The Catastrophes You Imagine May Never Happen
Mental catastrophes are merely the product of an imaginative mind. Human beings have an amazing ability to imagine, which is adaptive and beneficial in some ways, as it’s led to the creation of ingenious ideas that have resolved many problems, as well as the creation of inventions, stories, works of art, etc…
The mind is a space where ideas, thoughts, and evaluations never stop appearing, whether they’re about ourselves, other people, or the world in general. Sometimes these ideas are in line with reality, and other times they get distorted.
It’s as if we’re wearing glasses with dirty or foggy lenses. Sometimes, the way we interpret external information is shaped by our beliefs, values, knowledge, and personal experiences.
This tendency towards fantasy is innate in all human beings, and it almost always comes with harmful emotional and behavioral consequences.
A mind full of catastrophes
One very common example of these distortions of reality can be seen in anxiety disorders. People suffer from anticipatory anxiety because in their minds, there’s evidence of a possible future threat. So their emotions get disturbed, interrupting their flow of thoughts – which start to cycle uncontrollably – and paralyzing their creativity.
People who suffer from anxiety have continuously learned that the world is a dangerous place and therefore they should worry. They have to be alert in case these threats appear, because they could easily lead to disaster.
They think that worrying will magically prevent the terrible thing from happening, as if a thought could free us from actual facts.
Thoughts are nothing more than ideas, mental images, words, internal dialogues. They’re not reality. Worrying excessively over something that will surely not happen is absurd, and it takes up too much energy.
This bleak way of looking at the future is called catastrophizing. It’s a cognitive error in the way you interpret the world. In these moments, they believe more in their ideas, fears, and insecurities than in the information they receive from their senses.
I’m sure right now you’re preoccupied by something; we all are more or less. But maybe you know how to manage it, so it doesn’t cause you much anxiety. This is a healthy kind of worrying, as it pushes you to find solutions to a problem and try to face it in the most logical way possible.
If your worries are controlling you, you should stop your wandering mind and tell it to come back to the present, the only thing that is actually real.
When you worry excessively, your perception tends to be pretty distorted. It’s normal; you believe there’s an impending catastrophe and you won’t come out of it alive…how could you not be nervous? But in reality, there’s nothing looming in the distance. As we said before, you have to stop fantasizing and realize that the catastrophes you anticipate are only in your mind, they’re not real.
You worry so much that something terrible will happen, and then it finally doesn’t, but the worst part is that you think it didn’t happen because you worried about it.
In this way, you reinforce your worrying behavior, so the next time a problem or adverse situation arises, you’ll do it again. Even if you lose sleep over it, you think it’s saving you! Worrying is magical, it saves us from our problems!
Think before you catastrophize
No, worrying is not magical and it won’t help you solve your problems. That is absurd. Think about it: how could a thought resolve an earthly problem? You face problems by taking action. And anyway, you can’t solve every problem that arises, because there are certain factors that are simply out of your control.
If you’re tired of worrying, even if you think it will help you, it would be good to start thinking more realistically. Wipe off your glasses and fill your brain with more scientific thoughts.
Let’s think about it. You think that something is very likely to happen to you (you’ll get sick, your plane will crash, your partner will leave you, etc.), but you don’t have sufficient evidence to support it. So why do you think it’s likely to happen? Take out a pen and paper and try to calculate the probability of the thing you fear actually happening and think about it for a while.
Think before you catastrophize. If there’s not sufficient or convincing proof that tells you something bad will happen, then forget about it.
If you end up finding proof and keep thinking that it’s still very likely, the worst thing that could happen in that situation might not be so tragic. Write down a list of actual catastrophes that have happened in the world, and then think about whether yours is as serious as you’ve been thinking. Even if the worst possible scenario happens, you can handle it.
And finally, be practical. Make a daily note of your worries, the ones that are unlikely to actually happen and aren’t very serious, and reflect on whether you have control over them or not. If you don’t, stop wasting your precious time. If you do, come up with solutions by using your imagination.