Catastrophizing Much? Try These 7 Techniques to Calm Your Thoughts

Catastrophic thinking might not hit everyone all the time, but for those of us who have this tendency, it can feel like a nightmare when it does come. Our thoughts can be crushing, even when the scenarios we’ve spun are nowhere near grounded in reality.

Catastrophic thoughts, or what some call intrusive thoughts, can take on a life of their own especially when we’re missing information or feeling emotionally fragile. The following techniques can help us stay on track when those mental whirlwinds try to take us down.

Why We Catastrophize

Medical News Today reports that we can easily catastrophize when we have just enough information to get our minds wandering. Like the spark that starts a forest fire, personal fears, usually revolving around immense loss or hardship, can easily rage out of control. We let ourselves imagine the worst possible outcome, and then we imagine it to become the only possible outcome. Panic takes hold as we get lost in a whirlwind of terrible possibilities.

In some cases, an underlying mental health condition may be to blame. People suffering from depression or anxiety may be more likely to catastrophize, especially when feeling hopeless or lost. Some people may catastrophize chronic or impending pain; long-term narcotic use can worsen this effect.

In all these cases, the feelings are real, but we realize, almost always after the fact, that the thoughts driving them were merely our imaginations running wild. But that's not to say that the feelings were without merit. Our thoughts can hold great power over us and can generate very real physical effects. With the right strategies, though, we can help our thoughts move back in the right direction. 

Calming the Mind to Conquer Intrusive Thoughts

Consider each of these techniques to combat catastrophic thinking when it strikes:

  1. Identify it for what it is. The first step in reclaiming power over our thoughts, according to Headspace, is identifying when we may be thinking irrationally. Even if we can’t negate the triggers, we can take away some of their influence by seeing them for what they are. Reaching this level of personal insight can be difficult, but it comes easier with practice.
  2. Redirect and shift gears. Brooding only digs us deeper into the thought rut, and yet we may feel forced to hold ourselves on a dark track when catastrophizing hits. It can become consuming. Medical News Today suggests putting effort into imagining opposite, positive outcomes and seeing where it takes us.
  3. Practice positivity. Holding on to a positive mindset can take practice, and making daily affirmations may help. Make a list of a few positive thoughts to repeat each day. I personally keep a handwritten note on my bathroom mirror that reads, “I am healthy, happy and successful — and I am IRONCLAD.” 
  4. Engage in self-care. Our minds function at their best when we’re taking care of our whole selves. Keep stress managed with meditation, yoga or journaling. Indulge in a hot bath, a facial or a quiet night at home. Eat healthy foods and avoid tobacco and other sabotaging habits.
  5. Walk it off. Psychology Today recommends getting a little exercise when negative thinking starts to hit. The endorphins can offer an emotional boost, and the change in scenery creates distractions that might redirect our thoughts into a more peaceful frame.
  6. Focus on the moment. Catastrophizing involves imagining horrific future outcomes (or fear of past events repeating themselves), so keeping our minds in the present can help remove the offending thoughts. Learning and practicing mindfulness techniques may help.
  7. Get enough sleep. Our emotional fortitude can be at its weakest when we aren’t well-rested. We can increase our defenses by sticking to a healthy sleep schedule and consistently setting aside enough time to get a full night’s rest.

Catastrophizing happens. Our thoughts have a way of grabbing the worst idea and taking off with it sometimes. But we can take much of the wind out of its sails by taking care of our bodies and finding ways to pull ourselves away from dark thoughts. Techniques to redirect and repurpose our attention can be helpful, although they may take some practice to apply. Why not test a few of them out and have one or two at the ready?

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9/19/2022 4:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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