To good friends of mine, it’s a well-known fact that I hate the unknown. Letting go is a practice that I genuinely have to make an active effort towards every day. Something that coincides hand in hand with this, which also happens to be a talent of mine? Catastrophizing.
If you’re human, you’re probably familiar. Think back to a presentation you bombed and how you were sure this would affect the future of your career. How about that text you received from your significant other that held some subtext that your mind went to town with? You were sure it was over, you were never going to recover, and you were already planning to tell your best friend to bring over wine. (I may be speaking from personal experience here.)
Unfortunately, it’s a common bad habit that is on the rise alongside anxiety and panic disorders: irrationally expecting the absolute worst. Not only that, you believe you won’t be able to survive, and it might be the end of life as you know it. So instead of taking a chance on anything that holds some uncertainty, what happens? You don’t get on the plane to experience Paris for the first time. You change your major because you know medical school would never be possible for you. You think you have a terminal disease after doing a bit too much Googling.
The good/bad news is that this is not rare: you’re not alone. We are all human; however, too much catastrophizing can only fuel higher levels of panic, anxiety and depression. Even though it is easy to sink into “fight-or-flight” mode, there is no rational or immediate danger present. We are our thoughts, so what happens when you become a prisoner of your own mind?
1. Be aware
When you find yourself catastrophizing, take note of the thoughts passing through your mind. Be aware of personal triggers, and write down thoughts to see how they look on paper. Ask yourself how likely it is that the absolute worst-case scenario will actually happen. I recommend also taking the time to write down the best possible outcome of what you’re facing.
2. Remember the last time you survived
I was once in a guided meditation for anxiety class that involved journaling throughout the practice. At one point, the instructor told us to write down the last time we felt like we weren’t going to make it through, but did.
I had to remember how that uncertainty or anxiety felt, how I worked through it, and how I survived. This is something I practice that helps my nerves almost immediately.
3. Connect with something bigger than yourself
Friendship and gratitude are two of my favorite things to turn to when I feel myself spiraling out of control. Get in touch with someone who will (gently) call you out, helping you to see the irrationality of your thoughts. Remember that you're human--we are all bound to have hard days that require us to love ourselves a little bit more.