Catastrophizing: What’s the worst that can happen?
Creativity: And what can you do about it?
Our fundamental fears are based around: Death – Isolation – Meaninglessness – Lack of freedom – Ill-Health – Loss of mental faculties
Catastrophizing makes us leap from a relatively harmless event into thinking one of the above will occur
CATASTROPHIZING is to view or present a situation as considerably worse than it actually is. And certainly previous traumatic experiences can predispose people to catastrophize. I moved to Lockerbie in rural South-West Scotland from a road in London where people chased each other with machetes. I thought I had now moved to a place where I could live and work peacefully and free of worry. Then Pan Am 103 was blown up over the sky above us and all hell rained down. My worst nightmare had actually happened. For years afterwards I panicked and catastrophized over the smallest thing. Sometimes I still do. But I learned the tools to help and I try to put a distance between my horror-storytelling tendencies and my ability to bring a more rational, creative light to a situation.
Catastrophizing has two parts:
Part 1: Predicting a negative outcome.
Part 2: Jumping to the conclusion that if the negative outcome did in fact happen, it would be a catastrophe.
Part 3 Is where Creativity comes in. You need to create a gap. Say something annoying happens: You’ve spilt red wine over your white jeans. Naturally you’d be upset that you’ve ruined your trousers. But if you catastrophize you are likely to jump to the next series of thoughts: ‘I’ve been so clumsy recently, I might have some neurological disorder’. You have gone from a wrecked pair of jeans to imagining a slow painful death.
Until you have a whole raft of evidence to the contrary, it is safe to assume the negative fallout can be simply ring-fenced to having to replace your jeans. But when you are in the habit of catastrophizing it is hard to break the pattern. You ruminate and churn the disaster that is going to befall you. You fill in the details, you create a hugely magnified version of your now distorted view, and you end up feeling helpless. You can’t do anything, let alone sort out the jean problem. Your brain recognizes the images you portray as real and sets in motion the stress hormones to ‘deal’ with the make-believe situation.
Get creative & keep it simple. Write down the incident. Draw two columns. In the first column acknowledge the ‘catastrophic’ scenario. In the second column write out a simple outcome eg I poured red wine over my trousers so I can either try & get the red wine out, or save up to get some new ones. Score the ‘truth’ levels of each out of ten. Draw a big cross over the catastrophe, & colour in the reasonable outcome in your favourite colour. Your brain will align itself with the colour & remind you to focus on a sensible response next time
Also consider, in this case all the times you are not clumsy, the myriad of physical and mental feats you manage to accomplish throughout the course of the day. Record your top three mini-triumphs every night before you go to sleep, to raise your self-esteem. Even when bad things do happen, think about how you dig down, create a plan, work through what you need to do, & slowly get through the obstacle or challenge. You’ve done it before, you can do it again. Of course it is natural to resist a change in how we think. It’s hard work. It’s actually easier to leap up the whirlwind of panic, than to calmly work through a series of strategies to lower your emotional state and re-imagine an alternative narrative.
Yes, sometimes bad stuff does happen & in the book I am writing I will go into that, but in the meantime try to keep your response proportionate to the cause
With your imagination on the job you can reassure yourself with the feeling that whatever happens, bad as it may be, there are things you can do to get through it, survive, and even thrive. What makes you feel emotionally secure isn’t the belief that nothing bad could ever happen, but that you will be able to find creative ways to get through it.
If you need support reconnecting with your creative thinking skills, email me for a free consultation & find out how creative coaching can help you. Lou@createlab.co.uk