What is Catastrophizing? (And How to Stop Doing It)

Catastrophizing, or worst-case scenario thinking, can be simply described as exaggerating negative effects of events and decisions. People who catastrophize have a tendency to obsess over the worst possible outcome and exaggerate how bad things will be if the imagined ‘catastrophe’ actually happens. This  thinking pattern often takes two forms.

The first type of catastrophizing is when a person jumps to extreme negative conclusions that might result from a present situation. For example, if you send a job application for a highly coveted position with a prestigious firm and you don’t get shortlisted for an interview, you may believe that the chance to get your career on the right path is gone forever. In reality, though, other opportunities might come up in the future, which you can take advantage of to improve your resume and boost work experience.

The second type of catastrophizing involves spelling doom and gloom for a future situation. People that catastrophize in this manner look at the future and imagine that everything will go wrong. A good example is a student anticipating that he or she will fail a major exam and end up with a serious catastrophe. The student goes on to imagine that after failing the exam, he/she will never be successful in life and end up living off welfare.

The Negative Effects of Catastrophizing

While it is good to think about challenges and prepare for them, obsessive thinking about negative scenarios can do a lot of harm in many ways. When you create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, this sets the stage for self-destructive tendencies, which end up being the cause of underachievement and disappointment. This in turn can negatively affect your entire outlook in life by fostering feelings of hopelessness about future prospects. Once you fall prey to catastrophizing, irrational negative thoughts about situations will start to define presence of absence of alternative possibilities. Consequently, this could stop you from making further efforts to reach various goals in life.

How to Stop Catastrophizing

Due to the destructive nature of catastrophizing, it is imperative to keep this habit at bay. But, for those who have been doing this for a long time, the big question is how do you stop it? Well, for a start, learn how to identify when you are catastrophizing. It is only by doing so that you can begin the process of stopping it.

Once you have learned how to recognise catastrophizing tendencies, one way to stop these negative thoughts in their tracks is to focus on the present moment. This technique works best for future-oriented catastrophizing. It helps to bring your attention to matters that are within your control, which if acted upon can reverse what seemed like a bad situation into a positive one. Mindful meditation is one way to zoom in on the present.

Alternatively, it may be helpful to visualise success instead of failure. When you live with positive expectancy, your mind focuses on succeeding. This mindset influences your actions and thoughts as well. In the process, it dampens feelings of doubt, anxiety and stress, which all too often lead to mistakes that cause failure.

In addition, form a habit of writing down your thoughts in a journal, especially when you are worried about something or a difficult situation. Over time, you will begin to see a pattern emerge of when you tend to catastrophize and some of the attitudes that contribute to it. Upon learning how to identify these negatives perspectives, you can begin to change them by emphasizing on positive thinking.

In conclusion, it is important to note that catastrophizing tendencies will take time to get rid of completely. Therefore, you should exercise patience along with an unwavering persistent effort in order to achieve success.


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