Catastrophizing, or assuming the worst case scenario will occur, is a problem that plagues many online merchants. And what an energy and time-waster it is!
For some insights into catastrophizing and how to stop it, we spoke with Meg Selig, a Psychology Today blogger and the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success.
Research tends toward the idea that we are all prone to catastrophic thinking
Are some more prone than others?
"Research tends toward the idea that we are all prone to catastrophic thinking because at one time in our evolution, it helped us survive," Selig notes. "Sometimes there really is a lion lurking in the bush!
"Anxiety is embedded deep within our brains (in the amygdala, to be more precise) to trigger the flight-or-fight reaction if we need to run or hide," she continues. "The problem comes in when we treat every problem as if it were a potential disaster. This is the very definition of catastrophic thinking, and, when we do it, it activates our stress chemicals!"
How can you fight it?
Selig says the first step to combat any form of anxiety, including catastrophic thinking, is to put "the thinker" in charge. That means to use the executive part of your brain (your prefrontal cortex) to combat automatic anxiety.
Using "cognitive appraisal," the thinker can decide whether there really is something to be anxious about.
If your catastrophic fantasy is unrealistic, you can use good self-talk to soothe yourself.
Selig suggests doing this:
It's not easy to be an entrepreneur. Remind yourself of this from time to time
- Tell yourself these are just thoughts and have little to no basis in reality.
- Remind yourself that your brain is just trying to help you survive. Thank it and move on!
- Use one of the mantras mentioned below.
- Consider adopting a program of stress reduction that includes regular exercise and/or meditation.
- Connect with other entrepreneurs or, if that's not possible because of the competitive nature of your business, with people whom you trust and can meet with somewhat regularly.
"You can support each other and pick up valuable information," she says. "Social connections like this lower stress."
After doing this you may decide that your catastrophic fantasies are based on realistic concerns. If this is the case, Selig says, you need an action plan. What could you do if your worst fears came true?
Affirmations to use
Try repeating one of these mantras when you start thinking catastrophically:
- "Whatever happens, I can cope."
- "I've done the best I can."
- "I don't have to be perfect."
- "I've done it before; I can do it again."
- "I've made a plan, so I can stop worrying now!
Finally, for further insights, we spoke with Kelley Kitley, owner of Chicago-based Serendipitous Psychotherapy. She's a firm believer in living in the present moment rather than traveling to that "dark place."
Should the worst case scenario occur, and your best client relationship pulls the plug, you will recover
Live in the now
"The most effective way to negate catastrophic thinking is to be in the present moment," Kitley notes. "At this moment, is this my reality? We all have negative automatic thoughts. Some of us take it too far and end up self sabotaging."
Kitley recommends that instead of worrying about all of the things that could happen, you focus on the fact that "but at this moment, my worries are not my current situation and I’ll deal with it if/when it comes up."
She reminds us that if we don't stay in the present, we can miss what's right in front of us.
"Why not enjoy the ride of your best client relationship? Should the worst case scenario occur, and your best client relationship pulls the plug, you will recover," Kitley says. "Not only that, maybe something better will come into your life. Growth truly happens through adversity. You have to be realistic and expect it's part of the process in the business world."
When you catch yourself in catastrophic thinking, take a deep breath and imagine a stop sign. Then, restructure your thought to something like this: at this moment, we have a strong relationship. If anything did happen, I have the skills to develop another strong relationship.
We hope you will find some of these solutions helpful should you catch yourself thinking the worst!