• Alexander James

How Can You Stop Catastrophising?

Are you the type of person who always assumes that the worst will happen? This is a trait that psychologists call ‘catastrophising.’ It’s a form of anxiety, and if it gets out of hand, it can have a serious impact on the wellbeing of the person, and even those around them. So why do people catastrophise, and what can you do about it?


It is thought that people use catastrophising as a way of dealing with difficult emotions, and trying to mitigate against further distress. For example, if two people are both waiting for the results of an exam, the well-adjusted person might be reasonably confident of a good result, if they know that they put in the right amount of effort and preparation.


On the other hand, the catastrophiser might convince themselves that they are going to fail, no matter how well they prepared or performed on the day. Psychologists believe that this is a way of protecting the mind from the uneasiness of uncertainty, and controlling the anxious state that this brings about.


By convincing themselves that the worst will happen, the person is protecting themselves from further unpleasant or upsetting emotions if the news is disappointing. Deep down, they really want reassurance that everything will be alright, and when and if that reassurance is given, they feel rewarded for their distress and anxiety.


It is not known why some people are more prone to this, while others seem to have a more well balanced or optimistic outlook on life. However, it is known that more anxious people become trapped in a cycle of skyrocketing their level of distress when faced with an uncertain circumstance, which they then need to seek relief from through reassurance.


However, sometimes that relief is not available, or only reassures the person briefly before they find another thing to worry about. The problem with this outlook is that the thinking and emotions can never be based on proper evidence. No one can 100% predict future outcomes, and the logic of the catastrophiser is often skewed by a negative bias.


So how can someone who is trapped in this mindset develop a more balanced way of viewing the world? The first step is to recognise that the mind has a natural tendency to dwell on negative thoughts, in order to protect us from harm. This may have once served a useful evolutionary purpose, when our ancestors had to deal with danger on a daily basis.


This negativity bias may take the form of a harsh inner critic, which can cloud objective judgements with unhelpful or unjustified thoughts. Learning to challenge this critical voice, and talk to ourselves in a kinder and more compassionate way, can help us to feel more positive, and break the cycle of anxiety and reassurance seeking.


Some people find that mindfulness meditation techniques can help them a great deal in separating their thoughts from their emotions. By learning how to focus on the immediate moment, they discover the sense of control they have been seeking through catastrophising about the future.


If you are interested in exploring mindfulness therapy based in London, please get in touch today.

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