Decatastrophizing: A helpful technique to reduce catastrophic thinking and anxiety.
Updated: Jun 4
So, you find yourself spending quite a bit of time thinking about the “worst case” scenarios. I know, I know, these scenarios are just the worst of the worst. They are awful, scary, intimidating and sometimes even paralyzing.
If you find yourself often overthinking or catastrophizing (assuming the worst thing will happen) and you’re experiencing heightened worry, stress or fear, I have a trick for you that I often use to help get myself out of these thinking funks.
It’s the “worst case, best case and most likely case” technique. Listen, I am a significant contributor to the worst case scenarios and I certainly can come up with the best of the best, but I seldom found myself on the other side of the spectrum or even in the middle. So, this technique allows you (and me) to do just that.
The secret sauce is this: plan for ALL of the cases. Run the worst case scenario(s) through your head. Then run the best case scenario(s) through your head. And, if you are able to, also give adequate time and space to the most likely scenario(s). This evens out the playing field and helps you get out of feeling trapped in the doom and gloom of your thoughts.
I’m not asking you to dismiss the worst case scenarios or to skip right to the best case scenarios. I think it can actually be quite beneficial to plan for worst case scenarios. At least if the worst case happens, you can try to prepare for it. But, I also believe it can be just as beneficial to acknowledge and plan for best case scenarios and well as the most likely ones.
So, if you are wondering what this technique may be like when we put it into motion, it’s a little something like this:
Thought(s)/emotion(s): "I’m worried and stressed about giving a speech in front of a crowd (scary!). I am going to bomb this speech and will never be good at talking in front of others."
Worst case scenario: "I can’t remember any of my speech. I get dizzy and I pass out in front of the crowd. People rush to see if I’m ok and I am severely embarrassed. I won’t be able to look anyone in the eye and I certainly can never, ever give a speech again."
The idea is to over exaggerate here. Really come up with the worst of the worst. This scenario is a complete nightmare or disaster.
Best case scenario: "I’m extremely confident, I remember every line of my speech and deliver it so smoothly, even I’m impressed by the words leaving my mouth. Everyone applauds at the end and I feel extremely proud of myself.
The idea is also to over exaggerate here. Definitely come up with the best of the best. This area compensates for the heaviness of the worst case scenario.
Most likely scenario: "I’m feeling nervous, my face turns a little red, I’m a bit sweaty, I forget a few (not so key) points in my speech, I gradually become more comfortable as I talk, I start to relax a little, the words begin to flow more smoothly, and before I know it, my speech is over. Another one in the bag!"
The idea is to allow yourself to be in the "grey area." You are looking for something in between the best case and the worst case scenario. This area is realistic and probable.
Viola! We have just engaged in decatastrophizing and have helped slow down the anxiety cycle. You have distracted yourself from the "nightmare" or "disaster" of your worst case scenario and allowed yourself to see the spectrum of outcomes, which typically brings a sense or relief and helps slow the panic that we experience just sitting in the worst of the worst.
As always, please feel free to connect if you have any questions.