Catastrophizing and How to Stop Expecting the Worst: Depression and Anxiety Skill #7

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Catastrophizing is a common cognitive distortion.  It's basically expecting the worst. Calling every  

setback a disaster, and imagining all future  outcomes as being horrible. So for example,  

you worried that you're gonna fail a  test, and then you imagine what would  

happen if you do fail. You're gonna fail out  of school, and end up working at McDonald's,  

and never have success in life, and die homeless  on the street. Now catastrophizing is taking a  

genuinely difficult situation and interpreting it  as being horrible, terrible, and unrecoverable.  

We all know that person who when they get a B on  a test wailed I'm failing math class. We trick  

ourselves into believing that if we expect the  worst we can prevent it, but in reality usually  

the exact opposite happens. Seeing the worst often  invites the worst. Not only do we cut ourselves  

off from opportunities, but we invite the exact  problems we were hoping to avoid. If we go into a  

conversation expecting the other to get defensive  we often lead off by being harsher or more rigid,  

inviting the other person to get defensive. If you  expect that your crush will reject you if you ask  

him out, and then you don't ask him out you end  up alone on the weekend. Catastrophizing messes  

us up because it makes us anxious, depressed, and  unmotivated. So if catastrophizing is so harmful  

why do we do it? Well it secretly serves two  dysfunctional functions. Number one, to protect us  

from uncertainty. We try to prevent disappointment  by expecting the worst. And number two, sometimes  

it's a misguided attempt to motivate ourselves  through fear. But fear is never a sustainable  

source of motivation. It always undermines us  in the end. So if catastrophizing is so harmful,  

how do we stop doing it? Here are three steps.  Number one, notice. Write down what it looks like  

when you catastrophize. What are the words you  use? So for example words like never, terrible,  

fail, rejected, awkward, horrible, etc. And notice  what are the situations you tend to catastrophize  

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