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Decatastrophizing: How to Calm Down When the World Is Caving In

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We all can feel overwhelmed by the “what ifs.” We make an entire possibility a catastrophe before it even happens. We live in the future instead of assessing the actual facts of a situation in the present. That’s why this technique of decatastrophizing a situation is so important. Let me walk you through it.

1. Define the catastrophe.

Use precise statements and avoid using “what if” statements. Be specific about what you think will happen. For instance, state “my boyfriend will break up with me.” Then, rate how terrible it would be if this happened out of 10 — 10 being the worst and one being “not so bad.”

2. Write down the likelihood of this catastrophe happening.

Consider, has it ever happened in the past? Does it happen ever in real life? Has someone you know gone through this? When does this actually happen?

3. Write down how terrible would it be if the catastrophe actually happened.

Define what the worst possible outcome would actually look like. What would happen? How would things be affected?

4. Write down what the best possible outcome is.

What is the best-case scenario for your situation? How would things change? What would actually happen?

5. Write down how your friends and other people would talk to you about your concern.

Would they agree with the level of concern you have? Would they believe all of the possible outcomes? What would they say if they were in your shoes?

6. Write down how you would cope if the worst possible scenario happened.

Consider how you would deal with the catastrophe. How have you coped in the past? What has gotten you through past difficult situations? What are some strategies you can use to cope with the worst possible outcome? Who can you turn to during a difficult time?

7. Write down the most positive thing you can be told right now.

What would put your mind at rest? What is something reassuring you can be told? What can someone say to make you feel better?

8. Rate the situation again after you have completed each step.

Use 10 being the worst and one being not so bad. Did your rating change? What changed in your thinking?

Did walking through these steps help you rationalize the situation and assess it from an outside perspective? Did this process help you prepare to deal with the actual situation by using facts? My hope is that it did.

I used this process when I had lost my job and I was terrified I would be unable to feed myself and pay my bills. I would then become homeless and never find another job again. I went from zero to 10 in a matter of a few hours, worrying about my situation. I was catastrophizing. The situation was major, there was no doubt about that. My worst-case scenarios were actually possible, but this process helped me slow down and look at my situation with clear and rational eyes.

We all can catastrophize a situation. In a world where we are up one minute and down the next, it can feel like we are swept away by our emotions. Our anxiety and feelings about a situation can lie to us and make us feel like the world is caving in around us. This isn’t about being overly dramatic about a situation it is about our propensity to make a situation worse than it is. If we can cognitively reframe our thoughts about a situation, we can help ourselves cope with it. My hope is that this process will help ease some anxiety and tension you feel about situations you are facing in life that seem overwhelming and make the world feel like it is coming to an end.

Photo by Elsa T. on Unsplash

Originally published: February 11, 2021
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