One of the most destruc­tive dai­ly habits I car­ried with me for a long time and I think is a very com­mon one for many peo­ple was the thought habit of cat­a­stro­phiz­ing.

What is cat­a­stro­phiz­ing?

This is when you build up a night­mare sce­nario of how every­thing could go total­ly wrong in some sit­u­a­tion and imag­ine a big cat­a­stro­phe in your mind.

You may have a pre­sen­ta­tion tomor­row and your mind starts to pull up a sce­nario where you have left your notes at home, you make a fool of your­self, you are embar­rassed in front the whole com­pa­ny and your boss yells at you for 20 min­utes after the meet­ing.

Scary stuff for sure.

So how did I learn to han­dle this one?

Let me share 7 steps that have real­ly helped me out.

Step 1: Loud­ly say stop to your inner crit­ic.

The cat­a­stro­phe that has start­ed to brew in your mind comes from your inner crit­ic.

He is telling you: “You will fail because it is what you always do.”

Or that you have not pre­pared enough.

Or that your boss will not be pleased with your pre­sen­ta­tion for some rea­son or oth­er.

Or all of that.

So stop the inner crit­ic quick­ly. In your mind, as soon as these thoughts pop up, shout:

“NO!”

Or: “NOPE, we are not going down that path again!”

This will dis­rupt that train of thought and help you to start feel­ing more lev­el-head­ed again.

Step 2: Focus on your breath­ing.

After dis­rupt­ing the thought be still for a minute or two. Sit down if you can.

Focus on just your in-breaths and out-breaths. Noth­ing else.

This will calm your body down from the stress and it helps your mind to think more clear­ly and to return to what is hap­pen­ing right now in this moment instead of being lost in future night­mares.

Step 3: Look to the past for the truth.

Think back to your past.

How many times in the past have these cat­a­stro­phe sce­nar­ios that your mind throws at you actu­al­ly become real­i­ty?

Nev­er or very few times I would imag­ine. That has cer­tain­ly been the case for me.

So remind your­self of the actu­al facts from the past to calm your­self down even more and to draw your­self back to the more cen­tered ver­sion of your­self.

Step 4: Talk it through and get input from a lev­el-head­ed friend.

In many sit­u­a­tions in my own life the first three steps have helped me to snap out of the cat­a­stro­phe sce­nario and to think more calm­ly and clear­ly.

But some­times that com­bi­na­tion isn’t quite enough. Maybe there are still some lin­ger­ing neg­a­tive thoughts and inner ten­sions that could start snow­balling again.

If that’s the case then one thing I like to do is to let the cat­a­stro­phe out. I talk it over with some­one close to me.

By doing so, by just vent­ing and hav­ing some­one lis­ten­ing for a few min­utes I can often see the sit­u­a­tion for what it tru­ly is. And so I calm down.

Or the per­son lis­ten­ing can help out me out a bit more if need­ed and lend me his or her per­cep­tive.

That helps me to ground myself in real­i­ty again and it has also helped me many times to find a solu­tion or a first step that I can take to start chang­ing this sit­u­a­tion into some­thing bet­ter if that is need­ed.

Step 5: Stop mak­ing a moun­tain out of a mole­hill.

Anoth­er thing that often helps me is to ask myself a ques­tion that lets me zoom out and see if I’m hon­est­ly just mak­ing a moun­tain out of a mole­hill here (or out of noth­ing at all).

So I ask myself:

Will this mat­ter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?

The answer is almost always that it won’t. Even though it might at first seem that way when you’re in a stressed out and anx­ious head­space.

Step 6: Say stop to your­self when you know you sim­ply can’t think straight.

When I’m hun­gry or I need to go to bed and get some sleep then I know from expe­ri­ence that I’m vul­ner­a­ble to cat­a­stro­phiz­ing and pes­simistic thoughts.

So what do I do?

I tell myself this:

No, no, no, we are not going to think about this now. We will think about this sit­u­a­tion or chal­lenge lat­er, after get­ting some sleep or food.

Doing that sim­ple thing helps a lot.

Because when I’m not hun­gry or I’m well rest­ed once again then my issue that I was get­ting worked up about will most often be small to non-exis­tent when revis­it­ed with some clear-head­ed think­ing.

Or it will at least be a lot eas­i­er to find a solu­tion or a plan to improve things if there’s actu­al­ly a real chal­lenge here that I need to face.

Step 7: Reduce any week­ly input that push­es these dis­as­ter sce­nar­ios into the fore­front of your mind.

The peo­ple and the oth­er sources out there like TV, social media and var­i­ous web­sites or forums have a big influ­ence over your think­ing.

So be care­ful about what you let into your head on a dai­ly and week­ly basis. Ask your­self:

Is there a per­son or source in my life that strength­ens my cat­a­stro­phiz­ing habit?

Exam­ples of such sources could be some­one who is very pes­simistic, news online or on the TV that often paint up dis­as­ter sce­nar­ios or a web­site or social media plat­form that you find is feed­ing too much neg­a­tiv­i­ty into your mind.

When you’ve found some­thing like that in your life ask your­self:

What can I do this week to spend less or no time with this per­son or source?

Then take action on that and spend the time you’ve now freed up dur­ing this week with one or a few of the most opti­mistic sources / peo­ple in your life.

Do this – in the com­ing weeks or months – with as many sources as need­ed to piece by piece build a healthy envi­ron­ment for your­self and for your thoughts.

 



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