How to avoid catastrophising

It used to be that you needed to go to a funfair or carnival to see amusingly distorted images of yourself, but now many personal computers allow you to produce them right on your desktop. In simpler times the Hall of Mirrors presented you with curved reflecting surfaces which squeezed or stretched your features, generally with hilarious consequences (if you like that sort of thing).


As I say however, you can now do a similar thing with your webcam – although this may not be entirely advisable if you’re of a nervous disposition.

If you’re familiar with the principle of optical distortions, it’s perhaps not surprising that the same kind of thing can apply to thoughts. David Burns, who wrote the well-regarded book ‘The Feeling Good Handbook’ after studying under Aaron Beck, one of the fathers of cognitive therapy, listed a number of ‘cognitive distortions’ – what might in simpler terms be labelled faulty thinking.

One of these is ‘catastrophising’ – the tendency to assume that the very worst is always going to happen, no matter how unlikely this in fact may be. I’m afraid it’s an easy habit to slip in to, especially when you’re already viewing the world through morose-tinted glasses.

‘My whole life is a total mess’ is the kind of thing you could catch yourself thinking, but it’s the words ‘whole’ and ‘total’ that need challenging. Whilst it’s of course possible that ‘some’ of your life might indeed be ‘a bit of’ a mess, it would take some doing for absolutely everything to be completely falling apart.

So if you catch yourself catastrophising, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re holding up a mirror to your mind that’s providing a true view, or one which is producing an image equivalent to the reflection that makes you look like you’ve got hamster cheeks.

I’ve got quite enough of that going on without the whacky mirror, thank you very much.

One thought on “How to avoid catastrophising

  1. Following on from that ‘faulty thinking’ idea (something that I do a lot), I recently read Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void and he has something to say about learnt behaviour in his afterward.

    Now I have about as little in common with this risk-taking, adventurer as is humanly possible but he describes how stressful situations in our past can mean that we bring those feelings to new situations whether it is appropriate or not. Somehow that has really helped and when I feel like catastrophising now, I can say to myself that my reaction might have more to do with something that happened a long time ago rather than the situation in front of me now.

    Hope I’m not getting too off the point Jon – love the post as always and the photo (?!).

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