How to stop catastrophising

Do you catastrophise?

Do you find you quickly go to a negative view of how things will turn out?

Do you quickly imagine catastrophes happening?

How do you find a way to keep perspective?

When we talk about catastrophising we are referring to seeing something as considerably worse than it is or might be.

Catastrophising is often a marker of people who have experienced trauma.

Different ways of thinking about catastrophising

There are different therapeutic approaches to working with the experience of catastrophe.  Some of which take a more cognitive approach, some which take a more analytical view.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and catastrophising

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works on helping the client develop a more constructive way of thinking, not just on changing their behaviour.  CBT therapists work to help people change the way they think things through.  It is easy to caricature different therapeutic models, but CBT tends to focus more on the surface issue rather than engaging with underlying problems.

CBT might suggest that instead of getting swept up in an overwhelming negative and catastrophic vision of how things are developing, you should try to pick out details of life that feel better or positive and try to keep them in mind.

The idea being that these positive aspects will stop everything appearing negative.  CBT encourages keeping good healthy habits, exercise, eating, sleeping.  CBT might see your catastrophising as a cognitive error and try to help on working with you to correct that error.

Eckhart Tolle

Alternatively, Eckhart Tolle, in ‘The Power of Now’ encourages his readers to remember that ‘you are not your thoughts’.  Tolle’s work focuses on helping us to remember that we are not our thoughts; our thoughts are just part of us.

Our thoughts are simply the production of a moment.

If we follow Tolle it becomes possible to see the thoughts we have are simply the momentary productions of our consciousness.  Tolle suggest that with practice we can learn to step back from our thoughts be they good or bad or catastrophic, and as we step back, we step into the power of now where we can get a break from the negativity.

healthier lifestyle

Mindfulness and catstrophising

Mindfulness works on a similar basis.  Mindfulness builds on old and ancient ways of meditating to bring attention away from the catastrophic thought that is currently dominating your mind and back to the still rhythm of your bodies breathing, back to the still waters of your self.

These are ideas that suggest that we can spot when we are catastrophising and train ourselves to live and think in a more constructive way. With practice and discipline you may learn to correct your negative and catastrophic thinking much like you might learn to correct your handwriting, or improve your guitar playing.

With practice you come to see the link between cause and effect.  To see that you ended up in a catastrophic thought pattern because you let yourself get caught up in negative thinking.  These approaches privilege conscious effort on your part to draw you away from catastrophic and negative thinking.

What if such approaches to catastrophising don’t work for you?

What if trying to take a rational or cognitive approach doesn’t work for you?

In analytic and psychodynamic models the sense of catastrophe that you experience is approached as something to try to learn more about.  Instead of directing you away from it, the analytic therapist would be interested to try to find out more about your experiences, to understand more about what has drawn you in this direction?


What is your catastrophic experience about?

For example psychoanalysts such as Bion and Winnicott might have the view that this habit of catastrophising has developed as a response to a trauma and catastrophe that has happened in the past.

Traumatic experiences are often too overwhelming for us to take in properly when they happen and as a result part of the memory of the experience becomes dissociated.  We remain caught up in the catastrophic feelings associated with the traumatic event without remembering clearly what the feelings relate to.

This suggests that your current catastrophic thinking is detached from its original causes.

We catastrophise without knowing why we do so, but using an analytic approach we may be able to develop a better sense of connection with these cut off parts of ourselves.

These therapies don’t require you to do anything other than turn up.  They don’t involve homework, they are interested in finding out more about your sense of catastrophe.

For CG Jung the sense that your thoughts are being drawn to catastrophe is a sign that something requires attention, it should not be ignored or covered up.

In Jung’s work the habit of catastrophising is a sign that your psyche or mind is calling you to action. The catastrophe is presenting an opportunity that may be profitably worked with and learnt from.  A psychotherapy relationship developed along these lines offers a confidential place to work on your experience of catastrophising.

How can Counselling Buckinghamshire help?

The experience of catastrophising can have a profound impact on your everyday life. You may find yourself trapped in a narrowing spiral of feelings that affect you and the people around you.

At Counselling Buckinghamshire we have a depth of experience of working with people who are trying to come to terms with this kind of experience. 

Contact now for a free telephone consultation to discuss how our approach may be relevant to you.

Working with Counselling Buckinghamshire could be the start of coming to terms with catastrophising.