I learned a new word from a participant this week in my Mindful Extension class. “Awful-ize.” It means to imagine the worst possible outcome, or to make something out to be as bad as it could possibly be. Making a mountain out of a molehill. Since that sounded like something I sometimes do, I thought I should learn more about it.
The term awfulize was first coined by psychologist Albert Ellis, as he referred to distorted thinking in overly negative terms. Some call it catastrophizing. Something that should be just a minor setback is viewed as a major catastrophe. This line of thinking can spark a chain of self-fulfilling thoughts and actions… and if left unchallenged, the unthinkable may actually come to fruition.
Awfulizing can reduce your ability to solve problems. Awfulizing does not help the situation, and can even make it worse. It can affect your life, work, relationships and productivity. This way of thinking leads to self-pity and hopelessness. You may become paralyzed by the fear and dread of what is to come.
So how do you stop this cycle of awfulizing? The first step is to recognize and catch yourself on this negative path of thinking. You might try journaling your negative thought patterns so you can recognize them more quickly the next time they start. Observe the situation, your thoughts and reactions… you might start to see a pattern of situations or circumstances or people that trigger negative thinking. Then you start to form responses in your head to defuse your irrational negative spiral of thoughts. Before long, you can start to head off your own irrational thoughts before they take hold.
In her book Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, author Joan Borysenko relates how mindfulness can help overcome awfulizing. By being totally centered in the present moment, you can begin to recognize the negative thought patterns and form new patterns of positive thinking. The use of meditation, breathing and stretching can help you live in the present moment.
Helpguide.org offers these suggestions to help reduce worrying and anxiety:
Postpone your worry
– Only allow yourself to worry during a certain period of the day. If anxious thoughts come up, jot them down on a list to go over during your worry period. Then you’re not giving in to dwelling on those anxious thoughts throughout the day. When we plan to address worries instead of ignore them we can be more in control of the outcome.
Decide if your worry is solvable.
– If your problem is solvable, what action can you take to help bring about a solution?
– If your worry is not solvable, can you allow yourself to experience the emotions that your worry is trying to protect you from?
– Focusing on the worst case scenario won’t prevent it from happening. The key to relieving your anxiety is to challenge your intolerance for uncertainty.
Challenge your anxious thoughts.
– Every negative thought you have is not fact. You must retrain your brain into viewing worries as mere potential outcomes. As you weigh out options, you might gain a more balanced perspective.
Be aware of how others affect you
– Choose your confidants carefully.
– Spend less time with those who make you anxious.
Use mindfulness to lessen your anxiety
– Notice and identify your anxious thought patterns. Instead of ignoring or controlling them, just simply observe them, almost as if from an outsider’s perspective. Don’t attach any judgment or reaction.
– Then try to let the anxious thoughts drift away like clouds moving across the sky. When you don’t try to control them, you won’t be engaging in your worries and making them stick.
– Remain in the present moment. Notice how your body feels… breathing, emotions, thoughts… but don’t get caught up in those thoughts, bring your attention back to the present moment.
Peel back the doom and gloom and look at the reality beyond. See the situation for what it really is. Allow the present moment awareness to transform your thought patterns into the pleasant possibilities of what could be. What if you could turn your ‘awfulizing’ into ‘awesomizing’?