When you hear a piece of news, do you think of the worse possible outcome? Are you that person who thinks the world is ending every time you hear about climate change? Or maybe when the doctor tells you that you have an irregular mole, you immediately think it is cancer? Or how about when you teen is late for curfew, you think something is terribly wrong.

If you easily jump to negative conclusions, you might be a catastrophizer. This is a person who thinks terrible things will or may happen. Basically, when there is any uncertainty or ambiguity, you assume the negative. Also, if you think something is very important in your life and that you might lose that important thing or person, catastrophic thinking can be a guard against the pain of  possible loss. The thinking is, if I prepare for the worse, I may be able to handle the loss better.

Fear is also a part of this type of thinking. For example, let’s say you receive an email that tells you if you were accepted to a college. You really want to go to this school, but you are afraid you might get rejected. So you think the worse. You can’t open the email because you know it is a rejection. This fear reinforces catastrophic thinking.

When you are anxious, you may try to calm yourself down by checking the Internet to see if you are “right” or if someone else feels the same. You look for outward assurance. Could I be right? I hope I am wrong! But this checking on-line or with friends only provides temporary relief. You still worry.

Catastrophic thinking causes lots of anxiety and may even lead to depression. And this type of thinking has no benefit to you as a person. It actually leads to fear, avoidance and isolation.

So what can you do to change this style of thinking?

  1. Understand this type of thinking is based on cognitive distortions. Thoughts like, “If I fail this exam, I will fail out of school”-even though you have an A average, are based on distortions. Or as a pain patient told me, “If I don’t feel better in a few days, I will be disabled.” This was not true. Both of these examples demonstrate how a person magnifies the outcome. So right now, tell yourself, bad things can happen but worrying about them won’t prevent the outcome. And the outcome may not be as bad as you think. Unpleasant things are a part of life.
  2. Monitor your thoughts. Try to be aware of when your thoughts are going to extremes. Identify those thoughts.
  3. Tell your mind to stop! Take the thought captive. Recognize that the thought is a magnification of a possibility. You need to grab the thought and ask, what evidence do I have that this thought is true, untrue or realistic?
  4. Take a moment and ask, what would I say to a friend who had a thought like this? Would I tell him or her to  be more realistic or continue to think in such an anxious way?
  5. Now, replace that thought with something more reasonable. Take down the magnification to a normal concern but with other possibilities as well. You can challenge your thoughts. You can think differently.
  6. Finally, remind yourself of God’s care for you and your ability to deal with bad things when they happen in life. Think about a time you did overcome and dealt with uncertainty. Focus your attention on that time. What worked? What was your thinking like then? How did your faith allow you to remain calm and positive?
  7. Pray and ask God to give you His perfect peace. He has your life in His hand and nothing happens that He doesn’t see. His promise is to walk you through difficult times. If we keep our mind stayed on Him, He will keep us in perfect peace. And His perfect love casts out all fear. To be anxious about nothing requires a profound trust in God who orders our steps.

If you need more help doing the above, find a therapist who practices Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as these steps are based on that type of therapy. You can learn to tone down your thoughts and make them more reasonable. It will take awareness and attention to each thought, but eventually you can lose that style of thinking.

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