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Catastrophizing Thoughts : Tips, Causes, and Treatment

Overview

“I will fail this exam and not graduate from college.” “I forgot to submit my report yesterday, and now I will get fired from my job.” “ I lost the gift my partner gave, and now they will break up with me.” These are worst-case scenarios most individuals imagine during difficult situations. Such thoughts are called catastrophizing thoughts. 

The blog gives an in-depth understanding of catastrophizing thoughts, tips to overcome them, causes, and treatment options. 

What is a Catastrophizing Thought?

As mentioned above, catastrophizing thoughts occur to people who assume the worst in any situation. For example, someone may worry about getting fired from their job for missing one deadline and conclude that they may never be financially stable. However, a person with catastrophizing thoughts may not accept that other successful individuals have failed exams but done well later .

It’s a form of distorted thinking or cognitive distortion. Relatives and family members of patients with catastrophizing thoughts may easily dismiss these thoughts as over-exaggeration. But it is essential to know that it is unintentional and not simple. People suffering from catastrophizing thoughts may experience intensified anxiety and destructive behaviour. Children and adults can experience such thoughts. Thankfully, there are effective treatment options and tips to overcome catastrophizing thoughts.

What are the tips to overcome catastrophizing thoughts?

It is possible to overcome negative thoughts with intention and awareness. Here are ten tips to overcome catastrophizing thoughts:

  • Stay connected with close friends and relatives: Good or bad times, having a shoulder to cry and vent feelings is essential. It helps in keeping a check on negative thoughts. When it becomes stressful, having a strong connection with people can validate and support a person .
  • Be a part of a community: Joining a hobby club or a civic group provides strong social support. Such connections help mitigate catastrophizing thoughts and may keep the person grounded.
  • Being healthy is essential: When a person is stressed, it takes a toll on physical health. So, a healthy lifestyle, such as hydration, nutrition, sleep, and exercise, can help the body handle stress and anxiety efficiently and effectively.
  • Say yes to mindfulness: Being mindful lets a person reflect on current emotions and keeps the mind in the present moment. It also helps in better coping with anxiety. Yoga, mindfulness, journaling and prayer are some of the ways one can practice mindfulness. Choosing the one method  that bests suits a person takes time and experimentation. 
  • Discover a positive outlet: Dealing with catastrophizing thoughts with alcohol and drugs may have a short-term effect only and might eventually lead to further complications . But teaching the body to understand and tolerate stress and anxiety helps mitigate catastrophizing thoughts. 
  • Try to do better: Set realistic goals, search for growth, and continue to improve yourself to prevent catastrophizing thoughts. Striving to better and working towards what’s next in life helps.
  • Shift the focus on others: When people put too much emphasis on their life, catastrophizing thoughts occur. Instead, shifting focus to helping others, connecting with people, and assisting others in growing, brings a new perspective and get catastrophizing thoughts out of mind.
  • Gain perspective: Constantly practising mindfulness help in identifying and preventing catastrophizing. Once a person can consciously remind themselves about the thoughts, it becomes easy to stay in the present. 
  • Accepting reality: People need to accept certain things are not under their control, and fretting about it is useless. Accepting such situations may only help focus on various things one can control. 
  • Experiences teach: Look back on similar past experiences and remember the response to that situation. This helps a person learn something new and alter their reaction to the stressful situation at present.

When to seek medical attention?

When the tips mentioned above fail to provide relief from negative thoughts, seeking medical help may be essential. However, it is vital to constantly try these tips for a while before giving up.  

 

What are treatment options for catastrophizing thoughts? 

The therapist works with the patient to identify and manage triggers and reduce their effects on the patient’s mind and behaviour. In addition, the following are treatment options that the doctors recommend:

  • Therapy: Catastrophizing thoughts are associated with mental illnesses. Therefore, therapy can effectively help treat it. One of the most common forms of therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Research has found that cognitive therapy helps patients with catastrophizing thoughts manage their pain better. Therapists use CBT to work with patients to help them recognize and replace irrational thoughts with rational ones. 
  • Mindfulness: The healthcare provider may also teach mindfulness. Regularly practising this  prevents patients from spiralling into negative thoughts. 
  • Medications: Doctors may prescribe medications for mental illness if catastrophizing thoughts result from other mental disorders. 

What are the causes of catastrophizing thoughts? 

The exact reason for catastrophizing thoughts is unclear. However, it can be a coping mechanism or a result of other mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. The other causes are as follows: 

  • Fear
  • Lack of self-esteem and confidence
  • Altered beliefs
  • Pessimism
  • Perfectionism
  • Overthinking
  • Unhealthy parenting style

Numerous studies have shown that anxiety, depression and other mental disorders lead to catastrophizing thoughts. Other studies also connect it to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Conclusion

Catastrophizing thoughts are not a pleasant experience. It can send a person into a negative spiral that becomes challenging to come out of. It is time to stop it with the help of doctors and by following the easy tips given in the blog above .

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do children catastrophize?

Yes, children also catastrophize. It is one of the forms of thinking that can burden anyone.

Who coined the word ‘catastrophize’?

Albert Ellis, a psychologist, coined the word ‘catastrophize.’ He is also the one who developed rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT).

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