Catastrophising – thinking your way to disaster

Catastrophising is when negative thinking spins out of control. It often creates the conditions for even more disappointment and failure. Business coach Suzanne Crouch regularly helps people to deal with catastrophic thinking. Here she outlines how catastrophising can take over and how to get on top of it. 

“Oh Hen Pen” said Chicken Little “the sky is falling down!”

Deirdre came to her coaching session looking exhausted. “I couldn’t find my tax return form on Saturday morning – and then it just seemed to then escalate. I shouted at my husband and was foul to the children, the weekend was a disaster.”

So Deirdre had spent the weekend feeling anxious, angry and that the world was against her. What was she thinking? “That if I couldn’t find the form, I would never be able to submit my tax assessment; that one of the children or my husband had thrown it away…that I would be fined a huge sum…that I would lose the business…become bankrupt…that we would lose our home…”

Does this escalation sound familiar to you? When she and I looked at this in the coaching session, there was a lot in this thinking that could be challenged – in fact all it took was one phone call to her accountant to put this situation right. In fact it was not the situation that was causing the problems here, it was Deirdre’s thinking at that time.

Deirdre – “I seem to assume that the very worst will happen and then think about it constantly, literally every few seconds with thoughts continually in the back ground.”

Catastrophising is a result of our imagination running unchecked and unchallenged. It is irrational thoughts that a lot of us may have at some time in our lives, believing that something is far worse than it actually is. Our imagination creates these dramatic and awful scenarios in our minds, our body responds with all the feelings that go with that scenario and then our behaviour follows suit. This type of thinking may be irrational but it is not uncommon: I come across it with business people I work with on a frequent basis.

The catastrophising thoughts lead to negative beliefs about the situation, to a feeling of hopelessness about the future and your ability to control it. It can result in feelings of self-pity and sometimes self-loathing. If catastrophisation becomes a habitual way of thinking it will limit your opportunities in, and outlook on, life. It can affect your work, your relationships and more. And of course it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, disappointment and underachievement.

How to stop yourself catastrophising

Stopping yourself from catastrophising takes a conscious effort on your part but you will find that if start answering yourself back, these irrational thoughts that serve no positive purpose will soon lessen in frequency and strength.

  1. Recognise the feelings that you are having, that these are a symptom of your catastrophisation.
  2. Practice – create a strong vision to associate with these feelings. This could be a loud siren going off in your head; a large neon STOP sign flashing noisily before you.
  3. STOP
  4. Ask yourself what you are thinking, challenge that thinking. Deirdre was able to see that if she couldn’t find her form by Monday she could ring her accountant to sort this out – bankruptcy and the loss of her house was not going to happen.
  5. Reward – Think of a progressive, positive, encouraging statement that you can say to yourself in that same situation in the future – for example, “I am recognising when my thinking is not helpful, I am now able to challenge that thinking.”

And remember, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”