How to Stop Catastrophic Thinking: 12 Steps to Overcome Catastrophic Thinking and Take Control of Your Life

Are you interested in how to stop catastrophic thinking?

Do you make mountains out of molehills? Are you always thinking that everything is a worst-case scenario? Do these negative thoughts fill your mind to the point of anxiety, stress, or depression?

Are you unable to function because you keep having thoughts of catastrophe?

Whether you want to call it catastrophic thinking or cognitive distortion, it simply means irrational thinking. Engaging in this line of thought is a habit, but thankfully, habits can be changed.

1. Understand that Life Has Challenges

Everyone has both good and bad days and even varying moments within each day. Bad things are going to happen. However, on the same note, good things will happen as well.

There’s no point in worrying excessively over a future that hasn’t even happened yet. When you do this, you lose your ability to enjoy the moment and what’s going on around you today.

Remember that just because something bad has happened to you in the past, it doesn’t mean that the same thing will happen at another point in time that has similar circumstances.

You have the power to make each decision as it arises, and things can turn out differently in most cases.

2. Recognize Irrational Thoughts

If you find yourself in stress-filled, anxiety-inducing thought processes, you’ll need to be able to identify that you’re engaging in irrational thinking.

This can be difficult at first. After all, engaging in catastrophic thinking is a habit.

Just like any other habit, catastrophizing can be changed. Consequently, you have to put in the effort to do it.

However, before you can change anything, you’ll need to be able to start recognizing when you’re having thoughts that are irrational so that you can stop feeding into them.

3. Tell Yourself to Stop

Many professionals encourage their clients to say “Stop!” when irrational thoughts are occurring. This can be very effective at bringing everything swirling around in your mind to a halt.

If the word stop doesn’t feel right to you for whatever reason, you can tell yourself other words or phrases that will help you cut off catastrophic thoughts when you notice that they’re happening.

Some people find these terms and phrases to be helpful:

  • Could I stop?
  • Time to reframe
  • Plot change!
  • Focus
  • Keep calm

Regardless of what saying you choose, you’ll need to find a way to pause and take a moment to compose yourself once you realize that catastrophic thoughts are happening. If necessary, repeat your mantra while you take several slow, deep breaths.

4. Assess the Time Sensitivity of the Matter

There could be times when you’re stressing out over a situation that could potentially happen somewhere down the line. Then again, there are moments when what you’re overly worried about could happen shortly.

The important thing here is to understand that if something doesn’t have immediate importance, you need to find a way to push it aside for now.

If the issue has an effect that is occurring right now or will occur right away, this is something where you’ll want to be able to take action.

5. Change Your Environment

One way to break away from catastrophic thoughts as they’re occurring is to do something else. While this is easier said than done, in order to get away from catastrophizing, you’ll want to change what you’re doing.

For example, if you’re sitting there in your bedroom dwelling on what ifs, maybe you could go to the living room and watch TV or go to the kitchen and clean out a cabinet.

If you’ve kept yourself at your house catastrophizing, maybe you could go take a walk. Other options could be to go to the store or visit a friend or family member.

Just remember, when talking to others, engage in topics other than what you’re fretting over. The point is to focus your current thinking onto another task.

6. Figure Out Where These Thoughts Are Coming From

Once you’re out of the vicious catastrophizing spiral, you’ll better be able to manage your thoughts. Use some detective work to determine where these thoughts originate and why you’re having them.

You might want to consider why you’re blowing things out of proportion in this case.

This can also be a time to take a look at why your specific thoughts of the moment are irrational. Recognizing cognitive distortion when it’s happening will make it easier for you to identify it in the future so that you can put a stop to it.

7. Challenge Catastrophic Thoughts

Once you’re in a calmer, more relaxed state of mind, you’ll be better able to challenge your catastrophic thinking. Ask yourself, what are the chances that this worst-case scenario will actually come to play out?

Take a look at the evidence for and against everything playing out exactly as you’re imagining it will. Chance are you’ll see that there are a variety of outcomes that can occur based on what your circumstances are.

It’s at this point that you can examine various scenarios that can play out. Pick a positive outcome and think about how that would come about.

If you’re able, think of many different outcomes. This can help you to understand that you really don’t know exactly what the future holds, and the chances of your catastrophe occurring are actually quite small if at all.

8. See the True Logic of the Situation

Now is the time to put everything into perspective. You’ve caught yourself having irrational thoughts and are at the point where you know that you just don’t know what will happen.

When you’re looking at your different outcomes, stop and think about the reality of the situation. Which of your potential outcomes are logical and which are irrational?

You’ll need to examine what you have control of in this situation and what you don’t. Although there are things that are out of your control, there are certainly lots of actions you can take to change the potential outcome of many situations.

9. Believe in Yourself

Perhaps the biggest reason that you engage in catastrophic thinking is because you don’t feel that you’ll be able to cope. Maybe you’re preparing yourself for the worst as a protection mechanism.

What if your worst-case scenario does happen? What will you do then?

Instead of spending all of your time worrying about the what ifs, make a plan of what you can do if everything really did turn out the way your irrational thoughts portrayed.

What if you lose your job over a mistake? Then you’ll have to start looking for another one. People lose jobs every day. If you’re always worried about this, keep your resume up to date and take the necessary steps to improve your skillset whenever you can.

What if you fail that test at school? Do you really think that you’ll flunk out, never get into college and be a total failure at life? Remind yourself that it’s one test. Everyone does poorly at times. You just have to bounce back and try harder next time.

Just know that whatever happens, you can deal with it. Believe it.

10. Take Action

So you’ve determined that your thoughts are irrational, you’ve thought of some alternate endings, and you’ve come up with some logical solutions as to what you can do.

Now’s the time to take action.

If there’s something that you can do to prevent your worst-case scenario, do it. If there’s nothing that you can do, accept it and do those things that you’re actually able to do to influence better results in your life.

11. Practice Self-Care Regularly

Get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise and practice mindfulness to keep your body and your mind in shape. When you take the time to care for yourself, you’re less likely to engage in catastrophic thinking.

12. Prepare Yourself to Stay Calm

Start with the little things. Instead of getting upset when something happens, say the toilet paper roll or light bulb needs changed or you’ve spilled the milk, take a step back to breathe.

Understand that setbacks happen. Once you’ve mastered remaining calm for the little things, you’ll be better able to handle the big things should they arise.

Can a gifted therapist help you too?

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, high-stress levels, relationship issues, or other specific challenges, one-on-one support from a therapist can help a lot.

You don’t need to go through this alone. There’s no shame in getting help!

Thousands of people get tailor-made support from a kind, empathetic, helpful therapist when faced with difficult life situations.

I recommend BetterHelp, which is a sponsor of Personality Unleashed.

It’s private, affordable, and takes place in the comfort of your own home.

Plus, you can talk to your therapist however you feel comfortable, whether through video, phone, or messaging.

Are you ready to break the negativity cycle?

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