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Catastrophizing the Cookies

By: Emma Morrissey

When was the last time your mind went to the worst-case scenario? This week? Five minutes ago? This is a survival instinct that helps protect us from danger or impending challenges.

For example, you’re baking some cookies for a party, and the last time you made something for a party it ended up burning, you may be preparing yourself for the cookies to self-destruct. As silly an example as that is, this type of mindset sneaks into our everyday lives. We associate small details with an experience, whether good or bad, and tie our emotions to those details.

Consider a scenario where your child went through a significant mental health crisis and started wearing loose-fitting clothes during that period. Even if they have since made great strides in their mental well-being, the sight of an oversized sweatshirt can unexpectedly evoke memories of the hardships your child endured and possibly the pain you endured. Something as innocuous as a sweatshirt can unexpectedly lead you down a path of fear and impending doom. These thoughts can be paralyzing and often impede our ability to move beyond our past trauma.

So how do we combat catastrophizing? Have you ever had someone tell you to “calm down” during a time of panic or anxiety.... It worked great… right?

These thoughts that we have are there to protect our minds and our hearts and sometimes they are valuable. They remind us that we can be forgiving, and we can heal from the challenging events in our life, but we don’t have to forget that they happened.

What we CAN do, is we can try to weed through the reflags that we see as potential danger or resurfacing of prior events. I recently heard someone say, “Write down the things you are feeling anxious about. Cross out everything that is out of your control and then deal with the things that are in your control.” I strongly relate to this concept because, in moments of overwhelming anxiety due to a multitude of concerns, it can be challenging to compartmentalize them and discern which issues are within my control and which are beyond it. I view this as a form of journaling exercise, a means of not recording every minor inconvenience or potential worry, but rather focusing on those that occupy the most significant mental real estate.

The next time you feel burdened by a catastrophizing mindset, try writing down the fears that are being triggered by specific events or observations. Cross out anything that is completely beyond your control. You will probably be left with a much smaller list of things that quite possibly; you will be able to address.


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