How to Stop Catastrophic Thinking 

by | Jan 30, 2023 | College, Parenting | 0 comments

A guide for parents, teens, and young adults


Cecilia and Braden go to college in different states.  They Snap constantly and talk a few times a day.  One Friday night, Cecilia went out with friends. She was having so much fun dancing and talking with her girls that she missed a few calls from Braden.   When she got back to her dorm, she saw multiple missed calls and several texts.  One read, Where are you?  The next read, WTF C!?  The final read, Our relationship isn’t working. We’re over.   


Naturally, Cecilia was upset.  Her heartbeat quickened and her mind started to spin. The shock and stress she felt triggered her thoughts to go to worse-case scenarios. She sent me a message, I’m freaking out. I don’t even know….  I’m never going to find a decent boyfriend who doesn’t leave me. I’m so sick of this!


Then there’s Amy, a junior in high school.  Amy is at the top of her class.  She prides herself on her stellar academic record.  Every year, her school publishes student rankings and she is always at the top.  Except for this year, her ranking dropped.  Instead of number one, she was number 11.  She was deflated.  In her coaching session she said, Everything is ruined.  I hate school.  I’ll never be able to get out of this town and go to the college I want.  All of my dreams are shattered.


Both of these situations illustrate catastrophic thinking.


A surprising break up, a bad grade, or a fight with a friend or parent can lead to catastrophic thoughts.  It’s a surprisingly common reaction.  Life’s curve balls can cause your brain to start imagining worst-case scenarios –  thoughts that are incredibly unhelpful.  Telling yourself everything is ruined or you’ll never be happy steals the energy and focus you need to get through the challenge.  And, catastrophic thoughts are almost always LIES.  Think about Amy.  Yes, her ranking dropped a few places. That is true.  But it is not true that her life is ruined and her dreams are shattered.  In fact, during her coaching session, we took a closer look at her thoughts and how to make a positive shift. 


First, she outlined her dreams: 


Going to a college out of state 

Getting marketing job

Getting married and having children 


When we took an honest look at each of her dreams, she realized the truth:  


She had a solid chance of getting into an out-of-state college.  She would still be able to land a marketing job, get married, and have children.  As she looked at each catastrophic thought through the lens of truth, she started to feel relief.  And that relief helped her take care of herself while she was feeling disappointed, and create a plan for how to move forward.  


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In the moment, it can be hard to get out of catastrophic thinking mode.  But when you begin to think calmly,  you can build the mind-muscle to shift negative thinking so that when a surprising disappointment occurs, you handle it with calm and cool.  


Get to know your triggers. 


Identify the situations when you tend to catastrophize.  It might be fighting with a friend or boyfriend, getting a bad grade, or getting in an argument with a parent.  Knowing your triggers can help you avoid situations or prepare yourself to think differently before the catastrophic tendency kicks in. 


Examine your thoughts. 


Write down your most common catastrophic thoughts.  Look at them objectively and ask yourself, is that really true? Is that really likely to happen? 


Expand your perspective. 


Try this exercise to tap into other possibilities and reality!  First, set up a page like this: 


Worst Case ScenarioProbable Outcomes Best Case Scenario


Spend a few moments listing each worst-case, probable, and best-case outcomes.  Get yourself focused on the positive possibilities.  Finally, ask yourself, what action can I take that will move me toward the best-case scenario?  


You can learn how to take control of the damaging catastrophic thinking but if you need support, schedule a discovery call to learn how coaching can help!


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