When Anxiety becomes a Catastrophe
Anxiety is the result of prolonged uncertainty or self, or circumstances or sense of the immediate, medium or long term future. Often rooted in previous negative events, the onset of anxiety can suddenly ambush the sufferer and be so deeply experienced as to be in the subconscious with no apparent understanding or insight, further tightening the loop, and destroying peace of mind and lowering or shattering self esteem and well being.
Left unresolved, anxiety will erode all sense of purpose and lead to confidence at unimaginably low levels. Repeated often enough, the first response to any challenge or even periods of calm will be an automatic assumption that a catastrophe is the only possible outcome.
The person so afflicted is now suffering from catastrophisation. The dread of any and all life events because the only certainty one has is that our worst nightmare(s) will be fulfilled and one shall fail spectacularly and irredeemably.
Catastrophising is when “the worst will always happen.” This is despite limited evidence or information which support the negative expectation. Also, any situation accompanied with emotional discomfort [ even minor ] will feel like a crisis.
Catastrophising is a ‘cognitive distortion’ and is linked to many issues such as ambiguity, depression, or anger. Also sufferers from General Anxiety Disorder, BPD, Societal Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorders, Agoraphobia and OCD may have catastrophising as an externalisation of their symptoms. Or the tendency to catastrophise maybe a stand alone issue, still rooted in a historical anxiety.
If you have such a response to life, pressure or stress, you might want to seek out guidance from your own doctor. They will point you in the right direction to get some help.
In the immediate term it is possible to do a little work for oneself by identifying and reality testing those thoughts and feelings which lead you into seeing only calamaties ahead.
Slow down and stop the process by
- Labelling the thought. eg “I’m having the thought that…”
- Name the thought. eg “This is my ‘I’m going to make a total mess here’ story.”
- Replace the thought. “I won’t be able to cope.” becomes “This might take a bit longer than usual and be more tiring, however, I will press on.”
- Reason about the future. Just how likely is the crisis going to be in real terms and based on your past experiences? How bad will things really be? Will I recover from the outcome?
- Visualise yourself coping with the crisis, coming through and surviving. Reflect on and consider what resources you already possess and what else you might easily obtain. What are your strengths and what has been your personal history?
Positive Tipping Points – Using the Mind to Fight Back
- Accept and Acknowledge : that throughout life, things have happened, are happening and will happen. In each and every case they will be either positive or negative and you have survived all of them to this point in time. The evidence is with you.
- Identify and Own : the irrationality of the catastrophe and the ensuing thought chain. For example ‘I have a headache.’ ; ‘It’s definitely going to get worse.’ ; ‘I’ll never be free of this.’ ; ‘I’ve got a brain tumour.’ ; ‘I’m going to die … a painful death’. By owning the un-evidenced escalation, you are able to close down the cycle of thought and decide on a rational response such as hydrating and or taking paracetamol.
- Just Say “Stop!” Here you cognitively, deliberately choose to verbally interrupt the toxic though process and break the cycle. It’s also a good idea to choose your own word or phrase, “No More!!” or “Enough Already!” Very often, hearing oneself making a declaration can have a potent positive effect. [Tip : if you want to hear your own voice as others hear it, stand in a corner and speak aloud. ]
- Replace the Feared Outcome : again move to a cognitive response by de-toxifying what you fear with a less negative outcome or an outright contradiction. In the example above at 2, you might assess the duration of the headache as being twenty minutes after drinking water or having a coffee. Then re-assess in the light of the changes you chose.
- Recall Positive Results & Outcomes : bring to the forefront of your mind any success in your life and testify to this being part of who you ‘Be’. Expand this example with others from your historical memory. Make this a daily mind exercise. Live in your positives.
- Self Care promotes Holistic Strength : You might be surprised at how effective is a simple daily or weekly regime of decompressing from you life pressures. Pressure in itself is not harmful – until we are under too much pressure. Therefore practice resting by way of physical exercise, mindfulness, meditation, socialising, any activity which will slow down your cognitive life pace and divert your thoughts away from work or anxieties will enable you to put into practice all of the above Tipping Points. Choose to try several and stick with the one which feels most beneficial, which is most resonant for you
In the event of finding yourself unable to move beyond these techniques, it is best to seek help from a counsellor, therapist or check in with your doctor.