How Catastrophizing Is Making You Depressed and Anxious-How To Stop It?

Share:

  

A man was driving along a dark country road very late one night. There was a loud bang followed by the thump-thump-thump of a flat tire. He gets out of the car gets into the trunk; pulls out the spare tire and the lug wrench but with a sinking feeling realized that his jack is missing. 

He checks his phone and he doesn't have reception now he's stuck. As he's wondering what to do he looks down the road and sees a porch light a long way away, and he decides to walk over and ask the farmer if he could borrow a jack. 

The walk was long and dark and he starts to imagine what will happen when he reaches the farmhouse the farmer will probably already be in bed he probably will be cranky about being woken up. But because the man has no other options, he keeps walking, and as he walks through the dark other thoughts come to him "What if the farmer doesn't have a jack? Farmers have guns what if he pulls that out?

 That farmer probably gonna set a dog on him. What if the farmer realizes that the man's alone and robs him?" At this point the man is scared but he's also getting angry. He knows that farmer is gonna be a jerk but he still needs his jack. 

So, he walks up to the front door and knocks. An upstairs light comes on and while waiting for the door to open, the stranded man imagines a red-faced bug-eyed farmer wrenching open that door. 

The door swings open and a man says  "Can I help you?" and the stranded man shouts "I don't want your dang jack anyway!!" and he grabs the door, slams it shut and storms away. 

So what is catastrophizing? Catastrophizing is a common cognitive distortion or thinking error. it's when we think of a current or future situation as a catastrophe. For example, you worry that you're gonna fail a test but then you imagine what would happen when you do fail. 

You're gonna fail out of school end up working at McDonald's never have success in life and die homeless on the street. Catastrophizing is imagining the worst. It's taking a difficult situation and interpreting it as being horrible terrible and unrecoverable. 

We all know that person who if they got a B on a test they wailed "I'm failing math class," and many of us have had that parent who when we didn't want to do our chores said something extreme like "If you don't do your chores your college roommates will hate you and no one will want to marry you" 

Okay, that's not the voice my mom used but you get the idea. So, like in the story about the jack, catastrophizing often starts with genuine setbacks like getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, but then the thinking error turns that reality into the belief that something horrible Is bound to happen. 

So this man started thinking I'm gonna get shot attacked and robbed. At its root catastrophizing is about our habitual response to challenges or shortcomings. So take a second pause.

 In this video ask yourself how do you think about failure? When these habits become part of a repeated pattern they lead to depression or anxiety, and people tend to imagine never being able to recover. 

Here are some common examples. Someone with anxiety imagines losing control of himself. For example, a man with a panic disorder predicts that if he goes to the mall on a weekend afternoon he'll have a panic attack and he then predicts that having a panic attack would be a catastrophe rather than it just being really uncomfortable. 

Or a woman with depression envisions herself being depressed forever and never feeling happy again, or a teen equates some type of mild to moderate social rejection with being totally shunned by all desirable people. 

How does catastrophizing mess us up? We have all experienced some tragedies in our life including painful rejection or failure and I think that we trick ourselves into believing that if we expect the worst we can prevent it.

However, consider the man from the previous story who, because he was afraid of being rejected, slammed the door shut on himself, cutting himself off from the opportunity to acquire the solution he wanted because he was worried about everything that could go wrong.

Seeing the worst frequently brings out the worst in people. We not only close ourselves off from chances, but we also attract the same issues we want to avoid. When we go into a conversation anticipating the other person to become defensive, we typically begin by being harsher or more inflexible, which invites the other person to become defensive.

When we go into a conversation anticipating the other person to become defensive, we typically begin by being harsher or more inflexible, which invites the other person to become defensive.

If you expect your crush to reject you if you ask him out and then you don't, you'll spend your weekend alone. Catastrophizing is a surefire way to get depressed. Our brain responds by producing less serotonin and dopamine, the happiness, pleasure, and motivation chemicals when we anticipate a future that is dismal, scary, or hopeless.

Why be cheerful or positive when the future appears to be bleak? This results in a loop of disengagement from life, a lack of motivation, and a depressive pattern. Catastrophizing causes anxiety because it compels our brain to see threats and failure everywhere, and our brain responds to these threats with a very real fear reaction called the fight-flight-freeze response.

This can cause social anxiety, general anxiety, panic attacks, and other problems. Expecting the worst makes us gloomy, depressed, and unmotivated about the future. Why should I attempt if I'm only going to fail? It also gives us the opportunity to wallow in self-pity. Catastrophizing cuts us off to possibilities and options that could work, resulting in paralysis.

So, why do we keep catastrophizing if it's so harmful? At this point, I'm going to take a breather because some of you have started this extremely unhelpful thought process of "I mean, why am I such a moron? I'm completely shattered! See, I'm deficient because I do this "Okay, now is the time to pause and take a deep breath. You are not flawed; you may be doing something that isn't working for you, but that doesn't make you evil or broken.

It implies that you have the ability to change and feel better. Pause the video if you need to, and take a moment to be kind to yourself and practice courage. It takes effort to change our mindsets, yet you may accomplish difficult goals. So, back to the original question: why do we catastrophize? Well, it performs two erroneous functions.

