Oh no, traffic again?! You just know you're going to be late to work.

Illustration of three blue cars in traffic. There's a person in the front car. Via www.flaticon.com You think:

If I'm late, my boss is going to be angry. They might even fire me. If I'm fired, I won't be able to buy food or pay my rent. I'm going to end up homeless, starving, and I'll die alone!

Is the above scenario possible? Maybe. But is it likely?

A woman speaking to someone shaking her head. Text reads:

The scenario you just read is an example of catastrophizing.

What is Catastrophizing?

Catastrophizing is a way of thinking called cognitive distortion. It's when we think an unfavorable outcome to a single event will have far-reaching, disastrous consequences.

Person says

Defuse catastrophic thinking with these three strategies so you can keep calm and carry on. 😎

Person says

Try Cognitive Reframing

This effective technique for defusing catastrophizing thoughts comes from cognitive behavioral therapy. It has three steps:

1. Notice and identify your troubling thoughts

Ask yourself: What negative event or situation are you worried about? What do you imagine might happen as an outcome (or outcomes) of this negative event?

It can be helpful to write your answers down so that you can reflect on them in step #2.

2. Question your thoughts

Now ask yourself: What evidence do I have for this outcome(s) I'm envisioning? Is this outcome realistic?

Returning to your notes, rank the outcome(s) you're imagining from 1-5 on a scale from "extremely likely" to "not at all likely."

3. Reframe and replace the thoughts

Try to think of at least three other outcomes for the situation. Write them down. They can be positive, neutral, or even simply less terrible than your original thought.

Keeping these alternatives in mind will help break the cycle of catastrophizing.

Do Something Physical

Physical motions have been shown to reduce anxious and distressing thoughts.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson addressing the U.S. senate. Text reads:

Physical activities can help to reduce catastrophic thinking and re-ground your thoughts in the here and now. Try:

Practice Excellent Self-Care

Research shows that we are more likely to catastrophize when we are feeling depleted mentally, physically, or emotionally. The following self-care strategies will help you to minimize time spent thinking the worst.

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Get enough sleep. Make sure you are getting enough sleep for your age. Create and stick to a calming bedtime routine with soft lighting and no electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.

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Meditation can help you recognize and question your catastrophic thoughts. It can help reduce negative thoughts and build emotional resilience, among many other health benefits.

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Journaling is a great way to get your catastrophic thoughts out of your head so that you can analyze and transform them. No matter how much or how little you enjoy writing, there are many ways to effectively journal to reduce anxiety.

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Staying active releases feel-good endorphins that enhance your sense of well being. Studies show that regular exercise for 30 minutes 3-5 times per week can reduce symptoms of anxiety, which includes catastrophizing.

Quiz

You're still stuck in traffic. What can you do NOW to stop catastrophizing about being late to work?

Take Action

Are you ready to use one or more of these strategies to reduce your catastrophic thinking?

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This Byte has been authored by

LC

Laura Comoletti

Learning Experience Designer