If you are prone to catastrophising the answer to that question is ‘everything’.
What is catatrophising?
Catastrophising is when your boss asks to have a word, and in your mind, you’re already fired and carrying your belongings away in a cardboard box. Or your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t return a text straightaway and you’re definitely getting dumped. Your mind automatically leaps to the worst case scenario and you start getting anxious about it.
In some ways this is an attempt by your chimp brain to protect you. If you expect the worst, it reasons (in so far as the chimp mind CAN reason) then you’ll be prepared. And when the worst doesn’t happen, you experience relief, which momentarily feels good.
The problem with focusing on what could go wrong
But, constantly focusing on what could go wrong leaves you in a pretty constant state of alert, full of adrenalin and cortisol, which does not feel good. Plus expecting the worst can also create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where things do actually go wrong because you were too nervous to take any small bur necessary risks. E.g. you didn’t tell your girlfriend or boyfriend how much you liked them in case they rejected you, so they concluded you weren’t that keen and went off with someone else.
How to deal with catastrophising
The first step, as with many unwanted patterns, is to start noticing yourself doing it. This is where mindfulness comes in. As soon as you hear yourself thinking things such as ‘always’ or ‘never’ or ‘no matter what’ or ‘inevitably’ that’s a sign that you’re catastrophising.
For example: ‘I’ll never get this work finished, it’s impossible. I’m definitely going to get fired.’
Ask yourself honestly what evidence there actually is for these thoughts.
Then try and reframe the situation in a more realistic way.
‘This is a difficult task. I know other people have struggled with it too, so I’m going to ask for help.’
‘I’m going to find it difficult to finish this in the time available. I need to free up more time, or ask for an extension.’
Be kind to yourself
Remember that catastrophising is natural. You may do it more than most, but everyone’s brain is wired to focus on what could go wrong– it’s an evolutionary survival strategy. Just deal with it in the same way you might deal with a virus- look after yourself physically so you’re in the best place to overcome it, and accept that it takes time.
The situation you fear almost certainly won’t actually happen, but if that tiny bit of nagging doubt remains: remember that you have survived plenty of bad situations in the past so, even if the bad outcome you fear actually does happen, you will get through it as you have done before.
If you are interested in ways to rewire the brain to redress the natural balance towards the negative we all have, I recently did a 30 minute ‘live’ on the subject in my free Facebook group, Life-Resourceful-Lightbulb Moments. Join the group here to watch that live and others.