Catastrophizing? Don’t believe everything you think!!
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
If you’ve suffered from anxiety, you know how heavy it feels to constantly worry about the worst case scenario. You probably have let your mind go and spiral into very uncomfortable places of intense fear and dread. You may ask yourself why do I do this and how do I make it stop? Here are three tips I shared with a client who couldn’t stop thinking about her fiancé dying.
Act & Wait.
On the positive side, worries can propel you into action. Many times you can take precautionary steps that are necessary and that you’ve probably been avoiding out of fear. In her case, she talked to her fiancé about changing his eating habits and to schedule a general check-up with his doctor before their wedding.
We then explored additional benefits of worrying at this time. She couldn’t think of any. So I introduced my favorite mantra to deal with anxiety: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there!” This phrase puts things into perspective, there’s no point in worrying more than we need to. Let’s save the suffering for whenever, if ever, there’s a reason to. I then encouraged her to give herself permission to suffer if she were to get bad news from the checkup. There will be a reason then. Otherwise, she would be wasting emotional energy worrying instead of enjoying spending time with her future husband.
A thought is just a thought.
This might sound simple but we often forget that our thoughts and feelings are NOT reality. They are worth our attention just because they are a clue about what is important to us, but that is it. We can accept them, take note of them and then remind ourselves that just because we think something, it doesn’t mean that it is, or will be true. First, check the facts and see if they match your thoughts. If what’s happening is different from what you’re “foreseeing”, choose to focus on the facts and stay in the present. It’s a great time to use my second favorite mantra, “don’t believe everything you think”.
Ask yourself a ton of questions such as: What could be causing this? What else is going on? What is this really all about?
Many times, our anxiety is triggered by unconscious processes and events that have gone unresolved. These underlying issues get triggered by something someone says, something that happens at work, the time of the year, politics, you name it. Our bodies then react to the triggers in the form of fear, anger, sadness, etc. Many times, we just notice that we’re feeling weird but struggle to understand what exactly it is that we are feeling and why. This is when our brains come in to make sense of it all and it starts catastrophizing. In other words, you imagine every possible worst case scenario.
In therapy we start clearing up unresolved issues that cause anxiety, depression and all sort of self-destructive behaviors so your mind stops making up stories to explain the discomfort that it feels but doesn’t understand. In her case, this fear was actually triggered by unresolved grief about her father’s death. These feelings surface every year around the time of his death. This year it manifested by her worrying about losing other loved ones, such as her fiancé. When you’re able to process and go deep into your feelings, you get to understand what the emotions are really about. It’s easier to see the catastrophizing and all the cognitive distortions we create to make sense of our feelings. Most importantly, it allows you to heal very painful and complex wounds such losing a parent.
Anxiety is a beautiful messenger! If you approach it with curiosity, it will lead you into areas that need further exploration and TLC. Listen and to be afraid of asking yourself a ton of questions. The answer is within you and it often leads to inner peace.