Catastrophizing, Anxiety & Burnout


Have you experienced spiralling fearful thoughts as part of your anxiety or burnout, which lock you into an escalation of more and more fear?

Are those thoughts sometimes catastrophizing: fixating on worse and worse things happening in the near or more distant future?

Do those thoughts sometimes escalate until they’re far beyond reality, imagining catastrophes in your life or career which you know would never actually happen – yet the thoughts and fear continue?

For some people, the ‘catastrophes’ their thoughts fixate on are not, objectively, very scary – but they experience an irrational and unnecessary level of fear about them anyway.

When my anxiety was at its height, my catastrophizing thoughts could be about anything from my health (fearing that I might have a terrible disease), to personal (fearing being lonely and alone, losing friends and romantic relationships), to business (failing enormously, becoming bankrupt and homeless).

These thoughts continued even when medical tests confirmed I was physically healthy; when I had a healthy social life; and when I was doing well in my career.

This is the first key insight: We cannot stop catastrophizing thoughts with objective evidence, or by attempting to think rationally.

My catastrophizing thoughts continued even when I had clear evidence in the real world which ‘should’ have stopped those thoughts happening.

No amount of external evidence, or reasoning with myself, could permanently stop these catastrophizing thoughts and associated fear. Have you experienced something similar?

The reason we cannot stop catastrophizing thoughts with objective evidence, or by attempting to think rationally, is that catastrophizing thoughts have a hidden underlying cause which will not be stopped by evidence or rational thinking.

We need to find and resolve the underlying cause to actually stop the catastrophizing.

What is the underlying cause?

The underlying cause is emotion. Although it may not seem this way, our thinking mind, aka our cognitive mind, actually follows after our emotions. Our emotions are the predominant driver, and our cognitive mind then follows the emotions’ lead, taking on a similar ‘tone’ to the emotion.

If we feel the emotion of love, our thoughts change to reflect that feeling of love. If we feel fear, our thoughts change to reflect that feeling of fear.

In deep inner work and therapy, we frequently find that an emotion actually came first, and the catastrophizing thoughts came second, as the person’s thinking mind adapted to reflect the emotion they were already feeling.

For various reasons, people often don’t notice the emotion at first – instead they first become aware of the catastrophizing thoughts. Therefore, it often seems like the thoughts came first, when in fact emotion preceded the thoughts.

The good news is, we can systematically find and become aware of the emotion which has been causing our catastrophizing thoughts – and then then reduce and remove that emotion.

As we take away the emotional cause of the catastrophizing, our thinking mind no longer needs to go into catastrophizing in the first place.

This leads us to automatically become more and more present and grounded in reality, not constantly sucked up in spirals of fearful catastrophic thinking.

To truly stop spiralling catastrophic thinking, we need to find and treat the emotion which has been causing it. The result is a new level of happiness and resilience, which supports more success and freedom in our life overall.

Are you able to name the emotion which has been underlying your catastrophizing thoughts?

If not, don’t worry. There’s a process to finding that emotion. Get my anxiety and burnout free download to learn more.

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James Cormack | Therapist & Coach

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