In today’s episode, Kimberley Quinlan talks about the importance of identifying catastrophic thinking. The reason this is so important is that this type of cognitive distortion or cognitive error can increase one’s experience of anxiety and panic, making it harder to manage it at the moment. Kimberley talks about the importance of mindfulness and self-compassion when responding to catastrophization also.
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.
Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...
If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).
Welcome back, everybody. How are you doing? How are you really? Just wanted to check in with you first, see how you’re doing. We’re friends, so it’s my job to check in on you and see how you are. Thank you for being here with me again. I do know how important your time is, and I am so grateful that you spend it with me. Thank you. That is such a joy and it’s such a wonderful experience to know that I am spending time with you each week.
This week, we are talking about the danger of catastrophization. Now, I’ll talk with you a little bit more about what that means here in a second, but basically what I want to do in this episode is really to take off from the very first episode of this year, which was the things I’d learned in 2021. One of the points that I made there was to really take responsibility for your thought errors, right? And I wanted to pick one of the thought errors that I see the most in my clients. In fact, in the last couple of weeks, it’s been an ongoing piece of the work we do. It’s not all of the work, but it’s a piece of the work, is for me just to be, I’m still doing teletherapy. So, we’re sitting across from the screen and just reflecting and modeling back to them some of the ways in which they speak to themselves and really looking at how helpful that is and how that impacts them.
So, before we get into that episode, I want to offer to you guys to submit your “I did a hard thing.” Today, as I went to prepare for this episode, I checked the link and we’d actually used up all of the ones that were submitted probably in August of 2021. And so I’m going to encourage you guys to submit your “I did a hard thing” so I can feature you on the podcast. When we first submitted, we had like 70 submissions, and I’ve used all of them up. And I would love to get new ones to share with you and have you be featured on the show. So, if you want to go over, you can click on the show notes for the link, or if you want, you can go to kimberleyquinlan-lmft.com. So, that’s Kimberley Quinlan - L for License, M for Marriage, F for Family, T for Therapy.com. Click on the podcast link, which is where we hold all of our podcasts, and you could submit your “I did a hard thing.” And I’d love to have you on the show. It actually is probably my favorite part. I could easily just have a whole show called “I did a hard thing” and it could be just that.
All right. So, let’s get into the episode. Today, I want to talk with you about the danger of catastrophization, and let me share with you how this shows up. So, I want to be clear that you cannot control your thoughts, your intrusive thoughts that repetitively show up, and you can’t show your fear up. You cannot change your feelings. So, you can’t tell yourself not to be sad if you’re sad and you can’t tell yourself not to be anxious if you’re anxious and you can’t not panic if you’re panicking. But you can change how you react and how you behave. That is a common CBT rule.
Now often, when you have an intrusive thought, a lot of my patients or clients will report having anxiety or having a thought or having a feeling or having an urge or having an image that shows up in your head – because that’s what I do, right? People come to me with a problem. The problem is usually a thought, feeling, sensation, urge, or image. That’s what I do. And what I try to do is change the way they respond. That is my job, right?
Now, what often happens is, there is a thought or a feeling or a sensation or urge, impulse, whatever it may be that shows up, and they often will respond to that by framing it in a way that is catastrophic. I’ll give you some examples.
So, when they have the presence of anxiety in their body, they may frame it as: “I’m freaking out.” That’s a catastrophic thought. When they had a lot of anxiety or maybe they had a panic attack, they frame it or they assess it by saying, “Kimberley, I almost died. I had the biggest panic attack of my life. I almost died.” Or “It nearly killed me. The anxiety nearly killed me,” or “The pain nearly killed me.” They may have tried to do an exposure or they may have tried to reach a goal that they had set, and they’ll say, “I failed miserably. It was a total disaster.” They are trying to recover from a mental illness or a medical illness, and they’ll say, “I’ll never amount to anything. I’ll never get better.” Or they’re suffering.
We have different seasons in our lives. We have seasons where things go really, really well and we’re like winning at life. And then we have seasons where things are hard and we just have hurdle after hurdle, after hurdle, and they’ll say, “There’s no point, my life is not worth living,” or “I’m never going to be able to solve this.”
Now, first of all, if you’ve thought any of these things, I am sending you so much love. Your thinking is not your fault. I’m not here to place blame on you like, “Oh, you’re bad at this,” because our brains naturally catastrophize, because our brain wants to make sense of things and put them in little categories because that is the easiest, quickest way to understand our world. So naturally, we do this to make sense of the world. If I said to my daughter, “How are you doing with math?” She’d go, “Oh, it totally sucks,” because it’s easier to say, “It totally sucks,” than to say, “There are some things that I’m doing well with and some things that I am not. I am struggling with this thing, but I’m finding this part really enjoyable.” That takes a lot of energy to say that, and it takes a lot of energy to hold opposing truths. We’ve talked about this in the past. It’s not the fastest, efficient way to live when you’re living in those types of ways.
So, what we often will do, particularly if we are having a lot of strong emotions, is we catastrophize. Now often a client will say some of these or many others. There’s many ways we can catastrophize, which is to make a catastrophe out of something. When they say it, I don’t say, “That’s wrong. You’re bad for thinking that.” I’ll just say, “I’m wondering what percent of that is correct. Like I almost died. Okay, I’m interested to know a little bit about that. Did you almost die?” And they’ll be like, “No.” I’m like, “Okay.” And I’m not there to, “I really want to model to you.”
