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Catastrophic Thoughts: Its time to Put Them on Trial

Updated: Jan 23

-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

June 9, 2022

Catastrophizing. We are all guilty of it.

Should we be sentenced to years of anguish for believing in the worst case scenario due to fear or depression? Or might it be possible to take the time to ensure we are being fair and balanced?

"Putting your thoughts on trial" provides an excellent analogy for cognitive distortions--biased or irrational thoughts that can feel like they have a mind of their own. You can save hours and sometimes days of anguish by ensuring yourself you are thinking through things in a more accurate, helpful way.

So let's do our due diligence and prepare for the next "case".

First, who is the "victim"?

Well...You are.

When we have thoughts that take us from "zero to 60", we are typically thinking catastrophically. This immediately causes much anxiety (heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, we sweat...and much more). We may think we are helping ourselves when we think worst case scenario, and becoming a victim of our own mind. Someone in this space may say to themselves, its best to be prepared.

But the fact is our level of our anxiety spirals to match the level of catastrophic fear in those moments, even when the situation in front of us is not the worst case. When this happens, the reactions our body and our mind have are disproportionate to the situation at hand. Someone may say we "over-react" or are "too worried" and yet to those of us who are worriers, we think we are just logically solving the problem.

Herein describes the crime: catastrophic thinking. We collect information through our experiences in life which provide us with evidence that we use to tell ourselves why we need to prepare for a worst case scenario. However, the perceived "evidence" of catastrophic thinking is often taken out of context, causing our anxiety and worry level to sky rocket.

Why is this "evidence" taken out of context?

Allow me to introduce to you the "prosecuting attorney". This prosecuting attorney inside of us gathers the evidence learned out of context, and presents before the "judge or jury" (also played by you). The prosecution may cause to to think: Remember that time when this horrible thing happened, oh, yeah, and all of those things that happened to all of those other people? This worst case scenario is likely to happen to me. Nothing in your life goes well, anyway. Sometimes this prosecuting attorney uses smoke and mirrors to make his or her point.

Ensure the trial is fair and balanced

So let's balance out this testimony by bringing in the "defense attorney". Doing so will take your full attention and intention, but here lies the key to a fair trial. Ask yourself what evidence do you have that a catastrophic (or worst case scenario) situation is happening right now or about to happen? Remind yourself: Just because these things happened to me before or that they've happened to others, doesn't mean it will happen to me at this time.

Though it may seem right now some things in life aren't going well, it doesn't mean that nothing is going well or that things will always be this difficult. Be sure to bring in the evidence from both sides so there is no "mistrial". The evidence should be fair and balanced so you are not sentenced to hours of misery, and intense emotions. Be the "judge or jury" in your own mind, assessing both sides of the case to ensure a fair trial.

This analogy has helped a lot of people with anxiety and depression, and it certainly can help set you free from the imprisonment of catastrophic thinking.


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting



Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (2017). Cognitive disputation: Putting your thoughts on

trial. Think CBT retrieved from


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