Have you ever found yourself overthinking certain situations to a point where you can’t differentiate between what is fact and what is belief? Has your manager ignored your Slack messages all afternoon and you’re worried you’ve done something wrong? Maybe your partner is late home and you’ve convinced yourself that they’re up to no good. When we think like this, it’s called catastrophizing; we’ve all pretty much been guilty of it at some point in our lives and that’s okay, as long as we don’t dwell on it for too long.
Why is it that we always create the worst case scenario in our heads rather than the best case scenario? Alongside catastrophizing, there’s also polarized thinking (“My friends either love me or hate me, there’s literally no in between!”) and overgeneralizing (“What’s the point of going on dates? Nobody will ever love me!” ). Both are very binary ways of thinking. It’s all very dramatic, and in most cases, rarely the actual reality.
A couple of years ago, I taught myself how to get myself out of thinking this way and I promise you that everyone I’ve shared this with has gone on to use it whenever they find themselves catastrophizing too.
Open up a notebook or start a new note on your phone and write down a belief that is bothering you.
Belief: My manager hasn’t responded to any of my messages or emails. I have messed up and they think I am incompetent. I am sure to lose my job.
- Historically, if you have made a mistake, your manager has always called you out on it.
- You have checked your manager’s Google Calendar and have seen they’re in back-to-back meetings all afternoon.
- You received praise on another project that you have been working on recently.
- The world doesn’t revolve around you.
In the end, it turned out that my manager had been extremely busy and hadn’t had the time to look over the document that I emailed her earlier that day. We’re all good!
If this thought was to ever pop back into my head, I would be able to look over my notes and reassure myself that I’ve had these thoughts before and everything turned out to be just fine.
Another example could be:
Belief: My partner hasn’t messaged me today and he usually does when he’s on his lunch break. He’s no longer interested in me.
- Your partner has already mentioned that this week at work will be quite stressful and busy for him.
- Your partner mentioned that he was thinking about grabbing lunch with a couple of colleagues one day this week.
- Your partner messaged you last night to tell you how much he loves you.
- It is not unusual for your partner to get distracted when messaging and often forgets to hit send.
And just like that, I realise I’ve been overthinking and catastrophizing.
I’ve been practising this method for a couple of years now. Do I still overthink? Of course I do, but now I can easily reassure myself by writing out a list of facts and re-reading them whenever I feel the need.
It’s better to get our thoughts out and down on paper than have them fester in our heads. The next time you catch yourself catastrophizing, take a moment to step back and think about what you can do to stop your thoughts getting out of hand.