If you have catastrophic thoughts, you might often expect the worse-case scenario. Here’s how to curb negative reasoning.

Our thoughts can lead us to safety or survival. When negative thoughts constantly arise, you may feel overwhelmed or lonely. But several techniques can help you manage them.

Catastrophic thinking, also known as catastrophizing, is irrational thinking that may cause you to assume that adverse outcomes will occur. There are many potential causes for catastrophizing, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain.

Repeated episodes of catastrophizing can create more stress by keeping your body constantly in flight, fight or freeze response. Chronic stress can lead to a variety of health problems.

If you are prone to catastrophic thoughts, you may have trouble coping with negative emotions in general.

Still, by catastrophizing and giving more attention to the negative thoughts, you might be helping yourself regulate those emotions. But this also stresses your mind and your body in the process.

This kind of cognitive distortion tends to be linked to a core belief that you hold. Understanding that link may help you regulate your irrational thoughts when they start.

Catastrophizing can be a difficult mental habit to break. However, with practice, it’s possible to change the way you think.

1. Mindfulness practice

A mindfulness practice, like meditation or yoga, was shown in a 2018 study to reduce catastrophic thinking related to the participants’ chronic pain. By focusing on thoughts outside their bodies, study participants recognized when their thoughts about pain were irrational.

In a 2019 pilot study of sickle-cell patients, the interventions of nurses and other caregivers to teach mindfulness practices for pain management proved successful. Your doctor or care team can help you decide whether these practices could work for you.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you learn to recognize triggers and change negative thoughts about them. A 2017 study of 16 fibromyalgia patients showed that cognitive behavioral therapy resulted in a long-term reduction in symptoms.

A 2020 study of people with PTSD showed that the PTSD symptoms were eased after patients participated in CBT to stop catastrophizing. You can find professional help here.

3. Journaling

You can use a notebook, pen, or voice memo app if you don’t want to write to record your thoughts when you begin catastrophizing. Journaling can help you keep track of thought patterns and help you to stop catastrophizing.

Consider scheduling time during your week to review your journal entries and write down recurring themes you notice.

4. Would you say your negative thoughts to someone else?

Voicing out loud your negative thoughts instead of in your head might be helpful.

Saying aloud, “My boss wants to see me to fire me. I am a failure,” or “I feel pain, I must be dying,” could be enough to make you see that your thoughts might be irrational.

You’d probably not say what you’re thinking to your partner, your child, or a colleague. If not, you might want to consider asking yourself why.

5. Challenging yourself

Learning to recognize when you begin to spiral can help you challenge yourself to stop the cycle. You can practice moments of stillness to connect with how you feel in that moment. Over time, the practice could help you develop an awareness of how to manage your thoughts.

Consider taking 1 minute to pause, observe your surroundings and focus on how your current environment affects your pattern of thinking. If you’re comfortable, practice saying what you’re observing aloud to help you verbalize what you’re experiencing.

6. Exercise

A 2020 study of people with fibromyalgia showed that a low-impact exercise routine focusing on increasing endurance and coordination could help reduce catastrophizing.

Exercise can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and minimize external stress, which in turn may help you increase your resistance to the catastrophic thought cycle.

You may consider adding daily movement, such as:

  • walking
  • yoga
  • water aerobics
  • pilates

When you catastrophize, it can seem impossible to break the cycle of negative thoughts that could lead you into those spirals. This may be your way of coping with trauma or living with chronic pain or a chronic disease.

But the stress caused by the catastrophic thought cycle can have immense physical and mental consequences.

It’s possible to learn to refocus your mind when catastrophic thoughts begin and to ward off the negativity they produce.

Challenging yourself when you begin catastrophizing and vocalizing your thoughts may help you realize when you’re no longer thinking rationally and to rein in the catastrophizing process.