Home Featured Stop Catastrophizing – How to Retrain your Brain to Worry and Stress Less

Stop Catastrophizing – How to Retrain your Brain to Worry and Stress Less

Stop Catastrophizing – How to Retrain your Brain to Worry and Stress Less

In the past couple of years, I was in a depressive mood as I endured many long, boring days due to a bilateral wrist injury. I was working one to two hours a day max in my job, per doctor’s orders. The medical experts couldn’t say if or when I would feel better.

As I sat in pain on my sofa, day after day, running out of new TV series to occupy my time, I couldn’t help but catastrophize my future

What’ll happen if I can’t use the computer again? My entire career depends on computer work. 

Will I be able drive, cook and clean like normal?

Do I have to give up my pole dancing hobby—a form of self-expression that I love so dearly?

Just before my accident, I had been preparing to switch careers. I was excited. But worker’s compensation required me to stay put in my current job because I relied upon them to cover my medical expenses. I felt stuck and I didn’t know how to get out.

If you’re familiar with the slippery slope of catastrophizing, then you’re no stranger to how quickly you can get swept up in a thought that takes you down a dark tunnel. If you are fixated on a particular problem or the worst outcome possible, this can make it feel real to both your mind and body.

There’s no mystery as to why any of us catastrophize. You may do it more often than others, but our brains are designed to protect us by preparing for the worst and avoiding risks.

When your brain deems a situation to be potentially dangerous for your physical or social existence, it will activate the stress response, releasing the stress hormone cortisol into your body.

Everyone’s brain also has a negativity bias, so it likes to err on the side of caution—in other words, you often experience more anxiety over a problem than is necessary or even helpful.

When I was on disability, my nervous system downregulated my body into a depressive state, where I assumed nothing good was possible and I didn’t have to feel disappointed if the worst came true—which it never did.

When you’re immersed in an anxiety episode, you have less access to the conscious, wise part of your brain that can solve problems. Your body produces biochemicals that cause you to have more similar feelings. This can lead to a spiral of depression or anxiety. Your perceptions of yourself and the rest of the world are becoming more negative. It’s like the stress response is hijacking your brain and nervous system.

Understanding how your brain functions when you’re engulfed in a catastrophizing episode is important for a couple of reasons.

First of all, your body is doing what it knows to do best—mobilizing you to stay safe. The stress hormone helped us escape wild animals in our evolutionary past, but we’re not facing life-or-death situations anymore. The problem is that our brains haven’t updated to modern times.

Once you know that your body is just trying to spin a doom’s day story to protect you, then you can drop any beliefs you have about yourself—like “There must be something wrong with me for picturing such horrible possibilities!” Because there is nothing wrong with you.

Second, you can return to reality by reversing the stress response. You will then be able to regain control over your thinking brain and achieve clarity. You can biochemically change your beliefs and stories about yourself by regulating your nervous system and emotions. When you’re regulated, the narrative shifts into hope, possibility, and inspiration.

Change Your Stories

There are many somatic and mindful practices that can regulate your nervous system and reduce stress hormones.

First, you must decide that you want to make a change.

You can choose how you feel and what changes you make. If you’re ready to let go of catastrophizing your future, then the next step is to start noticing when you’re going down that old habit road. You can use these techniques to help you shift from the negative state and stop those unhelpful thinking patterns.

Shift into Peripheral Vision

If your inner dialogue is running rampant and you know it’s not serving you, peripheral vision is a great way to silence those thoughts immediately. Find a focal area in your room, or anywhere around you. Without moving your eyes, soften your gaze like you’re diffusing your focus. Expand your awareness of the entire space surrounding that focal point. Continue slowly expanding out as if you could almost see yourself behind. Do this for around twenty seconds. Repeat this at least one more time.

Palpating + self-Touch

Start rubbing your palms one against the other, causing some friction and heat. Bring your full attention to your hands, noticing what you’re feeling in between your fingers and palms. Play with pressure and speed. Be aware of the temperature in your hands. You might even want to move your fingers in a circular motion.

Do this for about thirty seconds, and then bring both hands to opposite shoulders, like you’re giving yourself a hug. In a sweep, let both hands trace your arms down to the elbows. Bring them up to your shoulders and then down again. Repeat this as long as it feels good.

Make a case for possibilities

As you build a practice of resourcing your body, get curious about what you’re moving through and moving toward. As you find moments of hope and possibility, write down what you’re excited about, looking forward to, and ready to change. Write down what you’re excited about, looking forward to and ready to change. You can find your way back to this feeling if you remember it.

Never forget that things can always turn around

You can’t be too anxious. And remember that it’s possible things will turn out far better than you imagine.

Teach your mind to think of the best possible outcomes instead of tragedy. What’s everything that could go right? This isn’t about hinging your happiness upon a narrowly defined marker of success, because no one knows how the future will unfold. Rather, consider that the future might pleasantly surprise you, so you can have a frame of mind that’ll make it easier to keep moving forward, pivot when needed, and develop resilience for the uncertainty of life.

Your brain is paying Attention

Your brain is actually paying attention to the self-regulation practices that you are implementing. In other words, it’s noticing that you’re cutting short an old habit and taking a turn down a new path. This rewires your brain with repetition.

Your brain is always learning, always picking up how you’re feeling and responding to the same old triggers and stressors. The neuroplasticity of your brain and nervous systems is changing. Stop self-limiting habits and your body won’t have any choice but to upgrade.

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Krissy loveman

Krissy is a certified Integrative Life Coach who uses a trauma-informed mind and body approach. She helps individuals change habituated behaviors and beliefs that hide their true selves. Join her mailing list to receive life-changing insights delivered straight to your inbox.

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The first time Tiny Buddha published the article Stop Catastrophizing.

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