Decatastrophizing: A Simple Cognitive Reframing Skill to Reduce Anxiety

When faced with a difficult or unknown situation, do you tend to focus on the worst-case scenario? Sometimes the way we view situations or challenges impacts how much anxiety or stress we experience even before the situation occurs. This is the case with catastrophizing. However, when we become more aware of our thoughts regarding perceived difficulties, we can find space to examine our thoughts more closely and gain perspective. Ultimately, this can allow for us to step outside of our automatic thoughts, consider alternatives, and reduce our anxiety and stress.  

The first step to reframing involves noticing and labeling our thoughts. Look to identify your automatic thought patterns or cognitive distortions. One common cognitive distortion involves overestimating disaster or catastrophizing. When we find ourselves swept up in the thought pattern of catastrophizing we often unknowing perpetuate further anxiety and stress by anticipating a negative outcome. 

Once we notice our thoughts and label our thought pattern as catastrophizing, we can question our assumptions and gain perspective. You might try asking yourself these questions:     

What am I worried about? 

Do I know for certain that ______ will occur?

What evidence is there for this fear or belief?

What has happened in similar past experiences?  

Could there be any alternatives? 

Is my prediction driven by my emotions?  

What is the worse that could happen?

How have I handled negative outcomes in the past?  

What is the bigger picture?

How much will this matter in a day, a week, or a month?

Often, slowing down enough to notice an automatic thoughts pattern is enough to begin reducing anxiety. As we notice these thoughts we can disengage from autopilot and begin to focus on the bigger picture. We can also remind ourselves of our capacity to handle challenges and refocus on being present in the here-and-now.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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