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How to Manage Worst-Case Scenario Thinking

Jan 18, 2023

Do you find that you spend a lot of time thinking about all the worst-case scenarios that could happen? Worst-case scenario thinking, or “catastrophizing”, is a thought distortion that negatively impacts many individuals and can involve only considering the worst possible outcomes, blowing things out of proportion, or dismissing any positive outcomes including the best-case scenario. When you spend a lot of time thinking about worst-case scenarios, you also experience the emotions that accompany your thoughts about only negative outcomes occurring. Common emotions associated with worst-case scenario thinking include anxiety, worry, stress, fear, distress, hopelessness, sadness, and anger. 

There is a difference between planning for challenges that are likely to occur, and thinking about things that are very unlikely to happen. When you are using the logical part of your brain and considering if there are any actions you can take to reduce the chance of something negative happening, that is likely to occur, that is useful. However, when you spend a lot of time thinking about unlikely outcomes to a situation because you are only using the emotional side of your brain, you induce unnecessary suffering. Often, your brain does not know the difference between what is really happening and what you are visualizing or imagining happening. When you continue to think about and visualize negative things happening, your brain starts to believe they are actually happening, and therefore you feel the same emotions you would experience if they were actually happening. Over time, this can become a thought pattern, or thought distortion, that you no longer question which, as mentioned above, results in unnecessary suffering. 

If you are reading this, you are likely questioning if this way of thinking is serving you and you want information about how to change it. 

 The good news is, even if you have been engaging in worst-case scenario thinking for a long time, you can change it, and it may not be as challenging as you think. If you find that you tend to focus on the worst possible outcomes, all the negative “what ifs”, and you catastrophize situations, try going through the process below. Being consistent and intentional with this process is what will change the wiring in your brain so that worst-case scenario thinking is no longer your default thinking pattern.


  • Notice when you are experiencing negative emotions and/or when you are assuming the worst-case scenario about a situation. Be as clear as possible about what you are thinking and how your thoughts are making you feel.


  • Engage in Box Breathing. Take 10, slow, deep breaths while counting to 4 on the inhale, holding for a count of 4, exhaling for a count of 4, and pausing for a count of 4. Don’t skip this step. It is important because when you are catastrophizing situations, you are operating out of the emotional part of your brain, not the logical part. When you take 10, slow, deep breaths, you slow down your nervous system and can better activate the logical part of your brain. 


  • Challenge your worst-case scenario thought or thoughts. Ask yourself the following questions.
    • What percent chance is there that this will happen the way I am telling myself it will happen?
    • If 100 other people looked at this situation, would they assume the same outcome I am thinking?
    • Are there any other possible outcomes to this situation?
    • Do I want to choose to continue to think of the worst possible outcome and feel the feelings associated with it, or is there a different way I want to think about this that results in me feeling better?


When you go through this process on a consistent basis, you will start to think more from the logical part of your brain, instead of the emotional part of your brain. When you do this, you will be able to see that there are other possibilities and you will have an opportunity to decide what you want to think about a particular situation instead of allowing your brain to control you.

Live your best boss lady life! 

~ Karen 

Karen Vincent Solutions 

If you are interested in more information about how to manage unhelpful thinking patterns, you can grab my free 5 Common Thought Distortions Guide HERE.  In this guide, I have worksheets that take you through a step-by- step process to help you change 5 negative thinking patterns (including catastrophizing) that are not serving you. 

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