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How to Free Yourself from Catastrophic Thinking

Catastrophic thinking or catastrophizing is identified in Psychology as a type of cognitive distortion; which means it is a way of unhealthy thinking focused on the negative. Hence, catastrophic thoughts distort your perception and fuel negative emotions. 

Catastrophising is expecting a negative outcome whose consequences would be the worst-case scenario or a catastrophe. 

For example, a man believes that if his wife leaves him he would certainly die. But many who have divorced have survived and some found a  better match in terms of a lifelong partner. 

A student believes he is an utter failure in life because he cannot  keep up with the formal education system as his peers, considers himself to have a bad future, hence lacks the motivation to learn any skills, gives up, and resigns to reckless behaviour.

Catastrophizing includes a sense of helplessness, a habit of rumination, and magnification. 


Thinking of the negative feelings or situations of the past and worrying that they will repeat. It’s an obsession with the past problems thus intensifying a low mood or the feeling of sadness in the present. Thus, rumination impairs your judgment if it becomes a habit since you find it difficult to spot when you have a lot to be grateful for. 


Catastrophizing involves magnifying the perceived negative outcomes and minimizing the possibility of a positive outcome. For example, when you achieve something worth celebrating you may brush it off, but in case you make a simple mistake or a small flaw, you think about it constantly. 


We are sometimes helpless in the face of circumstances beyond our control. However, when the sense of not being in control is continuous and trickles to all areas of your life, it  may cause inaction. You feel nothing can be done about the situation. So you resign or give up because of the frustration, lacking the motivation to act and assuming if you cannot handle it then no one can else. In that case, you are not likely to ask for help from others. 

How to Conquer Catastrophizing

I think catastrophizing is a normal reaction to things sometimes; a level of pessimism is required for survival. The problem arises when expecting the worst becomes a frequent habit and is so intense that it affects your life and relationships with others.

If left unchecked, catastrophizing can cost you your mental health because your ability to cope with distressful situations reduces, and the sense of melancholy increases.

You may require the assistance of a mental health professional since catastrophic thinking is associated with some mental conditions such as depressive disorders, anxiety, and phobias. 

So, overcoming this toxic habit of catastrophic thinking is crucial to safeguard your mental well-being. Use the following tips to reduce catastrophizing.

1. Embrace the Present Moment. 

Because things were bad before, or things are bad now, it is not a measure of what is to come. Past failures or instances of a lack of control of circumstances in the past may form a belief in the certainty of future failures. 

The other side is true as well. things can change for the better. So, it’s best to work on what you can do now, hoping for the best outcome. The key is not to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Hopelessness will thrive in your mind if you only think about the negative side of things.

The present moment is yours to seize and to use wisely, assuming all factors are in place. Worrying about a future that has not come, or ruminating only about the failures of the past, chases away the joy of living now. 

2. Get Enough Rest

Sleep deprivation leads to irritability and clouds judgement. Hence, a regular poor pattern of sleep puts you at risk of irrational thought patterns such as catastrophizing.

Your perspective of people and the world is likely to be negative when you have not rested enough. It may seem like a small issue, but in the long run, it affects your relationships with others because people may get tired of your awaiting catastrophe.

It is a state that’s not good for your health because even when there is no impending threat you are in a scared, worried, and flight mode. Therefore, give your body and brain rest by sleeping enough. Fatigue makes you more vulnerable to cognitive distortions like catastrophizing. It’s difficult to see the positive side of things when you are tired. 

3. Counter Negative Thoughts

your thoughts affect how you feel, so pause and change their direction. there is no way you can think constantly of negative thoughts and yet be joyful.

Thus, when you are thinking about the negative side of a situation, think of 3 positive opposites that are possibilities, or have already happened. There are always other ways of coping and looking at both the advantages and disadvantages may help neutralize the situation. 

One method of countering negative thoughts si through writing in a journal. Write exactly what you are feeling without trying to elaborate it further, then, think of times that you have succeeds at something, made an impact in someones’ life no matter how small., or achieved something you were proud of. 

4. Analyze The Pros and Cons of Your Thoughts. 

After identifying an instance of catastrophizing, think about how does this thought help me? is it solving the problem or offering a way out? Or am I thinking negatively with no result to the situation, only getting stuck? 

when you realize catastrophizing is only causing you more negative feelings rather than helping you, you can will yourself to stop. It is some sort of cost-benefit analysis that will open your eyes to ways that you can actually cope with the situation instead of hoping for the worst-case scenario.

You will find a way of coping that is more beneficial. Catastrophisinx is often a means of coping by covering pain in advance but does not heal or calm your mind. 

5. Engage in Outdoor Physical Activity.

Enjoying fresh air and calming scenes in nature can make you more positive about life and other things in general. Therefore, spend time outside, whether you are actively performing a physical activity, or relaxing and enjoying the fresh air or views.

Physical activity like walking, jogging, running, playing another sport, or gardening helps you put your thoughts into perspective. 

Physical motions reduce the distress brought about by anxiety or depression by helping to refocus your mind onto a more productive activity. Also, exercising produces endorphins which are the brain hormones that prompt you to have happy feelings. and it’s hard to catastrophize when happy. 

You can free yourself from catastrophic thinking through some of the above ways, and better and faster results if you work with a psychotherapist. 

Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.


Life is for Living Journal cover


Get the Life is for Living journal containing a response check template you can use to stop catastrophizing. Also, find therein a goal-setting worksheet designed to help you cope with emotional challenges. The journal is thick enough to last you a whole year and some more. Click the image above to order a copy.

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