NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, April 6, 2020

How to Stay Calm and Stop Catastrophizing During a Crisis

During a crisis, like the pandemic we're currently experiencing, it's easy to catastrophize and have thoughts like, "It's the end of the world!" or "We're all going to die" (see my article: Common Reactions to COVID-19: Fear and Anxiety). It's easy to understand how someone might get so panicky and filled with dread because we're in an unprecedented time in modern history (see my article: Are You Catastrophizing?Living With Uncertainty and Tips For Coping With Panic Attacks).

How to Stay Calm and Stop Catastrophizing During a Crisis

What is Catastrophizing?
  • Catastrophizing is an Overreaction to a Current or Anticipated Situation
  • Catastrophizing is More than Just Feeling Afraid or Anxious
    • It goes beyond being afraid and involves persistent worry and heightened anxiety.
  • Expressing Catastrophic Thoughts to Your Loved Ones Can Heighten Their Fears and Anxiety 
    • It's important for your peace of mind and well-being as well as your loved ones to recognize and overcome your distorted thinking.
  • Catastrophizing Clouds Your Ability to Cope and Think Clearly 
    • It makes it difficult to cope, thinking creatively and plan.
    • Depending upon how overreactve you become, it can also psychologically paralyze you to the point where you can't think or act on your behalf or on the behalf of your loved ones.
Tips on How to Stop Catastrophizing
While it's important to take the current pandemic seriously, as previously mentioned, overreacting will get in the way of your coping effectively.  So, it's essential that you get a handle on your distorted thoughts in the following ways:
  • Calm Your Body, Calm Your Mind:
    • Be proactive in terms of calming your mind and your body rather than allowing distorted thinking to make you increasingly anxious.
    • Engage in mindfulness meditation (see my article: Mindfulness Meditation).
    • Do breathing exercises (see my article: Square Breathing).
    • Get physical: Exercise or do yoga based on a level that's right for you. 
    • Use your imagination in a positive way rather than imagining end of the world scenarios (see my article: Using Your Imagination as a Powerful Tool For Change).
  • Maintain Your Perspective: Step Back and Question Your Distorted Thoughts:
    • Write down your thoughts. Be specific so they are clearly defined rather than just nebulous thoughts floating around in your mind.  After you've written them down, take a step back from your thoughts and ask yourself about each one objectively and how likely it is that your worst thoughts will come true.  Once you've written them down and you gain some perspective about your thoughts, you might realize that your fears are exaggerated.
    • If you still believe your thoughts, imagine you can put each thought individually on a large screen 20 feet away from you and examine it. If 20 feet isn't enough, imagine putting the screen further back.  Now that your thought can be viewed at a distance outside of you, how does it seem?  Once again, ask yourself how realistic it is compared to reliable information that you're receiving.  In other words, you're externalizing your thought so you can be more objective.
  • Recognize That Your Thoughts Aren't Facts and You're Not Defined By Your Thoughts:
    • Your thoughts can also shift from one extreme to another.  You might go from catastrophizing to being overly optimistic while you try to get a handle on your thoughts.
      • Remember you might experience your thoughts as very powerful and real, but remember they're only thoughts. Thoughts aren't facts.  
    • Pay Attention to the Sources of Information that You Listen to and How Often:
      • Listen to reliable information.  There's a lot of misinformation circulating around, so use good judgment when you watch, listen or read the news.
      • Don't spread unreliable news because it could have an adverse effect on you and others.
      • Take a break from watching, listen to or reading the news.
    • Recognize That You're Not Powerless:
      • Remember other times when you were in a crisis and you were effective in dealing with the problem at hand. 
      • Remember the sense of agency you had in those prior situations and ask yourself how you can use those same skills in the current situation.
    Getting Help in Therapy
    Social isolation and loneliness can take a toll on most people's psychologicalwell-being.  So if you're feeling overwhelmed, you're not alone.

    Many therapists, including me, are working online to provide you with online therapy, which is also called teletherapy, telemental health and telehealth (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

    Rather than struggling on your own, get help from a licensed psychotherapist, especially if you're having difficulty getting a handle on your catastrophic thinking or you have unresolved trauma that's getting triggered by the current crisis.

    About Me
    I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Emotionally Focused (EFT) and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

    I am providing online therapy sessions during this crisis.

    To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

    To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.