I’m never across the screen or across the office with my patient, trying to tell them how wrong they are. Never. That’s never my goal. But I want them to start to acknowledge that the way in which they think and they frame an experience can create more problems. Now if they said to me, “Kimberley, I want to think this way. I like it. It makes me happy. It brings me joy. I’m fulfilled this way,” I have nothing to fix.
But often, once we reflect, and I often will then ask my patients, “So when you say ‘I totally freaked out.’ You had anxiety and you said, ‘I totally freaked out,’ how does that feel?” And often they’ll say, “Not good.” They’ll say, “It actually makes me feel more anxious.” Or if they had an intrusive thought, let’s say they had OCD and they had an intrusive thought and we can’t control intrusive thoughts, and then their response was, “I’m a horrible human being who doesn’t deserve to be a mom for having that thought,” I’ll say, “How does it feel to respond to your intrusive thought that way? How does that have you act?” And they’re like, “Well, it makes me feel terrible and not worthy. And then I don’t want to do anything, or then I just want to hide, or then I have so many emotions. I start freaking out even more. And now it’s a big snowball effect.”
So then we start to gently and curiosity-- sorry guys. Then we begin to gently and curiously take a look at what are the facts or what actually lands to be true and helpful. I want to be clear. We do not replace catastrophization with positive thinking. I would never encourage a client to replace “I am freaking out” with “I am feeling wonderful” because that’s not true. They’re actually experiencing discomfort. They are experiencing panic. They had an intrusive thought. They’re having an urge to pick or pull. They’re having an urge to binge. They’re having depression. They’re having self-harm thoughts.
So I’m not here to, again, change those particularly. But I really encourage them to look at how you frame that experience, how you respond to that experience. What would bring you closer to the goal that you have for yourself? Because usually, when people come to me, they’ll say, “I want to feel less anxious,” or “I want to do less compulsions,” or “I want to pick my skin less,” or “I want to binge less,” or “I want to love my life. I want to feel some self-esteem and worth. I want to take my depression away.”
So, we want to really look at catastrophization and look at the danger of continuing to use that pattern. Now, let me get you in on a little trick here. I titled this podcast “The Danger of Catastrophization” because the title in and of itself is a catastrophization. Did you pick that up? That’s a lot of what happens in social media, is they use catastrophic words to peak your interest. It sells a lot of things. In fact, some businesses sell on the principle of catastrophization. They tell you what catastrophe will happen if you don’t buy their product. They might say, “You’ll have wrinkles. Terrible, old wrinkles if you don’t buy our product.” And that may feel like a catastrophe because they’re trying to sell you their product. They may say, “If you don’t buy this special extra filter for your car, it could explode on the highway.” That’s a catastrophe. “Okay, I’ll buy it.”
So, even my naming of it, I want you to be aware of how it piques your interest, the catastrophes, and how it draws you in because nobody wants a catastrophe. But for some reason, we think in this way. So I made a little trick there. I tricked you into listening. I try not to use it as a tool, but I thought today it would be really relevant to bring it up and see whether you caught that catastrophization that I did to get you onto this episode. I’m a naughty girl, I know.
There it is. I want you to catch how you frame things and how you tell stories about things that you’ve been through or about the future and catch the catastrophization that you do. If you have a supportive partner or friend or somebody in your life, a loved one, and you trust them, you may even ask them to just give you a little wink every time they catch you using a catastrophization. Sometimes you don’t catch it until someone brings it to your attention. Because again, our brain works on habit. Our brain works on what it knows, and it doesn’t really like to change because that means you have to use more energy. But I promise you. I promise, promise, promise you, this is the energy you want to use. This little extra piece of energy is totally worth it, because think about it. If I said to you, “I had a panic attack, it was really uncomfortable. I rode it out. There were some moments where I felt really confident and some moments where I was struggling, but it did go away eventually,” ask yourself how that feels. And then I’m going to tell you a different version: “I was totally freaking out. I totally thought I was going to die. It was so bad. I really think it was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through in my whole entire life.” How does that feel? It feels terrible.
A lot of panic comes from people catastrophizing, using language that feels really dangerous. The danger of catastrophization – remember, it feels dangerous when we use catastrophization. So, just be aware of it. Catch it if you can. Okay?
All right. Before we finish up, I want to do the review of the week. This is by Dr. Peggy DeLong and she said, “Wonderful practices!” She gave it a five-star review and said, “I appreciate that you highlight these skills as practices. Coping with anxiety is not a one-and-done deal. Practicing these skills, even on good days, especially on good days, helps to promote long-term well-being. Thanks for providing this service!”
Thank you so much, Dr. Peggy DeLong. I am so grateful for your reviews. Please, go and leave a review if you have some time. I would be so grateful. It really helps me reach people who, let’s say, look at the podcast and think to themselves, would this be helpful to me? And if there’s lots of reviews, it helps build trust for them that they would then click, and then hopefully I can help them. Okay?
All right. Sending you all my love.
One quick thing to remember is if you go over to cbtschool.com, we actually have a full training on this, on correcting the way that you think. Again, the goal is not to change your intrusive thoughts, but the goal is to work on how you reframe things. So you can go there for that training.
All right. All my love to you guys. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to do hard things.