Catastrophic Thinking – a disaster?
Another in our series of brief articles discussing unhelpful thinking styles. Today we look at catastrophic thinking and ask whether it is such a bad thing.
What is Catastrophic Thinking?
Do you find that you get very emotional very quickly? Do you immediately think, or expect the worst? Is your language colourful and dramatic? Sounds to me as though you are a catastrophic thinker.
It is little wonder given the headlines in the Press, on line and on TV that many people slip into this unhelpful thinking style. When was the last time you read about how many people had taken flights without incident. (It’s plane crashes that sell papers!)
Topically, Storm Doris was the main topic of conversation round here at the end of last week. Everybody I heard was, apparently, commenting on something akin to a hurricane. Our local paper published over 30 photos of trees that had been blown down. Nobody was injured but quite a few cars were crushed! Somebody was blown off his feet on the seafront. (What was he even doing there?)
When something happens the media love nothing more than describing it in catastrophic terms. Words such as havoc, nightmare, devastated, calamity, severe, shocking are bandied about with gay abandon – but do they really help?
What harm does it do?
The main problem with catastrophic thinking is that it often goes hand in hand with a highly suggestible nature. As soon as the suggestion is made, or thought had, perspective disappears and anxiety/panic ensues. Small difficulties are built into massive problems in the blink of an eye. Relatively minor experiences become hugely significant once they have been built up by catastrophising.
If you persist with catastrophic thinking it will have negative effects on your psychological and physical wellbeing. There is an established link between catastrophising and depression, anxiety, and stress. Hardly surprising when you are building everything up until it seems impossible for you to cope with! (Think about that in relation to a trip to the Dentist for example)
What Can I Do?
Catastrophic thinking is a damaging thinking style but a comparatively easy one to beat. The main thing is to MIND YOUR LANGUAGE.
Notice the words you use (either out loud or in your head), and change any catastrophic words for more appropriate ones:
“I am starving” changes to “I am hungry”
“I’m in agony” becomes “My legs ache”
“Going to a dentist is terrifying” is amended to “Going to a dentist is unpleasant”
Picking up on the last phrase, this really worked for me. I had built up a dental appointment to a dreadful, scary, experience. Knowing that I had to go sooner or later made things even worse. Once I learnt to amend my thoughts it all seemed so much less scary, I was calmer, and that made things much easier.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well that’s because it is. Next time you find yourself speaking or thinking in a catastrophic way have a little giggle and amend your words. It will soon become a habit and life will become better.
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