catastrophic thinking

What is catastrophic thinking and how can we stop it?

—When we face negativity or uncertainty in our lives, no matter how big or small, the mindset we approach it with can make a big difference in how much it affects our peace of mind. If we make a mistake at work, for example, it is best to think about it rationally to come up with the best solution to resolve the problem.

On the other end of the scale, we could completely blow the problem out of proportion in our minds, leading to much greater stress and anxiety. Psychologists identify a kind of cognitive distortion called catastrophising or catastrophic thinking.

What is catastrophic thinking?

Catastrophic thinking is when we place all our focus on the worst-case scenarios, no matter how unrealistic or unfounded. We magnify the situation to seem much worse than it is. In the work mistake example given above, catastrophising would be assuming that you will get fired because of the mistake. It could go even further than this:

“If my boss finds out about this mistake I’ll lose my job, I won’t be able to find another one, so I won’t be able to afford rent.”

Negative Cognitive Triad

This type of thinking is defined in psychology as the negative cognitive triad. This phenomenon can be simplified to, “there are problems in the world, there are problems in the future, and there are problems with me. Taken together, I won’t be able to solve everything.” We get stuck in a pattern of negativity, blame ourselves for a disproportionate amount of what has gone wrong, and discourage ourselves from getting better.

It sounds like a huge overreaction, but this is what catastrophic thinking can look like. As a result, people with these kinds of thinking patterns experience much more stress and anxiety, and it can even lead to depression and other issues.

How to manage catastrophic thinking

One thing that can be effective around catastrophic thoughts is simply talking it out with someone. Whether that’s someone you’re close to, a coach, or a therapist, they can help to assuage your fears and comfort you, even exploring all the other, less disastrous outcomes that could occur.

However, when people get into patterns of catastrophic thinking, more work is likely to be required to retrain the brain to see things differently. Cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective solution if you commit to it. Sessions with a life coach can also help you to manage these thought patterns.


If you’re prone to catastrophic thinking and feel like you could benefit from coaching sessions, then get in touch with me to find out more.