Dealing with the Worst Case Scenario

One of the most common thinking traps we fall into is catastrophic thinking, or assuming the worst-case scenario. Automatically thinking about the worst-case scenario can lead to feeling like you’re protecting yourself from getting hurt in the future, or imagining the worst-case occurrence so you can reflect and brainstorm a survival plan — no matter what.

This worksheet comes from Mental Health America’s Mental Health Month 2021 Toolkit

Below is a sample version of the activity from the worksheet. Try it out.

A sample exercise for Dealing with the Worst Case Scenario

Oftentimes, a common problem that arises with assuming the worst-case scenario is that these thoughts control you, instead of you controlling them. This causes circular thinking that can weigh you down or pull you into a rut, further affecting your mental health, ability to complete responsibilities, and more.

Examples of Worst-Case Scenario Thoughts:

  1. If _______ happens, someone will die.
  2. I will never get better.
  3. I’m a failure, and no one will love me.
  4. I will never be happy.
  5. I can never be fixed.

Here are some steps you can take on the path to healthier thought patterns:

  1. Write down any and all worst-case scenario thoughts you find yourself having, whether they are truly worst-case scenarios or not.
  2. Look at the thoughts from Step 1. Pick 3 that stand out that you want to address, and write those down too.
  3. Question each thought by asking yourself: “Are you sure the thought is true or will happen?” | “Is there any evidence it is true or not true?” | “Is the thought more rooted in your feelings or reality?” | “If it is reality, are you able to cope with it? Have you coped with it before?”
  4. Looking at the thoughts above, reframe your negative thoughts by brainstorming what you need to tell yourself in order to feel better.
  5. Write down these reframed thoughts and put them in a place where you are most likely to struggle with worst-case scenarios. Examples include by your bed, in the bathroom, in your car, on your phone, or in a journal.

Problems will come up when you have worst-case scenario thoughts. If unchecked, these thoughts can end up controlling you, instead of you controlling them.

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