It’s a catastrophe! How to avoid catastrophic thinking

The dreaded anxiety spiral. It’s so difficult to stop it once it begins so the key is to stop it before it gets completely out of hand.

This is going to take a little daily brain training and a lot of mindfulness. Let’s do this!


Mindfulness means being present and aware in the moment which is a very useful skill for humans to practise. Practising mindfulness encourages us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, once we’re more in tune with them it’s easier to have better control of our thoughts.

We all have those moments when our thoughts start spiraling down into very negative territory. The negative thoughts keep getting worse and worse often causing us to feel helpless and full of despair. This is called catastrophic thinking and it usually goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety.

Once we get to that catastrophic level of thinking it can feel impossible to get out of it and back into positive territory. It’s important to identify and re-route our thinking before it gets unmanageable. We can’t control the crappy world around us but we can train ourselves to have control over our thoughts and responses. It’s quite challenging to learn this skill but it’s worth it to feel the freedom that it brings.

The negative thoughts we encounter can feel so real, so true and completely valid. How do you combat that? The answer is to remember that thoughts are not facts. My psychologist taught me this 10 years ago and it has become a mantra in my mind, constantly reminding myself. I even wrote it on my mirror in my bedroom so that I could remind myself constantly, training my brain towards this valuable reminder. You can do it too. Repeat it so that you remind yourself when you need it most.

Thoughts are not facts

This practice of mindfulness can help keep those catastrophic thoughts in check, which will help minimise your anxiety or be a great tool to manage your depression.

Be mindful of your thoughts

Keep an eye on your thoughts and notice how they are affecting you. Is is a great way to train your brain against catastrophic thinking. Practise observing your thoughts without judgement, this is a type of meditation practice.

There are many meditation apps out there that can guide you through a mindfulness meditation session. My favourite meditation app is Insight Timer.

Mindfulness meditation will teach you how to acknowledge your thoughts without placing judgement on them. During your meditation allow yourself to notice feelings without being swept up by them. This will become your regular training so that you can learn to have more control over your actions and your response to negative emotions.

Challenge your thoughts

Being consumed by anxious or negative thoughts is scary because the thoughts feel completely real and rational. If you notice yourself slipping into a spiral take a deep breath and challenge your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Is this threat real right now?” Or is this my brain interpreting this as a dangerous situation?

Focus on the here and the now. Focus on the facts. Thoughts are not facts.

A professional can help

It’s difficult to overcome catastrophic thinking alone, don’t be discouraged! If it’s a challenging task you can ask for help from a therapist. If you don’t already have a psychologist, speak with your regular GP about obtaining a referral to a psychologist that is right for you.

A mental health professional can work through the causes of your catastrophic thinking and recommend the tools and techniques that are suited to your personal situation. 

Never give up. You can learn to remove yourself from the negative spiral of thoughts and combat catastrophic thinking.


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