If coronavirus is teaching us anything, it’s that catastrophizing can, at best, be unhelpful.
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought many of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. It can take two different forms: making a catastrophe out of a current situation, and imagining making a catastrophe out of a future situation.
If you’re a perfectionist and have anxiety about the quality of your PhD, you may recognize your own tendency to catastrophize particular outcomes and to over-react to things that happen in your day-to-day PhD journey. Things go wrong – that’s just the nature of a PhD and being a human – but catastrophizing can make them seem far worse than they actually are.
Both types of catastrophizing limit the opportunities in your PhD. They can affect our entire outlook, and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, disappointment, and underachievement.
But if you catch yourself catastrophizing, there are a few things you can do:
1. Accept yourself (and your successes and failures): acknowledge that no-one is perfect and that things will go wrong from time to time, but that doesn’t mean your entire future is in jeopardy. Become more comfortable in your imperfections and fallibility by accepting that you will fail at things and the world will conspire against you from time to time.
2. Take control: spend a few minutes every day writing down everything you’re catastrophizing over. Ask yourself what the likelihood is of each of these things happening, and then ask yourself how serious it would be if they did. This exercise will help you realize that many of the things you are worrying about are unlikely to happen and, even if they did, they wouldn’t be as serious as you think.
3. Use the “best friend test”: Ask yourself what you would advise your best friend to do about each concern, and take that action.
4. Learn to self-sooth: be kind to yourself!