I read a fascinating interview with the very talented actress Emma Stone. Who would have thought that the star of the Oscar-winning film La La Land would be a catastrophiser? When you catastrophise you imagine things going wrong or that merely bad situations are totally disastrous.
Growing up, Stone was prone to debilitating panic attacks. When she was just seven years old she was convinced that their house was burning down. She felt a tightening in her chest, like she couldn’t breathe and that the world was going to end. She would have serious flare-ups like this on occasion, but her anxiety was constant.
Her parents took her to see a therapist which she says really helped. Emma wrote a book called ‘I Am Bigger Than My Anxiety’, and she drew a little green monster on her shoulder. This little green monster is responsible for telling her all these things that are not true. If she listens to the little green monster, it grows bigger and eventually crushes her. If she acknowledges it but doesn’t give it the credit it wants, then it shrinks down and fades away.
Catastrophising is something I am familiar with but certainly not to the extent that Stone explained in this interview I read. It doesn’t happen very often to me but sometimes my mind starts wondering and I start to imagine the worst case scenario. It first starting happening when I moved away from home to attend university. Whether it was a combination of being so far from home, and feeling powerless if anything were to happen to my family, or studying Psychology, who knows? I think it is tied in with feeling guilty if things are going particularly well in my life. But I am able to keep it in check thankfully.
Interestingly this subject came up in Session 4 of my life coaching with Deborah Chalk.
I mentioned to Deborah that sometimes I can feel guilty when things are going well in my life. Particularly when there is so much suffering in the world. When I am driving along on the school run for example, feeling happy singing along with my two boys, suddenly my brain starts going into overdrive. My thoughts run away with me and I start catastrophising, suddenly thinking the worst.
Deborah advised that this is really common and is down to the part of our brain she called the lizard, which is trying to keep me safe and vigilant. The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic amygdala near the brain stem that is responsible for fear, rage, hunger and arousal. As the lizard isn’t going anywhere, our job is to work out how to quieten it.
Deborah told us that she has named her lizard and when it rears its ugly head, she says “Thank you for your help, but I don’t need you right now”. I am going to try this tactic and I am going to name my lizard. Any suggestions?
Another way to overcome the catastrophising is to rationally use evidence available to you that dismisses the negative thoughts.
Emma Stone discovered that one of the ways to shrink her little green monster was to perform, which has led to her extremely successful acting career. She started doing improvisation and sketch comedy. Needing to be totally present in her improvisations, it was the remedy to her anxiety.
Does this resonate with you? Are you prone to catastrophising? Please share your experiences below.