Taking the Anxious Out Of Anxious Thoughts

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4 Quick Questions To De-Catastrophize Your Thoughts

BY PASCALE POUGNET

Catastrophising is the worst. Our minds can get carried away thinking about worst case scenarios, like thinking you’ll never get a job when your job application gets rejected, or that a strange looking mole on your arm is inevitably cancerous. Not surprisingly, catastrophising generally brings with it a lot of stress and anxiety, unfortunately it’s not an easy habit to break.

The problem with catastrophizing is that the worst case scenarios we imagine can feel so real. We get tricked into thinking it’s highly likely our worst fears will come true and this fuels our anxiety; but thoughts are thoughts, not facts, and just because we think something doesn’t mean it’s true or likely.

So how do you know which thoughts to trust? Here are four helpful questions to help you fact check and “de-catastrophise” your anxious thoughts.

Question 1: What Catastrophe Am I Worried About?

Identify your main worry or concern by asking yourself what will in happen in a particular situation or what you think could happen.

Question 2: How Likely Is This Event?

Take a step back and try to appraise the event in a realistic way. It can help to think back to whether the outcome you’re afraid of has ever happened to you before, and how often an event like this occurs for others as well. Most of the time we overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening; the actual likelihood of our feared outcomes is generally much smaller than we imagine.

Question 3: How Awful Would It Be If This Did Happen?

We also generally overestimate the consequences of something bad happening. For example, thinking that getting rejected from a job interview will mean you’ll feel depressed, but not feeling as bad as you thought, or in the end grateful because another job opportunity came along that was better than the first one. Try to break out of catastrophe mode and think about whether there are alternate outcomes you haven’t considered.

Question 4: If The Worst Did Happen, How Would I Cope?

We’re usually more able to cope than we give ourselves credit for. Look at situations you’ve coped with in the past and reflect on what resources, skills or abilities helped you to do this. Feeling more confident in our ability to deal with a bad situation can help to ease our anxiety.

Pascale is a clinical psychologist who is passionate about empowering people to create change. She is warm and empathic and is dedicated to providing evidence based psychological care. Pascale has extensive experience working with adults and adolescents with a variety of psychological disorders including depression, panic attacks, social anxiety, generalised anxiety, health anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, specific phobias, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.


 

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