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  • Stacy G. Smith, MS, LPC

Overcoming Anxiety: Tip #27



When we catastrophize, we (unintentionally) view a negative thought or event through a magnifying lens. We imagine potential consequences or scenarios that are drastically out of proportion, which results in our emotions becoming more intense than they need to be.

For example, an individual who struggles with anxiety at work, may see an important upcoming project as too far above him. He may quickly think, "I'll never be able to accomplish this on time, my boss will think poorly of me, I'll never get a promotion, and if I keep this up, I'll be fired for sure. I'll never find another job I can handle, which means I won't be able to support myself, let alone a family, and I'll have to live with my parents for the rest of my life."

Within a matter of seconds, that individual catastrophized the thought of having to accomplish an ordinary work assignment, into the unlikely image of him having to forever depend on his parents. While a challenging task may certainly bring up some anxiety, it is important to evaluate the likelihood of a feared outcome (in this case losing his job) actually coming true. IF his assignment does not turn out as well as he'd like (and he may very well do an excellent job with it!), a more realistic outcome is that his boss may give him some constructive feedback, point out areas of improvement, and encourage him to perform better next time. Chances are, he would be able to cope with that outcome and move forward, just as he would with any setback he coped with in his past. While the resulting outcome may not be ideal, it is certainly not as catastrophic as he had imagined.

Let's look at some other catastrophizing examples:

1.) Thinking you will have a panic attack in the mall, in which everyone looks at you, judges you, and makes you the laughing stock of the city.

2.) Thinking you won't get into college after receiving one bad test grade.

3.) Wanting to join a gym to start exercising more, but fear that everyone will look at you the moment you walk through the door, laugh at you for not knowing which machines to use, or for not keeping up in classes, and start making fun of you for being a beginner.

4.) When learning to drive for the first time, fearing you will immediately get into an accident, will have to pay thousands of dollars to fix the car, have your family members be disappointed with you, then realizing you'll never gain your independence.

5.) Having difficulty focusing on an assignment, and telling yourself you'll never finish the reading on time, will feel too overwhelmed, panic, and have to take the following day off from work.

When faced with a difficult situation, it is important to recognize any automatic, negative thoughts that surface, and question their validity. Our mind can quickly blow a situation out of proportion before we even take the first step. We may read into a situation so negatively, that we talk ourselves out of ever getting started. This can result in missed opportunities, feelings of inadequacy, and even strengthened anxiety about handling similar challenges in the future.

Next time you begin to feel anxious, I encourage you to take a moment to pause, take a step back from the situation, and ask yourself, "what is the probability of my predicted outcome actually coming true?" If you feel unsure, ask a trusted friend or family member for guidance.

Very often, if we challenge our negative thinking by taking small, baby steps in the direction we fear, we can prove to ourselves that our negative thoughts are not always accurate, and that we can handle challenges that come our way. This promotes a feeling of empowerment that allows for continued growth, confidence, and success.

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DISCLAIMER: The blog posts shared on www.StacySmithCounseling.com contain the opinions of Stacy Smith, MS, LPC, and do not reflect the opinions of any organizations or affiliates. While Stacy is a licensed mental health professional, all blog posts on her site are for informational purposes only, and are never a substitute for professional advice catered to your individual needs. Stacy Smith is not liable for any diagnosis, treatment plans, or decisions made based on the information presented on this website. Furthermore, commenting on posts does not mean a treatment relationship has been established with Stacy Smith.​

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