When we think about anxiety and its causes, the habit of “catastrophizing” is among the greatest contributors. It takes on many forms but the most common is simply assuming the worst-case scenario. The problem is that when we think about the worst-case scenario, we tend to set up housekeeping there and make it our permanent dwelling. Rather than equipping us to deal with what has happened and effectively problem solve, catastrophizing renders us almost paralyzed by fear and worry.
Let me give you a personal example because counselors aren’t immune to anxiety-producing habits like catastrophizing. Just last week my oldest son sprained his ankle badly the night before he was supposed to drive to Colorado to play ice hockey for the year. I saw the immediate swelling and realized we would need to get him to ER for an X-Ray. I went from “Wow, that looks like it needs an X-Ray” to “Promising young hockey player sidelined due to tragic opioid addiction.” He hadn’t even asked for pain medication yet, and I was ready to check him into a rehab facility! Had I spent too much time in that worst-case scenario, I would not have had the presence of mind to attend to the practical matters of getting our orthopedic doctor’s number and identifying the closest hospital.
When I shared my catastrophizing with a friend/colleague, her response was, “We aren’t there yet.” She didn’t belittle or judge my fears. She simply reminded me to stay in the present and not get too wound up about what hadn’t happened yet. I have said those four words to myself several times over the last week as I was tempted to catastrophize about any number of stressful events.
“We aren’t there yet.”
Try saying it to yourself the next time you find your thoughts going off the rails.