Anxiety Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stress

How to Stop Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing occurs when a minor problem happens, and you jump to the worst case scenario.

Hoosiers call it “making a mountain out of a molehill.” What a molehill is I haven’t the slightest clue.

Anyway, here’s an example: Let’s say you get sick and decide to take the day off work. As you sit at home, you think to yourself, what if my boss thinks less of me because I’m missing that important meeting? What if they decide to promote someone else? What if I never get a chance at a promotion and I stay in this dead-end job with the same salary for the rest of my life?

Suddenly, a small worry has snowballed out of control. That’s catastrophizing.

Keep reading to learn why we catastrophize, and how to stop catastrophizing.

Why do we Catastrophize?

We catastrophize because of our fears of the unknown. We falsely believe that we are able to think ten steps ahead and ‘prepare’ for terrible things to happen to us.

Catastrophizing isn’t effective for a couple reasons. First, no one can predict the future. There are infinite possibilities for what each one of our futures could hold. So the catastrophe scenario you’ve come up is possible, but it’s only one possibility of… thousands? Millions? I’m not a statistician, but you get the point.

Second, if a catastrophe happens, there would be no way to ‘prepare’ for it emotionally. Expected or not, tragic events come with a range of emotions. That’s unavoidable.

Feeling anxious about something that may not even happen, doesn’t help you. Of course, I know as well as the next person that knowing that doesn’t necessarily make the anxiety stop.

How to Stop Catastrophizing: 3-Step Method

Step One: Become Aware

Notice your triggers for catastrophizing. Many people catastrophize when they make an error, or when something doesn’t go according to plan. When are you most likely to catastrophize, and what about?

When you notice yourself catastrophizing, pause, and label your thoughts as such.

Step Two: Cope

One coping strategy is to write down all your catastrophic thoughts, or share them with a trusted loved one. Sometimes discharging what’s in your head stops it from going around like a hampster on a wheel.

Another effective strategy is distraction. Here are some different methods of distraction:

  • Read a book
  • Watch a T.V. show or movie
  • Take a walk
  • Go to the gym
  • Clean
  • Listen to a guided meditation
  • Anything else that gets you out of your own head

Try different coping strategies for yourself. One strategy may work in one situation, and another may work at a different time. Keep at it!

Step Three: Re-Focus

Often after we’d tried coping with catastrophizing, it will creep back into our thoughts. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up; it’s normal. Gently return your mind to whatever you were doing before.


If you’ve discovered anything else that helps you stop catastrophizing, let us know in the comments! Thank you for reading.

Rebecca Ogle is a licensed therapist who practices online counseling in Illinois. Rebecca empowers millennials to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems using their strengths and inner wisdom.

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