Catastrophizing - A False Sense of Control
“Our mind is not our friend,” half-joked my partner-in-crime one day when we discussed our case study.
Our primitive brain is a survivalist. It summons the worst-case scenarios to alert us to perceived threats but, being in the modern world, catastrophizing can be debilitating. When we bombard ourselves with countless “What-If”- questions, we risk feeling out of control, and our mind ramps up fear responses such as racing heartbeat, wide-eyed, tensed muscles (yes, almost like an animal trying to run or fight!).
The amygdala, a part of the brain which processes threat stimuli, often takes over the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for the ability to focus, make logical decisions, and inhibit unhelpful impulses. When we catastrophize and imagine all the worst that could happen to us or to our loved ones, what we do is constantly activate the amygdala and hold ourselves back from the capability to delineate what is real and what is in our head.
So, what can we do?
Don’t Take it Personally
Feedback from your boss doesn’t mean you are not a good employee. Being anxious before a presentation to a board of directors or not doing well in exams doesn’t mean you are weak.
Another way to think of it would be to make it less about you and take it at face value. It changes our perception of what we thought the implied significance of things by shifting from ‘me’ to ‘what needs to be done.’
Be Aware and Breathe
It sounds so cliché but it is what most people forget to do when they are in panic mode all the time. When we mindfully regulate our breathing, we bring our focus back to what we can control – ourselves.
Talk to Someone
It is okay to seek help when you feel overwhelmed and everything seems too much. With the right questions, a skilled therapist is able to bring light to our blind spots, and our irrational thoughts, and build a more functional thinking process whenever we are in a pinch.