“… Worrying that the worst will always happen!”
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. It predicts a negative outcome and goes on to jump to the conclusion that if the negative outcome did happen, it would be a catastrophe. We look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a reality around those thoughts and because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong. Catastrophizing can affect our entire outlook in life, and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure that often leads to self-pity and to irrational, negative beliefs about the situation, as well as to a feeling of hopelessness.
The first step to dealing with Catastrophizing is to recognize when you’re doing it. The sooner you do this, the quicker you’ll be able to start focusing on stopping it. It may be helpful to start recording your negative thoughts to yourself on a pad of paper or little journal that you carry with you. Write down what happened as objectively as possible, what you thought about the situation, and then what your reactions were. Over a period of time, you’ll begin to see a pattern emerge of when you’re most likely to Catastrophize, and some of the thoughts or situations that most likely lead to it. Now that you can see some of the direct cause and effects of your thoughts, you can begin the work on changing them. Every time you begin to Catastrophize a situation, you should answer yourself back in your mind with reassurance, such as:
(Catastrophized thought) “Argh, I shouldn’t eat that food — I’ll be ill, I was ill before so I am going to be so ill again and I will be in hospital and I will be really unwell. I’m getting ill no matter what. I’ll never be well and I’m going to be like this forever, there’s no point in even trying, I give up… My husband won’t take much more of this and is going to leave me…” etc.
(Reassure/arguing back) “No, that’s not true. Just because I reacted before doesn’t mean I will react again. It’s different now, I’m in a better place. It will be fine – I will be fine. My husband will understand, he loves me and supports me.”
Stopping yourself from Catastrophizing takes a lot of conscious effort on your part, patience, and time. But if you try these few steps and really start answering yourself back, these irrational thoughts that serve no positive purpose will soon lessen in frequency and strength. Before you know it, your Catastrophizing will be a thing of the past!
Another help is autosuggestion. This is a form of self-hypnosis, or mind retraining. By consciously using autosuggestion, (that is, repeating words or images enough times,) it causes the subconscious to absorb them. In this, you replace thoughts of ‘I’m going to be in pain, I’m going to react’ etc, with ‘I’m going to be fine, my body can cope, I am well and getting better every day.’ Imagery is very powerful too – your brain absorbs learning in many ways; audio and visual. Your thoughts are audio, images are visual, so imagine yourself eating that item of food and being really well.
Often catastrophizing has its basis in truth – for example, you ate that thing before and you reacted badly, or someone you knew did. But catastrophizing says that it will always happen, it will happen to you, and that it will be worse this time, next time, always… much worse! It takes no count of other considerations, other factors, (such as a bug you may have had at the time, stresses at the time, and a host of other factors that combine to create the reactors in the body.) Catastrophizing is based on assumptions either experienced yourself, or that you have observed or heard about in other, that have grown and been exaggerated to their worst possible outcome, and then somehow got twisted in your mind to become fact – a hardwired belief. Your brain received these beliefs as programmes, and runs the body biologically based on those programmes – so those beliefs, in fact, make you physically worse, and create your reality. That in turn, feeds the beliefs with so called evidence, and so the cycle goes on. So to fix this, avoid assumptions, conclusion and negativity, and replace them with positive suggestions, repeatedly! Allow yourself to examine the evidence, searching for real facts not assumptions, and never base the future on the past! Just because something was, does not mean it will always be. Begin to believe that, and in so doing, your brain will rewire itself and start to run a new programme in the mind and within the body, a new programme that promotes health and wellbeing.
***Julie Poole is a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in anxiety based disorders that effect the thinking, behaviours and physiology. She studied Psychology and Sociology as well as Hypnotherapy, and uses a combination of CBT, psychodynamics, behaviourism, modelling and mind-retraining to achieve health and wellbeing in her clients.