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What is catastrophising?

picture of a woman with shapes spinning round her head
picture of a woman with shapes spinning round her head Image credit: health.com

All of us worry from time to time, it’s natural, but for some that anxiety can spiral out of control, especially when you have a mental health condition which makes you fear the worst case scenario.

For example it’s understandable to have concern you may have forgotten to lock the front door when you are out, but people catastrophizing could have thoughts about a break-in leading to a physical attack on a neighbour investigating the burglary and being left in a life-threatening condition.

Catatrophising is when someone takes an unsettling incident and makes it ten times worse in their head despite the end result not being anywhere near as drastic as the one going around in their head.

The condition can be linked to a person’s personality, someone who has a habit of being over dramatic and a vivid imagination.

To overcome having upsetting and unnecessary thoughts catatrophisisng can be controlled by therapy to help break down those habits.

The mental health illness is commonly found in people suffering from depression, it’s the outcome of feeling extremely anxious or having negative thoughts.

Mental health specialist and cognitive behaviour therapist Anna Albright told netdoctor: ‘I never lead patients to think differently about the event. So failing your driving test? Yes it was terribly disappointing, you felt low but it was not catastrophic. I help patients look at the problem and then help them assess how bad it truly was.’

Her advice to control catastrophising is to write down when think about worse case scenarios, is there a particular time of day and what exactly is going around in your mind?

Also try to find alternative to negative verbs such as nasty, horrible, unthinkable, horrendous and replace these with more realistic words which you can associate with real life situations.

The steps to overcoming catastrophising are…

  1. Pay attention. You may not realise you are catastrophising.
  2. Write your worries down. Keep a notebook or a 'worry list'.
  3. Postpone your worry.
  4. Focus on solutions.
  5. Challenge anxious thoughts.
  6. Problem Solving.
  7. Accept uncertainty.
  8. Be healthy.

For mental health support visit the Mind website.