“Catastrophizing Is Second Nature for My ADHD Brain.”
“Catastrophizing is an insidious process; a hijacking of the mind’s eye that causes it to see only oblivion as it peers into an unknowable future. What’s worse, awareness of catastrophizing isn’t enough to get rid of it. Luckily, I can call on a few effective suppression techniques to temper the worst of catastrophization when it does creep up.”
Pitching story ideas to editors is a nerve-wracking task that I have, for the most part, mastered as a freelance writer. Cold pitching is practically second nature to me at this point. But there are occasions when I think a pitch is terrible.
So terrible, in fact, my mind conjures a scenario where the editor has called all their coworkers into the office to laugh at the electronic vomit splashed into their inbox. “OMG, guys, what is this?!” I imagine the editor says to their colleagues, who unanimously agree that my pitch is awful.
To raucous laughter and applause, the editor vows to call up all their editor mates. “I’m going to get this guy blacklisted,” they say, the office now resembling a party. “He’ll rue the day he dared to send me such half-cooked nonsense!”
Oh, dear. Should I email the editor to profusely apologize for the terrible pitch and take it back? I don’t want to get blacklisted! Is that even possible? How would I know? If I send pitches to other places and don’t get a response, does that confirm that I’ve been blacklisted? Is there an ombudsman or someone I can contact about this sort of thing?
This is my brain leaping to conclusions. This is the Worst-Case Scenario™. This is catastrophizing.
The truth is, until the editor responds — either positively or negatively — a pitch exists in superposition: neither good nor bad. Basically, it’s Schrödinger’s Submission.
In many cases (and as freelance writers know), pitches do go unanswered. This vacuum of knowledge often pushes my panicky brain to fill the void with horrible, catastrophic scenarios.
ADHD Catastrophizing: Why Do I Assume the Worst?
To my mind, this destructive and paralyzing thought process is the unholy union of a fertile imagination and emotional dysregulation — joined by ADHD.
I may have embellished the worst-case scenario story above, but if you have ADHD, you probably catastrophize, too. You know how easily your brain conjures terrible results, many of which have only a loose relationship with reason and logic.
Catastrophizing is an insidious process; a hijacking of the mind’s eye that causes it to see only oblivion as it peers into an unknowable future. What’s worse, awareness of catastrophizing isn’t enough to get rid of it.
Luckily, I can call on a few effective suppression techniques to temper the worst of catastrophization when it does creep up.
How to Stop Catastrophizing with ADHD
1. Look to History
I’m not talking about the War of the Roses or the Dreyfus affair; I’m talking about your personal history. Think back to times when your ADHD brain rushed to terrible conclusions. How often did that innocuous event actually end up in catastrophe? By and large, you’ll discover the catastrophizing brain isn’t a clairvoyant brain.
Even when things do go badly, it isn’t certain they’ll end badly. For example, maybe you lost a job (or even got fired) but are now much happier in your new place of work. Perhaps you broke up with a long-term partner and convinced yourself that you’d never recover. Did that event —which your brain could see no way past at the time — pave the way for you to meet your current partner? Whatever the case may be, the point is that even when bad things happen, they often serve to open better branches of life. Keep this in mind to help you stop the snowball of preoccupation before it gathers mass and pace.
2. Ape the Stoics
Epictetus packed this idea of letting life unfold as it may into a neat two-word phrase: Amor fati. (That’s “love of fate” for you Latin speakers.) The Stoic philosopher urged us to calmly accept what happens because all external events are out of our control.
I’m not sure how familiar Epictetus was with ADHD, but amor fati is easier said than done for those of us with the condition. Still, it’s a philosophy worth pursuing. Life is chaotic enough without us inventing more problems for ourselves.
3. Get Moving
When catastrophic thinking commandeers your brain, it can be hard to get on with anything else. But exercise is a time-tested countermeasure to help improve your mood and mitigate the effects of wayward thoughts and horrid hypotheticals.
For some people, a long walk in nature helps them replace a gloomy disposition with a hopeful outlook, or even a more objective one. For others, putting their muscles under tension at the gym can do the trick.
Give yourself permission to try these tips if you’re catastrophizing. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
Catastrophizing with ADHD: Next Steps
- Read: 9 Calming Strategies for a Racing, Restless Mind
- Read: How to Stop Overthinking Things
- Read: “What My Worst Days with ADHD Feel Like”
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