Put Your Worries in Perspective With ‘The Catastrophe Scale’

Stop your disaster day from sending you into an anxiety spiral

Credit: Graiki/Getty Images

I’ve had some pretty crummy days. Off the top of my head, there was that time when I drove my car into a wall after having owned it for only a week. And that time when I made a glaring mistake in an important email and jeopardized a huge work project. Oh, and I can’t forget when three police officers banged on my front door and accused me of ordering drugs off the internet but ended up having the wrong person (what the heck?).

Each of these experiences sent me into a spiral of frustration and anxiety that I struggled to pull myself out of. That’s the thing about negative events: They cause our brains to rush into catastrophic thinking. We blow the situations out of proportion and find ourselves stuck in persistent worry.

But through studying cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve learned a simple way to nip the catastrophizing process in the bud: Create your own “catastrophe scale.”

Here’s how it works: Come up with a scale that spans from zero to 100 — zero is the most relaxing experience you can think of, and 100 is the greatest trauma you can imagine. My scale might range from “watching cricket with my dad” (zero) to “losing my dad, job, and house in one swoop” (100).

When we begin to think this way, our day-to-day “catastrophes” start to seem pretty low on the scale. I might rate mine like this:

Putting a big dent in the bumper of the car I just got? It was an old car, anyway, and I was fortunate to be able to afford the fix. Probably a seven.

Sending that mistake in the email? Maybe an eight.

The police giving me a stern knock? We eventually got it sorted out. I’d say that’s a 6/100.

By putting a number on the thing that’s causing you stress, your brain can instantly see that it’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things. Most things aren’t, anyway. Now you can stop overthinking and finally relax again.

The disasters in our lives are almost always molehills and not mountains. Sometimes, it just takes this one little nudge to understand that.

Breakthrough therapy advocate/mental health progressive. Psychology fanatic. Actor/screenwriter. Forge, Better Humans, PS I Love You, The Ascent, Mind Cafe

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