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De-Catastrophizing Your Thoughts

Written by: Maddie McGarrah, M.Ed.
De-Catastrophizing Your Thoughts

Sometimes what can cause us to feel anxious is our own thoughts. A common thought process we have when feeling anxious is going to the worst possible outcome in our heads for a situation that is coming up. This is called catastrophizing our thoughts – where we only allow ourselves think about the worst-case scenario or outcome of a situation. This will make us feel anxious and dreadful of the situation and cause us to either avoid a certain situation/person, or to not even try to do something because we think that what is going to happen will not be good. An example of this could be that you are about to take a test, and you start thinking, “I didn’t study enough for this test, so I’m going to fail. Then I’m going to have a bad grade in this class, and then my parents are going to get very mad at me.” This will likely cause you to do even worse on the test because you are so worried about how you are going to do that you aren’t even focusing on answering the questions.

To help de-catastrophize your thoughts, the first step is to be on the lookout for them. When you notice you’re feeling anxious, try to think back through your thoughts. Once you recognize that you’re thinking in only worst-case scenarios, start challenging yourself to see other possibilities. You can do this by asking yourself, “What could the best-case scenario be in this situation? What are some other in-between scenarios that could happen?” Now that you’ve thought of a few different scenarios, try to think of what evidence you might have for each of those scenarios and how likely you think they might be. For the same test example, the best-case scenario is getting an A on the test. Or a more in between scenario is that you might get a B or C on the test and still pass. Then think of your past test performances. If you are typically someone who passes your tests – even when you haven’t studied as much as you wanted – it is much more likely you are not going to fail the test even though you feel you haven’t studied enough.

The more you are on the lookout for this kind of thinking and the more you challenge these thoughts to not automatically believe the worst-case scenario, this can help you feel less stressed and anxious overall.