First and foremost, planning for the worst is a coping method that keeps us from feeling threatened or uncertain. I won't be disappointed if I fail if I expect to fail. I won't have to worry about my crush rejecting me if I reject myself first.

Catastrophizing is an attempt to keep ourselves from feeling sad or worried by avoiding an emotion. But the strange thing is that we often end up unhappy and nervous when we attempt not to feel. 

Expecting the worst justifies not even attempting and trying to justify our failure before we put out any effort. It's no surprise that it feels safer than putting your heart out there. It's convenient in the short term, but it saps the joy from life over time. 

You're not taking a chance on failure, but you can't succeed either. You're not being turned down, but you're still alone on weekends. Second dysfunctional function: We sometimes assume, or have been taught to believe, that the best motivation comes from within.

That in order to motivate ourselves to study or to go to work we have to predict doom and gloom. Fear as motivation works briefly but in the long run, it makes us anxious depressed overwhelmed, and less functional. 

So, let's say a kid isn't going to school because of anxiety, and the parents are also anxious, so they go into the room and say things like "you have to get up or else you'll ruin your life," "you have to go to school or you'll end up working at McDonald's," and so on, and this gets the kid out of bed and into school in the short term, but then she spends the rest of the day worrying about being a failure, and the next day it

Do you do this to yourself? Like try to give yourself a pep talk but it's really more of a fear talk? We or our parents may have used fear in the past as a strong motivator but it's just not a sustainable source of motivation. So let's find something that's more functional than our self-justifying self-defeating catastrophizing. So first off start with a 

01-Good Night's Rest. 

When we're sleep-deprived we're hypersensitive to threats and less resilient in the face of challenges. When you're rested you'll have a greater ability to face these challenges bravely. Step two:

 02-Accept uncertainty As a Natural and Acceptable

Accept uncertainty as a natural and acceptable part of living. A wholehearted life. This is a fundamental life skill that can be developed and practiced, it involves changing how you think about anxiety so instead of labeling anxiety as bad or harmful or I can't handle it you say this is uncomfortable but it won't injure me can do hard things. "Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that something else is more important" Embrace acceptable risk and the anxiety that comes with it as normal natural and helpful and build up your emotional muscles to experience uncomfortable emotions by practicing mindfulness meditation or doing something that scares you every day and 

Number three: Motivate yourself -Instead of trying to utilize fear, think about what you want in life, what you value, and what you hope for. These are referred to as positive objectives. Instead of saying I have to go to school so I don't die homeless on the street, you say I want to be a therapist when I grow up.

Okay, I didn't say that when I was a kid, but you get the idea. Choose what you want out of life, break it down into manageable goals, then work boldly toward them one by one.

Now, here is the classic CBT approach to ending catastrophizing. So number one, 

01-Start By Noticing When You Are Catastrophizing

When you're catastrophizing, what terms do you use? Typical examples are never having a bad failure rejected uncomfortably or exaggerating to make things appear to be worse than they are. Take note of the situations in which you tend to catastrophize, write down what it looks like when you do it, and have a friend or family member point it out to you. Number two, 

02-Challenge Those Thoughts. Just because you think it doesn't mean it's true. Learn to notice and gently question your thoughts, you don't have to believe everything you think but also don't beat yourself up for thoughts saying things like what's the matter with me why do I always think this way it's just not very helpful. Instead, notice your thoughts and let them pass. This is another skill from acceptance and commitment therapy and it can be practiced with activities like leaves on a stream which I'll link to below. Number three,

03-Replace those thoughts -with something more honest and helpful so once you start to notice this type of thinking you can bravely pick up your emotional sword and begin to combat it with more honest more rational thoughts. So consider other possible outcomes. Even if something bad did happen you could learn from it it wouldn't be the end of the world. 

Here are a handful of examples of catastrophizing. Oh my, I'm such an idiot, I've already made a mistake on this report, and I'll never finish it, or if I do, it'll be so faulty that it won't matter since I'll get fired anyhow.

Here's an example of what you may use in its stead. Okay, that's not true, everyone makes mistakes, I'll repair it, and if I need help, I'll ask for it, but I'm just going to keep working hard and try to be more careful in the future. Nobody's going to fire me for a few mistakes in a report. 

Or another example, I can't believe I said that to my boyfriend he's gonna leave me for sure this time I shouldn't have said that to my boyfriend I really need to learn how to talk kindly even when I'm upset I'm gonna go apologize and try to make it right hopefully he'll understand accept my apology and we'll both learn something from this. 

This approach requires us to stay engaged even when there's a risk of things not going perfectly. This is called vulnerability the potential for success and also for getting hurt but the only alternative is to guarantee failure by cutting yourself off before you even try. 

I'm a big supporter of acceptance and commitment therapy, which basically teaches you how to open up to the feelings that come with living the life you want to live, such as joy, sadness, worry, hope, excitement, and anxiety.

You'll get better at living with some risk as you come to fully embrace life, your goals, and your principles, and you'll be rewarded with nice things occurring to you all the time.

Make good things happen for you as you bravely face life and all of its risks, joys, and loves. Please spread the word about this post since you never know who might find it useful.

No comments