Changing Catastrophic Thinking

As a young person, I was caught up in what I called “morbid thoughts”. Whenever anything went a bit awry, I would begin the litany of all the worst potential outcomes in my head. I instantly ruminated on all the most destructive and unpleasant possibilities. I would gear myself up to withstand the bad, the ugly, and the hurtful.


My body would, of course, reflect this type of thinking. My breath became shallower, my muscles tensed and I would want to hide like a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Self imposed mental unhappiness would result in actual physical discomfort.


This way of thinking became a pattern which was hard to switch off. The dendrite highway became deeply grooved in my head. It was the path of least resistance for my thoughts. Is it any wonder that some of these negative thoughts became my reality?


Eventually through continuous disciplined practice, I began to shift the thought highway I traveled on. I discovered that if each morning upon awakening I imagined the best possible outcomes for all the planned events of the day, I could avoid some of the morbid thoughts. If I added some exercise outside, the combination of movement, fresh air, and the observation of the natural world around me also helped fight the habit of creating negative thoughts. Additionally, I repeated a phrase that I changed periodically but which essentially boiled down to reaffirming my self-worth. Finally, I began to weed out those people I knew who were negative themselves or made me feel unworthy.


Throughout this process, I focused on how my body felt whenever the catastrophic thinking began. Concentrating on my body and consciously letting go of physical stress helped change the mental images that floated in my head. When my body relaxed, so did my thoughts. Instead of careening into negativity, I tried to remember to take a deep breath and wait a beat before going off on the downward spiral. More and more occasions occurred when I was able to stop myself from going down the well worn dendrite path and then shift to a less well traversed lane that would lead to more realistic observations.


When the film, What the Bleep Do We Know?, came out in 2004 I eagerly watched it several times (trailer link: ). It represented in graphic and scientific terms what I had experienced in my personal life. It gave me a picture of what the dendrite highway looks like.  It reconfirmed my belief in the connection of mind and body; thoughts and reality.


Sometimes, especially in the dead of winter when the snow seems to be never-ending and cabin fever abounds, I pay a return visit to catastrophic thinking. Fortunately, I recognize its pattern more quickly than I did when I was younger. That particular dendrite roadway does still exist. However, through disuse, it is now more like a fading trail that can barely be seen through the grass that has grown up.


© 2011 by Sheila Peters. All rights reserved.