Maybe you have gone to a counselor because you have noticed that you are thinking of things that can go wrong!

Has this ever happened to you?

And sometimes you blow them up in your mind, into something that can go really REALLY wrong? “If Yellowstone keeps have earthquakes like this…”

No problem. We all do it. And as therapists, we see this all the time.  It is no big deal!

Your job is just to label it. Just label it: “catastrophic thinking.”

“I am engaging in catastrophic thinking.”

Sometimes just labeling it helps!

“Catastrophic thinking can be a symptom of generalized anxiety or other anxiety disorders, but it also contributes to it. You’re feeding into the anxiety instead of learning how to manage it, which can trigger unhealthy behavior patterns that keeps you stuck,” we often hear our counselors at Sunflower Counseling in Missoula, MT, saying.

Tools to cope with this way of thinking:

  1. Increase awareness of thoughts:
  • It is helpful for people who experience these negative thinking patterns to become more aware. (As a parent if you are able to help your child gain a greater awareness of their thoughts they can learn to have more control over them.)
  • Increase the observer part of the brain that views situations as an outsider rather than in the thick of it. Taking a step-back and looking at the fear helps you to step out of the situation!
  • When fear thinking comes up: the idea is for the child/teen to eventually pause and think:  “Hmm.. I think I might be using fear-based thinking again. Is this really true?”
  1. Label Your Thoughts:
  • You can help your child/teen become more aware by asking: “Is this helpful or unhelpful?”
  • Has the issue they are worried about ever happened? If not, it may be a “thought distortion”!
  • Examples of thought labels:
  •  “This is distorted thinking again”
  • “This is not real, it is my brain offline.”
  1. Become aware of the connection between thoughts and physical feelings:
  • Our bodies produce stress chemicals that incite fight/flight/fear (cortisol and adrenaline) or feelings of happiness (dopamine). If a person starts ruminating on a fear-centered idea their bodies will naturally secrete more of the stress inducing chemicals, which produce those feelings even more.
  • This is why slow, deep breathing is so helpful because it helps the person take a step back and calm themselves.
  • Also taking a walk, petting an animal help to calm the brain and stop the stress chemicals from being released.
  1. Journal Exercise:
  • Go back and write down what the thought was and try to understand what the trigger was!
  • You may begin to notice a pattern of triggers that spark this negative thinking.
  • Try writing down the full-extent of the fear or negative thought. Then take that trigger thought and write an entirely different story or other possible outcome. This can help the person find a different alternative to a negative issue or event that triggered the negative thinking pattern.
  • We find ourselves sometimes elevating every small negative issue into survival level crisis. Again, take a step back and label it.
  1. Think of a phrase or helpful statement (mantra) to come back to the present moment and refocus the brain:


“Things are not being done to me, they are just happening.”

“Nothing lasts forever. Not the good, and not the bad.”

“Happiness is a choice, not a condition. I choose to be happy.”

“I can get through this. I have been through worse before! This is nothing compared to that other thing!”

Please call Sunflower Counseling Montana today: 406 214 3810.

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