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*Probably not an actual catastrophe

Shout out to all the overthinkers, ruminators and catastrophisers. A certain amount of forward planning is useful, and comforting. It makes me feel like I’m equipped for whatever might happen. Problem is, quite often I’m not, because events have a funny way of not playing out as I expect. Take this cautionary tale for example. None the less, I’ve spent a quite a lot of time and mental energy thinking them through to a logical conculsion far beyond the one warranted by the facts.

If you’ve never tried catastrophising, my advice is: don’t. It’s rubbish. You start with a simple fact (for example: X isn’t here yet, I wonder why they are late) and before you know it you’re imagining all of the terrible ways in which their lateness can be explained, when in fact they just left the house 5 minutes late because they couldn’t find their keys, and will turn up in a minute, breathless, apologetic and wondering why you look like you might cry.

As Walt Disney may, or may not, have said “Worry is a waste of the imagination”. We all know that worrying about a future event cannot change the outcome. This kind of thinking is a double waste  really, because you’ve lost the time you spent worrying and all that mental effort has had no effect at all.

I know all this, yet it doesn’t stop me from overplanning, overthinking and generally catastophising about, well, whatever it is. 

I am no expert, but these are the things I find helpful when I’m catastrophising.

  1. Recognising that I’m catastrophising, and saying to myself (usually in my head but occasionally out loud, which can be disconcerting for passers by) “You’re catastrophising, stop it”.
  2. Examining the actual control and influence I do have over the event or issue I am worrying about. If I’ve got some influence, great, let’s work out a plan to use it. Otherwise, it’s a pointless waste of time and energy, a thief of sleep and an all round bad idea. I mean I can worry all night about a dental checkup, but it won’t change whether or not it turns out I need a filling.
  3. Diverting my mental bandwidth to something more productive. Now it doesn’t really have to be that productive in and of itself, but the important thing is that it crowds out the catastrophising long enough for it to sling its hook. Examples of this are:
  • Exercise, even just taking the dog round the block is a great way of cleaning out the negative thoughts. I also find the gym very therapeutic in this regard – although my thoughts wander there quite regularly they tend to be more positive and creative. I actually find it quite difficult to worry in the gym, I guess its the endorphins.
  • Puzzles: sudoku, wordle, nerdle, quordle, octordle all the rdles in fact are good because they force me to focus on either the words or the numbers and not the nonsense going on in my head.
  • Putting my imagination to some other use, for example picturing the front room if it were painted blue, or telling myself a story.
  • A practical activity such as putting up a display at work, or cleaning out a cupboard at home. Cooking is another favourite if I am at home, most effective when paired with a kitchen disco.
  • Talking it out with a colleague or friend.

None of these is much use in the middle of the night though when I tend to turn to mindfulness techniques, like counting breaths, or creating puzzles to keep my mind busy. I might go through the alphabet naming fruit (Xigua is another name for watermelon: you’re welcome) or practising applying the commutative property of multiplication. It’s quite hard to catastrophise while you’re mentally rearranging 25 x 14 into (2 x 5) x (5 x 7).

What are your top tips for pulling up out of a catastrophising spiral?

Let me know on Twitter.