Do you ever feel like you’re in a never-ending cycle of negative thinking? That everything that could go wrong will go wrong, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it? If so, then you may be experiencing catastrophic thinking. This type of thinking is characterised by excessive worry and fear about potential negative events. It can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress and can greatly reduce your quality of life. In this blog post, we will discuss what catastrophic thinking is, why it happens, and how you can stop doing it!

What is catastrophic thinking?

What is catastrophic thinking?

Catastrophic thinking is a cognitive distortion that occurs when a person consistently overestimates the probability of negative events happening. This can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress, as well as decreased quality of life. People who suffer from catastrophic thoughts often believe that they are powerless to prevent or change the outcome of a situation. They may also believe that if something bad does happen, it will be catastrophic and life-altering.

These are irrational thoughts; they involve jumping to the most negative conclusion or outcome. These negative thoughts naturally have a negative effect on our mental health, leading to anxiety and depression. If you only ever think of the worst-case scenario, you’re bound to feel down.


Examples of catastrophizing include:

  • My partner locked their phone – They must be cheating on me
  • My boss hates me – I’ll lose my job and be homeless
  • My chest hurts – I must be having a heart attack
  • My friend hasn’t replied to my text – I’ve done something wrong, and they hate me
  • I haven’t revised enough – I’m a terrible student, and I’ll fail my exam

Why does catastrophic thinking happen?

There are a few different reasons why catastrophic thinking might occur. These thought patterns could be the result of past experiences, where a person has experienced a traumatic event or a series of negative events. It could also be due to genetics, as some people are simply more prone to anxiety and stress than others. Additionally, catastrophic thinking can be caused by medications or substance abuse.

Some people tend to catastrophe about specific things. It could be related to feelings of being a failure? Others may catastrophize in relations, or perhaps they’re pain catastrophizing.

Negative thoughts can be common in people who have anxiety disorders or who tend to worry a lot. It can also be triggered by stressful life events, such as job loss, illness, or the death of a loved one. If you find yourself catastrophizing, there are things that you can do to stop it.


How does catastrophizing affect the body?

Catastrophic thinking can cause a person to feel tense and on edge. It can also lead to feeling fatigued and having difficulty concentrating. In some cases, it can even make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. The most obvious effects will be anxiety, depression, and even anger. These have a knock-on effect on your body, making you more susceptible to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and headaches.

If a brain is wired to anticipate or expect the worst, which is a form of Automatic Negative Thinking (ANTs), it will have detrimental effects on all aspects of life. Here’s why. These negative thoughts cause the release of chemicals in the brain that make you feel unhappy or down. This causes you to think negatively about yourself and your situation out of proportion. You soon develop the impression that life is bleak and that you’re powerless to change it.


How to stop catastrophic thinking?

If you find yourself catastrophizing, there are a few things you can do in order to stop. Firstly, try and take a step back from the situation and look at it objectively. Is there really any evidence to support your catastrophic thoughts? Secondly, try and challenge your negative thoughts. Are they really true? Lastly, try and focus on the positive things in your life. Remind yourself of your accomplishments and the good things that have happened to you. Catastrophic thinking can be debilitating and have a serious impact on your mental health, so it’s important to try and nip it in. It’s important to remember that catastrophic thinking is a habit.

Decatastrophizing is the act of addressing these distortions. Below are some questions you could ask yourself:

  • Realistically, what is the worst that could happen?
  • How would I cope if the worst did happen?
  • Would my reasoning stand up in a court of law?

Next time you feel you are catastrophizing, simply ask yourself, am I catastrophizing here? Be realistic and look for contradictory evidence to the thoughts you are having. It can be useful to keep a journal of these thoughts to see if there is a pattern. Finally, challenge these thoughts when they arise.

Ceratin therapies such as CBT and DBT can be useful in treating catastrophic thinking. If you feel like you’re struggling to manage your thoughts, please reach out to a mental health professional.

Mindfulness techniques can also be very useful in grounding – teaching you to be aware of your thoughts without judgment of them.

Charles works with clients to get to the root cause of the emotions that evolve into catastrophic thinking. If you’d like to be free of your ANTs, reach out for a free, confidential 15-minute chat via the button below.

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