How To Decatastrophize
Many clients who struggled with illness anxiety, stress, and obsessive thinking pre-pandemic are currently facing even more increased levels of stress regarding their health. This is especially difficult because many treatments and techniques to reduce anxiety can include getting outdoors to exercise and engage socially with others. If you're wondering whether you or someone you know has developed health anxiety about the pandemic, a good way to tell is if their anxiety has affected their daily functioning in work, social, or relationship areas. For example, do you find it extremely time-consuming and difficult to leave your home? If this sounds like you, you may be engaging in a cognitive distortion called catastrophizing.
Thinking of the worst case scenario may seem like it is trying to protect you from illness and threat, but instead it inhibits you from carrying on with your daily functioning. Decatastrophizing is a cognitive technique used to combat this type of thinking. To decatastrophize, first think of what you are actually worried about and how likely that worry will come true. Think of evidence (objective facts) or past experiences to figure out the likelihood of this worry actually coming true. The next part may sound scary but it can actually help to reduce anxiety about the worry. Think of the worry coming true and what is the worst that can happen. Now that you've got the absolute worst case scenario in your mind, reframe your thinking to what is the most likely thing to happen if the worry comes true and how you will cope with this reality. Many times anxiety will reduce once you think through how you will cope and manage if the worry comes true.
Decatastrophizing can be a difficult technique to implement and practice on your own. Professional mental health providers can work through this type of anxiety with you by helping you reframe your thinking and returning you to your pre-pandemic self. One of the most essential things to remember is that you are not the only one experiencing health anxiety because of the pandemic. There is help available.