Ways to Prevent Yourself From Catastrophic Thinking

Mental Wellness

Catastrophic thinking, in its simplest form, is when an individual assumes the worst will come true. It is when a person sees an unfavorable outcome of an event and then decides if it does happen, the result will be a disaster.

Catastrophic thinking is taking a setback to the worst possible outcome. The adage about when you play country song backward, you get your job back, your pick-up back, and your lady back is the reverse of catastrophic thinking!

Negative or catastrophic thinking plays a very important part in the athletic arena. Therefore, many examples from this world will be cited.

What is Catastrophic Thinking?

According to Psychology Today, catastrophic thinking can be described as ruminating about irrational, worst-case outcomes.[1] Two common ways of describing catastrophic thinking are “making a mountain out of a molehill” and “blowing things out of proportion.”

An example would be your boss making a derogatory comment about your work. You then take that comment to the conclusion that he is going to fire you and you’ll never find another job, ending up homeless.

A second example would be if you fail this exam, you will fail the course. If you fail this course, you will never graduate. If you fail to graduate, you will never get a job and you will have wasted a great deal of time and money on college.

These are not true, and it’s about shifting your perspectives about the situation. Here are five tips on how to stop catastrophic thinking.

How to Stop Catastrophic Thinking

1. Lou Holtz’s Philosophy

When Lou Holtz was coaching football at the University of Notre Dame, he would tell his players,

“Things are never as bad as they seem nor as good as they seem. They are somewhere in the middle.”

This is especially true in the athletic world.[2] If you can accept this Lou Holtz philosophy, you will never get too down during the tough times nor too high during the good times. You will not fall into catastrophic thinking after losses or setbacks.

2. Access Your Thoughts

When you find yourself falling into negative thinking about a situation, locate a quiet place and journal. Once you put your catastrophic thinking onto paper and see the thoughts, you can analyze them more clearly.

Don’t wait. Write them down, judge how realistic they are, and counter them with a more pragmatic approach.

3. Perspectives and Positive Affirmations

When negative thinking arises in a situation, put it into perspective. Tell yourself to “stop,”then examine the problem from all perspectives – positive, negative, and neutral. Realize that thoughts are simply thoughts. They are not happening now. We are projecting a disaster, but often that projection never comes to fruition.

Instead of spiraling into negativity, sit down and analyze the issue from all perspectives. If there is to be a disaster, how bad will it be? Can we recover from it? Will it destroy our company and our team, or is it a bump in the road that we can deal with?

Positive affirmations, along with breathing exercises, can turn negatives into positives. [3] A study was done at Harvard that concluded that breathing in through the nose for a count of three, followed by breathing out through the mouth for a count of at least six, relaxed the body. Once the body is relaxed, you can feed your mind with positive affirmations.

When some basketball players go to the free throw line, they tell themselves they are not good free throw shooters. When they say that enough times, they come to believe it.

Other players step to the line and give themselves a positive affirmation. Prior to shooting the ball, they say, “swish,” or “they fouled the wrong guy,” thereby increasing their confidence.

4. Attitude of Gratitude

When catastrophic thinking enters your mind you become a catastrophic thinker. Counter it with all you have been given. [4]

There was a teacher in our local school district who especially exhibited an attitude of gratitude. His name was Jack Hermanski.

He was a special education teacher, serving eight different schools in adaptive physical education. He could have strictly just been a physical education teacher in the district, which was not a demanding job. However, he chose his special kids, even though they bit him, threw up on him, and defecated on him. He loved them and gave his all to them because they were “his” kids.

He entered one of his schools on a Friday, and a boy in a wheelchair greeted him by saying he was glad it was Friday. Jack responded by asking him if he had big plans for the weekend. The boy said, “no, you come to our school on Fridays.”

What Makes Us Happy

Jack was the happiest when he had a boy in one of his classes who was deathly afraid of water, to the point where he could not put his hand in a bucket of water. It took Jack three years of working with him and finally the day came when the boy lost his fear of water and jumped off the high dive! Jack was elated for the boy.

What made Jack’s work even more extraordinary was that he accomplished so much for his kids, while he was struggling with multiple Sclerosis for over twenty-five years. But you never heard him complain about it.

He just served all the people he worked with and often talked about how so many people had it worse than him. He was grateful for all that he did have and never lost sight of the blessings he had.

Given his multiple sclerosis had placed limitations on him, he easily could have fallen into catastrophic thinking, but he never lost his attitude of gratitude!

5. Exercise and Fatigue

Exercise and fatigue are at two ends of the totem pole. Exercise enhances positive thinking, whereas fatigue can lead to catastrophic thinking. Catastrophic thinking can cause anxiety and can lead to physical and emotional fatigue.

When we exercise, we secrete serotonin which leads to positive feelings. Any exercises like walking, yoga, or pilates put us in a good state of mind to make sound decisions. However, fatigue can easily lead to catastrophic thinking. So, we must practice self-care.

Fatigue must be monitored closely in the athletic arena. In the early part of a basketball season, you must take the time to inculcate all your teaching of the fundamentals and your game strategies into your players.

This can and does make for longer practices. However, as the season progresses, your biggest opponent is fatigue, and you must shorten your practice times to keep your players fresh for games.

One coach feared fatigue so much that he never practiced the night before a game. His rationale was that when you gave your players a night off, they came back to the gym refreshed for the next practice. So, why not have them come to games refreshed and ready to play?

Most coaches would not have the courage to give their players the night before a game. Instead, they would want to finalize and work on the most important points of the game plan.


It is never easy to keep all together and keep fighting. Whether it’s your job, career, relationship, health, or freedom, anything can wear us down if we don’t know how to handle it.

Oftentimes, we end up taking a fall and accepting that it is the end. However, it is only the end if we choose it to be. There are ways we can combat our catastrophic thinking, and using any or all of these five concepts will help you avoid falling into catastrophic thinking.

Realizing that you can turn this around is a great way to start battling negative thoughts. After all, they are our thoughts. We should control them and guide our minds toward what we want to achieve.

If you think negatively, you can only expect that you are paving the way toward failure. But if you think differently, believe in yourself, and practice the art of thinking positively, there’s a chance that you can experience a better outcome.

If all else fails, it would be easier for you to stand up. You’ve done it before, you’ll surely do it again.


[1]^Psychology Today: Catastrophic Thinking
[2]^Forbes: Lou Holtz Knows How He Would Coach Millennials
[3]^Oprah Daily: 40 Positive Affirmations to Add to Your Daily Rotation
[4]^Lucemi Consulting: 5 Ways to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude