How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques Can Help You To Conquer Anxiety
Lesson 2: Days 3-4-5
One of the things that we tend to do when we’re highly anxious is to catastrophize.
I notice a dark brown spot on my nose. I lean in to the mirror and examine it closely. It is dark in color, and flaky. I’m thinking it’s melanoma. I climb into bed imagining my final days. My friends visit, bring me gifts and sit by my bed, holding my hand and whispering. My children flounce off because they can’t deal with it. Before I know it, my funeral’s taking place in beautiful woodland near my home. People are huddled in small groups, speaking in hushed tones. What a shame, she was so young. I get out a mirror, looking for the 18th time and my heart is flopping around like a fish on a boat deck when I touch the spot and it rubs off. It was eye shadow.
I took catastrophizing to an art form. Turns out, I’m not alone!
Catastrophizing means two things:
We predict the worst possible outcome
It’s going to be a disaster that results in DEATH
I.e. "If I don’t get that job, I’m going to become homeless, destitute then die."
"If I miss out on that date, I’ll be the only single person alive, forever."
The good news is that I’m not the only one who does this. It also means I am not crazy.
In this, the 2nd of 6 lessons, we are going to look at how we catastrophize. Then look at how we decatastrophize it using CBT.
Decatastrophizing or Cognitive Restructuring
Here’s what happens when we catastrophize. It's called the Illogical Leap:
Have you ever followed this type of thought pattern?
Research* has shown that catastrophizing is related to 3 things:
Mind Racing (Rumination or overthinking)
Magnification (Magnifying the power of something)
Helplessness (the inability to defend ourselves)
Very simply we go over and over a worry (mind race) like a washing machine cycle.
Each time we mind race we add energy to the worry which helps it grow. Finally we think we've got no control over this catastrophe and that's about to come crashing down and there's nothing we can do about it!
Our thoughts dictate our behavior, which, in turn, both influence our emotions. This process is influenced by what happens to us, which is outside of our control. By learning to question our own thoughts, we can correct many of these cognitive distortions.
Here's how the CBT model works:
As the name suggests, CBT focuses on the way people think, i.e. the cognitive and act, i.e. the behavior. The concept behind CBT is that our thoughts about a situation affect how we feel and then how that affects our behavior.
What happens is that we give meaning to events that are happening around us. However, two people can give two very different meanings to the same event. The meanings we assign to the situation that affect how we feel and act, not the situation itself.
These meanings are not always reliable or accurate. These inaccurate thoughts lead to unpleasant emotions and unhelpful behavior that reinforces our negative thoughts and maintain the problem. In other words, our thoughts, feelings and behavior can interact and influence each other to create a vicious cycle.
We all have negative thoughts every now and then, but if we consistently apply negative meanings to events, then we are likely to experience problems with anxiety and/or depression.
A 3-Day Task On Catastrophizing
Here’s a worksheet that will help you to get some rational overview on your catastrophizing thoughts.
Read the questions today but think about them overnight and wait until tomorrow to answer them.
Some thinking around, not just the questions, but also the wider implications is beneficial to help set up the bigger picture.
1. What are you worried about?
2. How likely is it that your worry will come true? Give examples of past experiences, or other evidence, to support your answer.
3. If your worry does come true, what’s the worst that could happen?
4. If your worry does come true, what’s most likely to happen?
5. If your worry comes true, what are the chances you’ll be okay?
In one week? _________________________ %
In one month? _________________________ %
In one year? _________________________ %
Getting a grip on the idea that we may be imagining future threats does take some getting used to. You may need to employ some blind faith for the moment. Especially when I explain that your anxiety might be self-made!
Take 3 days for this exercises and really try to nail the ‘evidence’ in the 2nd box:
Day 1: read the questions
Day 2: answer the questions
Day 3: read and answer the questions again
Your catastrophizing needs to be taken in hand. It doesn’t run on evidence. This 3-day exercise will challenge it by looking for the evidence to support the catastrophic theories (of which there isn’t any.)
After that, any time you find yourself catastrophizing, come back to these 5 questions and assess the evidence.
In the next email I’ll be taking you through a recovery process to get a handle on all levels of your anxiety and bring it to heel.
Until then, remember we’re all in this together.