Embracing the Power Within: Conquering Catastrophising
Ever found yourself jumping to the worst possible conclusion? Or found your mind turning simple problems into something catastrophic – even when there is a part of you that knows it is absolutely crazy but you can’t let it go? You are not alone!
Catastrophising is a common coping mechanism that can be extremely unsettling and difficult to overcome when left unchecked. Having the ability to recognise catastrophic thoughts and patterns is important to ensure they don’t take the driver’s seat (or consume you) when you come across minor setbacks in life.
In this article, we will look at conquering catastrophising through recognising and challenging negative thoughts and practising self-compassion. Along with 12 self-reflection prompts to gain a deeper awareness of this coping mechanism.
What you need to know about catastrophising
Catastrophising is a cognitive distortion where you tend to magnify potential negative outcomes of a situation. It is more than being a Negative Nancy though. It’s more like Negative Nancy in a downward spiral loop heading towards a dark hole of despair where you are left with yourself and your negative thoughts.
That spiral to despair can happen over small obstacles, growth opportunities, minor setbacks or just critical feedback.
It can be really difficult to climb out of that hole. Especially when you have spiralled so deep that your anxiety and stress levels increase to the point where you feel helpless. Conquering catastrophising requires inner work to build resilience and resources within so you can break the pattern and choose more helpful strategies for life.
Common beliefs that tie in with catastrophising include:
- “I’m a failure”
- “I’ll never succeed”
- “I am not good enough”
Catastrophising can be quite prevalent in creative and introspective individuals due to their vivid imaginations and deep emotional sensitivity. Wonderful assets of course but when left unchecked in this instance, can hinder growth and destroy inner peace.
Recognising and challenging catastrophising thoughts
To recognise and understand the catastrophising trap you need to embrace self-awareness and build the skills to challenge negative thoughts and create new perceptions.
Four steps to conquering catastrophising include observation, reflection, challenging and reframing.
Step 1. Observation
It’s important to first observe yourself and track your thinking patterns. You may like to keep notes in your phone or journal throughout the day – situations, feelings, thoughts, beliefs. This way you get to know what kicks off that catastrophic thinking.
Step 2. Reflection
We learn coping mechanisms through our childhood and beyond. Take some time to reflect on your life and where you first started this thinking pattern. Remember this came about to protect you in some way – it may have been helpful in the beginning but it may be time to learn new, healthier ways to cope.
Reflecting and taking the time to look at the information you are observing and tracking allows you to look at things from a different perspective. It can be easier when you are out of the specific moment to see patterns, other options and deeper insights.
Step 3. Challenging
This is where you really get to question those assumptions and beliefs that sit under those catastrophic thoughts. Simply asking yourself questions such as:
- “Is it true?”
- “Is it a today problem or a later problem?”
- “Is it my business, someone else’s business or ‘God’s business?”
- “Is there evidence to support this?”
Step 4. Reframing
Reframing can be powerful. After challenging your thoughts, find different ways to look at them in a more positive or realistic light. I love the turnaround concept of Byron Katie’s work and asking “what if” and “what do I need” questions.
- “I always mess things up” you could ask “When don’t I mess things up?” and find specific examples of where the latter is more true
- “This is a disaster” you could ask yourself “What if this wasn’t a disaster?” and find how it has actually benefited you in some way
- “I can’t handle this” you could ask “What do I need to be to handle this?”
- “This is going to be terribly expensive” you could ask “What if it isn’t, what if it’s more simple than my thinking tells me?”
Even Kerwin Rae’s famous old saying “This is simple. This is easy. This is fun.” is a great thought disruptor and can work in some situations to snap you out of that catastrophic thinking. It’s so general but that’s the beauty of it. It means it can work in a variety of ways on a daily basis, building resilience within and a strong, positive neural pathway.
This all takes patience and practice. Remember if this is a typical coping mechanism for you, it may take some time to create a new neural pathway that steers you towards more rational, balanced thinking.
Practise Self Compassion when catastrophising
Developing self-compassion is one of the most important skills in understanding ourselves better. We are often much less kind to ourselves than we are to others. It’s important to practise self-compassion when catastrophising and treat yourself with the same kindness, understanding and respect that you would to a friend facing a similar situation.
Remember self-compassion is a lifelong practice. Sometimes we need a new template for what this looks and feels like from an external source. Self-compassion is like developing the inner mother who is kind, gentle and nurturing.
Three steps to conquering catastrophising with self-compassion include being able to recognise and acknowledge your struggles, being kind to yourself and invoking mindfulness and non-judgement.
Step 1. Recognise and acknowledge your struggles
So often we experience things in life that harden us (struggles, challenges, pain) and we get really good at brushing things away, dismissing them or moving on without truly processing them.
They can often come back in repeating patterns, begging us to recognise and acknowledge their existence. Those younger, more vulnerable parts are often protected by bigger parts (like catastrophising) and they yearn to be seen and held with deep compassion and love.
Sometimes we just need to allow ourselves to feel and experience the feelings underlying the catastrophising and also the complete opposite. When we allow ourselves to experience both ends it can help regulate our systems and lessen the fear and tension created within.
Step 2. Be kind to yourself
It can be easy to berate yourself and the part that catastrophises. It’s important to note that part of you exists for a reason. It may have done its job well in the past and doesn’t realise it isn’t needed anymore.
While you are doing the inner work on this coping mechanism, remember to be gentle with yourself in those difficult moments. Invoke that bigger part of you that is encouraging and comforting and lean into your support resources.
Step 3. Non-judgement and mindfulness
When you catch yourself in catastrophic thinking come back to the present moment. Ground yourself by using mindfulness exercises or deep breathing. Practise these in your daily life so it’s easier to remember these practices in those moments when you really need them.
When you are observing and tracking your thoughts and emotions, remember to do so without judgement. Instead, approach them with curiosity and kindness.
12 Self Reflection Prompts for Catastrophising
When it comes to self-reflection prompts for conquering catastrophising, here are some that I recommend:
- What triggers my catastrophising thoughts? Are there any specific events, situations or people?
- How do these thoughts impact my emotions and overall well-being?
- How are these thoughts influencing my behaviour or decisions?
- Are there any patterns or themes to these thoughts?
- Do they occur in all areas of my life or just specific ones such as relationships, work, finances, etc?
- How realistic are my catastrophic thoughts? Do I have any evidence of facts to support them? How often are the catastrophes really happening?
- How often am I having these thoughts? Do I get stuck in negative loops? How long/hard is it to get out of them?
- What would one believe to be having these thoughts?
- How can I be kinder and more compassionate to myself when I have these thoughts?
- What are my current strategies or techniques for dealing with these thoughts? Are they healthy/helpful?
- What are some alternative, more balanced thoughts, perspectives or strategies I could practise?
- Who can I reach out to about these thoughts?
Sometimes we think we are alone in the way we are. Talking to trusted friends, family, mentors or health practitioners about conquering catastrophising can help provide new perspectives, insights, and strategies. If catastrophising is playing a leading part in your life I highly recommend talking to your trusted holistic counsellor so you can find the root cause and create new, healthier strategies for life.
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