Stop Catastrophizing the Future

Woman closing face with palms isolated on gray backgroundBy Cindy Campbell

Even if you were never a Boy Scout, you’re probably still familiar with their “Be Prepared” motto. Scout or not, it’s good advice. I spent the majority of my professional career planning and preparing for emergency situations: disaster planning and preparation, participation in large-scale disaster drills, and generally being on the ready in anticipation of anything catastrophic. It’s important stuff and no doubt most of us can relate to this kind of anticipation mindset. With that said, this next statement may sound like counterintuitive advice: Chill out. Stop catastrophizing the future.

Many of us have spent way too much time this last year dwelling on all of the devastating impacts we’ve seen, heard about, or even personally experienced—concerns over health, business and employment challenges, anxiety regarding housing and long-term separation from our loved ones. When we’re in the middle of these dark, troublesome thoughts, our minds can easily whisk us away to the ominous land of “what if.” What if I become ill? What if my job goes away? What if I lose my housing? What if I never travel again? All valid concerns, but if we remain in that doomsday mindset for too long, it becomes damaging to our psyche.

If find yourself catastrophizing, take a moment. Take a deep breath and push the proverbial pause button. Look around: Can you identify something positive that has happened in your world in the last 12 months? Can you find a situation, relationship, or even process that has improved? Now that you’re thinking about it, how many good thing things can you come up with? Jot them down. Keep a list of the positives and review it whenever you need to reset your frame of mind.

Obviously, we must still anticipate and plan for the what-ifs in life. This is simply a reminder to make it a priority to routinely recognize what is happening in front of us—right now—that’s good.

Cindy Campbell is IPMI’s senior training and development specialist.