Essentially catastrophizing is when we make assumptions about what's going on based on very limited or circumstantial evidence (usually a crisis or emotionally upsetting event), we assume a more dire conclusion than we have evidence for, and then we react emotionally at a level proportionate to that dire conclusion we made up. Who among us hasn't written the future using a pencil invested in past disasters?
There are two kinds of catastrophizing, one focused on situation ("This project was a disaster. I am a failure and my boss hates me."), and one focused on the future ("I failed my cat and I will fail myself when I move to California.") Neither are very helpful when you are trying to change because both can be paralyzing. Both limit your choices in life, work, relationships and more, both affect your outlook and can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and disappointment.
How to stop
- Awareness is the first step. Step back and breathe and notice when you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Jot down the facts about the situation.
- Check your log for incidents, patterns, thoughts or situations and identify the "situations most likely" to send you over the edge.
- Enlist the help of a supportive person who has permission to call you on your behavior.
- Practice. That is, assert yourself to yourself by dousing the fire with a dose of reality. "Wait a second, what does the fiasco with the cat have to do with moving to California?"
Change and transition requires grounded thinking and thoughtful decisions. It's hard work that can be derailed by making mountains out of mole hills.