Many of us experience having negative automatic thoughts. These thoughts are negative as they are unhelpful, and often increase our anxiety and/or depression and can be very believable. They are automatic because they enter our minds without us realising how they got there, as if they are out of our control.
One unhelpful way of thinking is catastrophising and this is when we think the worst is going to happen in a situation and exaggerate it, such as ‘my manager will be unhappy with my project and it will be all my fault, and then I will get fired.. then I will have no money..then I will lose my home.. my family will have nowhere to live.. they will all blame me..’ etc. This thought has catastrophised on one incident which was based on the assumption that the manager would be unhappy with the project.
Catastrophising is letting our thoughts ‘run away’ and thinking the worst is going to happen and thus increasing our anxiety and/or depression. Another unhelpful thinking style which the above example illustrates is ‘fortune telling’ thinking as the example predicts the future, and yet none of these incidents have occurred.
The way in which catastrophising can be challenged is by looking at the evidence for and against that negative thought before it ‘runs away with us’ and gets out of control.Now taking the above example, we would look at the evidence for and against ‘the manager being unhappy with my project’, and by looking at the evidence against the thought more rationally, it can become more balanced; thus ‘Normally my manager is reasonable and if he/she is not happy with the report this can be looked at and if need be I can discuss the improvements needed with my manager and/or my colleagues’.
Unfortunately, our catastrophic thoughts can sometimes be based on previous bad experiences and this cannot always be prevented; nevertheless, these thoughts need to be continually challenged, otherwise ‘catastrophising’ becomes a habit. The purpose of challenging a negative thought is to break the habit, which takes time and perseverance. If we are basing present thoughts on past experiences then we have to realise that these experiences will not necessarily be the same as before and to recognise how we can change our thought process so that the present scenario can be dealt with differently. It is also important that the thought process is changed as soon as we recognise that we are catastrophising. The idea is to ‘catch the negative thought’ before it ‘runs away’ in order to reduce our anxiety and depression.
We have to be aware that if we are able to put negative thoughts into our minds then with practice we can do the same with positive thoughts. However, many of us tend to focus on negative thoughts as this is easier than challenging them, which at first can be quite difficult and exhausting. It is important to remember that these negative thoughts need to be challenged in order to feel better; however, if we are feeling overwhelmed by constant negative thinking, we may need to find a counsellor or CBT therapist to help us.