I should have started going to therapy a long time ago, right after a difficult breakup and right before my father was diagnosed with cancer. But thinking I could handle these things all by my bad self, I postponed therapy until the day after my 28th birthday, when I looked around at my life, which was full of blessings, and realized how truly unhappy I was. I needed a new way of examining my life and approaching my experiences, especially when it came to dating. After years of trying to find someone I clicked with, at that time, I was so discouraged by the whole shebang, that I wasn’t dating and I felt defeated. I didn’t realize there was a term for what I was doing until my therapist explained it in our first session: I was the queen at catastrophizing. What is that? A fancy term for thinking the worst, all the damn time.
“Catastrophizing is when we see things in the worst-possible-case scenario," Dr. Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC tells Bustle. "We assume that things will end up in the worst outcome, and that things can not go any other way. It is not being able to see less severe alternatives, or even a potential positive outcome."
"People do this because they tell themselves that they are preparing themselves for the worst-case scenario. However, in doing so, they do not open themselves to a more realistic or positive outcome."
If catastrophizing sounds a lot like what you do when you approach certain areas of your life — from your career to finding love — Martinez notes that it’s far more common than you may realize. “People do this because they tell themselves that they are preparing themselves for the worst-case scenario," she says. "However, in doing so, they do not open themselves to a more realistic or positive outcome. Showing someone that taking a step back and considering other options, or focusing on the facts of a situation, can shed light on other outcomes than the worst, can be powerful."
Sound familiar? Here’s how you can stop expecting the terrible:
1. Replace Negative Thoughts With Realistic Ones
It’s easy when you feel like the world around you is crumbling or everything that you thought to be true, is suddenly gone. Or, when you keep trying your hardest, only to find roadblocks at every turn. Instead of spiraling into doomsday, Martinez suggests taking a step back and thinking about the truth, instead of your fears. “People have to be mindful of their negative thoughts, and when they have them to replace them with a realistic or positive one," she says. "When people monitor how often they have negative thinking and self-talk, they are often shocked at the frequency, and the impact this way of thinking has on them."
If you need to, consider writing down the downer thought and placing the alternative one next to it — putting it into writing just how absurd your negative Nancy really is.
2. Figure Out What You Can’t Control And What You Can
“Helping people to focus on what they do and do not have control over can be a powerful tool as well," Martinez says. "We could all spend countless hours in anxiety states and worrying about things we will never have control over. Shifting the focus to what we do have control over, and what we can make small positive steps towards can be empowering and attitude shifting."
Think of something you can do each and every day that will calm your nerves and help you relax, this could be a bath, a workout class or even a recipe that you enjoy. Though you can’t magically make someone text you back or get an email back from a possible employer, you can do things that bring you joy.
3. Be A Detective
Considering checking your sources, no matter the reason, is always an important skill to mold, why don’t you apply that same logic to your emotions? Often times, we get set on a repetitive cycle where we give attention to the same fear or worry over and over again. But does that mean that it’s actually warranted? Chances are, it’s not.
“Taking the time to challenge the reality behind the assumptions someone who often catastrophizes makes, can be very eye-opening for them," Martinez says. "When they automatically and repeatedly go to the worst case scenarios in situations, you should stop and look at whether or not there is any history or experience to support that. If there is none, you are able to start to realize that historically things have worked out far better than they had imagined, and how much time they wasted stuck in a state of worry and negativity.”
4. Challenge Yourself to Dream Again
When you were in high school and college, the world probably seemed mighty bigger than it is today. Because you didn’t know what to expect, you expected the very best and you never doubted that you’d get all that your heart dreamt of. Time has a way of knocking you around and making you doubt things you always knew to be true. Martinez says that challenging yourself to dream again, to imagine the life that you want to live will help you stop thinking the worst will happen, and instead, rebuild the hopeful fervor you had when you were younger.
5. Get Out Of Your Head And Into Life
It’s easy to get lost inside the webs of your own thoughts, especially when you’re in the thick of anxiety. Your mind can be a dangerous place to dwell, and more than anything else? It can be lonely and often times, darker than it really is. Martinez says connecting with trusted loved ones — from your family and your friends to coworkers and mentors — can help you see the world differently. They can help talk you off of a ledge and make sure that you’re living right now, instead of freaking out about what may or may not happen.
With these tricks, you can stop thinking the worst and instead, feel thankful and who knows? Maybe even hopeful.