Catastrophising is the tendency to jump to the worst possible conclusion, usually with limited information to spare. In psychology, it is recognised as a cognitive distortion. Here are some examples of catastrophising:

  • A person might worry that their crush will reject them and conclude that they are far too ugly or unlovable for anyone ever to like them.
  • A person receives a message that their boss wants to meet them and starts imagining getting fired or being yelled at.

These examples are far too simplistic and devoid of contextual factors like childhood pain, economic situation or unhappy domestic life. Still, as a rule of thumb, every time words like “always” or “never” crop up in her thoughts, it usually means we are catastrophising.

The term was coined by Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT), which is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Some of us catastrophise as a coping mechanism – the fear of the worst possible outcome compels us to prepare ourselves or find a plan B. Some might have learnt it from someone in the past, like a sibling, flatmate or a parent. Sometimes, it also finds its origins in chronic pain.

We have all catastrophised at some point and engaged in destructive narratives in our heads. It only becomes problematic when it turns into a habit we are unable to control. Such a practice can lead to depression or anxiety, affecting our quality of life seriously. Catastrophising is also linked to GAD (general anxiety disorder), social anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and others.

You must wonder how a seemingly benign habit like this can have such lasting repercussions. Our thoughts shape our actions and our lives, and loops of negative thoughts like these can be self-defeating because as the adage goes:

The human mind often attracts what it thinks

But thankfully, these loops can be broken. Here are some ways to overcome these:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

CBT is more straightforward than it sounds – it is a psychotherapeutic method where one can talk about their problems to a specialist to alleviate their anxiety or depression. CBT is based on the concept that our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are all interconnected and that by confronting negative thoughts and feelings that trap us, we can change our efforts.

The main goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to identify irrational thoughts and replace them with realistic thoughts. This works well for individuals who catastrophise.

Practising Mindfulness:

Mindfulness refers to an active effort to steer the mind to the present moment. It is the ability to be fully aware of the present and our actions without being overly reactive or under reactive to what is going on. It is like the mind to be restless, dwell in the past or anticipate the future. Continuous flights of thoughts leave us with negative or obsessive automatic thoughts, and this, in turn, makes us anxious.

The good news is that bringing the mind to the present moment is something that can be nurtured in us using various techniques. Meditation or taking deep breaths, being aware of your breath while sitting, walking or standing improves our focus and channels our attention to things which we can change.

Take short breaks in your busy schedule or do some yoga, take a jog around the neighbourhood or simply doodle on a notebook – all these activities can help you take a break from the chaos and be aware of your surroundings.

Consult a Doctor:

Sometimes this kind of behaviour might have roots in our pasts. If it is some kind of chronic pain that is causing it, then consider consulting a doctor and getting treatment before it affects your quality of life severely. Pain can manipulate or impede healthy thought mechanisms, and a specialist can help identify the root cause and guide us to resolve the issue.

In sum:

More than learning, breaking out of the habit of catastrophizing might need some unlearning. Like any other negative thought mechanism, we can change our behaviour and our lives once we start observing our triggers and the way our minds work. Get in touch with an expert from the comfort of your home on DocVita: