things that can’t happen or that problems are easier to deal with than they think.

Attending Therapy

Finding the cause of these destructive thoughts and how to change them is the best way to reduce them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps with all anxiety disorders, including catastrophizing, because therapists assist patients in finding ways to change their thinking patterns and rationalize their thoughts. 

Taking Medications

Nootropics can help relieve the anxiety that leads to catastrophizing. However, medication and therapy can alleviate the symptoms in cases where an existing mental health condition causes catastrophic thinking. A doctor must prescribe these medications because they include SSRIs and anti-depressants.

“So, What If?” Is A Good Question to Ask

All of us are stronger than we think, so when we think about a worst-case scenario, we need to think about what we can do to counteract the situation. When giving it much thought, most people will probably realize that they would be able to deal with most of these. Another question to ask is if these thoughts can come true. In most cases, the answer is possibly not.

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