By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

This is a two-part blog series that breaks down how to effectively combat the negative habit of catastrophizing into small and realistic steps. Check out my next blog post to put all of the pieces together. Here goes part one! 

Are you a catastrophizer and would like the ability to think more positively? More than ever, many people are practicing catastrophizing with all of the unknown we are facing amidst this global pandemic. In case you are not familiar with this term, a catastrophizer is someone who perceives adversity or life challenges as more serious than they actually are — also known as a pessimist. Clinical psychologists suggest a three-pronged plan for handling anxiety and approaching each day with logic and positivity, instead of imagining the worst possible outcomes. 

Why Catastrophize? 

The reason we catastrophize actually makes complete sense. Experiencing high levels of anxiety is extremely unpleasant, so what else would a person do than discharge these unlikable feelings in hopes that they go away as quickly as possible? Catastrophizing typically happens when we are told something inconclusive because it makes us feel a loss of control. A good example would be going to a doctor, having some tests taken, and waiting for results. Once we feel this loss of control, we constantly search for a way to regain it immediately. Thus, if we choose the worst possible outcome, it “allows us for the greatest sense of relief when we are reassured.” In expecting the worst, we won’t be disappointed or startled by any news, and it’s a form of self-preservation. 

Three-Pronged Approach

The three-pronged approach is made up of the following steps: 

  1. Use your worry energy to carry out new and enjoyable challenges.
  2. Approach your tendency to catastrophize logically and systematically.
  3. Learn to wait through the discomfort. 

In order to carry out this three-pronged approach, my clients have found it helpful to practice some of the following interventions in an attempt to counteract their anxiety and negative thinking. 

Accept Yourself 

Anxiety is energy. It’s a waste of feeling uncomfortable in preparation for circumstances that statistically almost never occur. In accepting yourself, you can look for ways to challenge yourself and channel this energy in a more positive way. Here are some suggestions on how to do this: 

  • Engage in regular aerobic exercise.
  • Learn something new. 
  • Take up a creative passion.
  • Think outside of the box and how you can reframe the use of that energy, but in a positive way as opposed to a negative way.

Recognizing Patterns 

Considering all possibilities of outcomes is a good strategy, as long as it’s executed with reason and logic. Typically, catastrophizers rush to external sources in order to calm themselves down. Many people look for other similar people that have gone through comparable experiences. Once they obtain reassurance, they tend to feel better. In a sense, these external sources are rewarding this behavior, and the cycle will continue. This becomes a pattern, and catastrophizing turns into a “well-entrenched habit.” 

The problem here is that seeking others to relieve anxiety only provides an individual with temporary relief. This cycle must be broken by the taming of anxiety. Life is all about patterns — everything is a pattern and has a pattern. We give these patterns permission to remain and stay the same until we change our behaviors. In examining your common maladaptive patterns, it might be helpful to think about the function behind certain behaviors. All actions and behaviors have a function. No matter how negative the behavior or pattern is, there is something that this pattern is giving you, that’s causing you to continue repeating it. In this case, for example, I would say that the pattern of seeking external re-assurance provides temporary relief. But in combatting life’s difficulties, we want to think about more long term solutions, and break patterns that aren’t functional and don’t serve us positively.  

So how do we break these patterns? Check out part two of this blog post series to learn more about how to find these longer-term solutions. Connect with Symmetry Counseling to talk to a Chicago therapist.

Reference: 

Blair, L. (2017). How to Stop Catastrophizing: An Expert’s Guide. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://getpocket.com/explore.item/how-to-stop-catastrophizing-an-expert-s-guide?utm_source=pocket-newtab