“Not enough hours in the day.” That's a lament of most educators — and most moms and caregivers. As a result, caregivers who are also educators are especially familiar with this struggle. It’s one I can relate to, as a former school psychologist and current mother of two, with another on the way. The truth is, it’s common to feel as though there's not enough of you to go around.
As an OTR (registered occupational therapist) and Director of Portfolio Management and Delivery at Pearson Clinical Assessment, I have extensive experience working with students who have been diagnosed with a variety of conditions. And, as a mom of an autistic daughter, I understand on a personal level how challenging it can be to get the diagnosis that’s needed — and why it’s imperative that schools join caregivers in their quest for answers.
As schools grapple with the after-effects of the pandemic, they’re focused on potential learning gaps, especially among certain demographics. It’s an issue they’re eager to address, and one that has captured our focus at Pearson. As a licensed special educator, learning disabilities specialist, researcher and published author, I have extensive experience teaching students but also conducting assessments, and my team at Pearson is seeing the effects of learning loss up close.
Do you ever find yourself jumping to the worst possible conclusions in everyday situations? When you’re facing an upsetting scenario, do you find yourself preparing for negative outcomes as if they’ll inevitably come true? If so, you’re “catastrophizing” — and you’re not alone. Catastrophizing is a distorted way of thinking that causes people to assume the most destructive outcomes, typically without much justification, sending them spiraling into a loop of fearful thoughts. It’s a behavior that can be easy to fall into and hard to overcome.
Clinical Licensed Psychologist, Patrick Moran, PhD explains, “Catastrophizing takes an often-minor true experience and projects the probability of it being a reality in the future without sufficient and reliable evidence, usually in larger proportions than the original experience. It’s often comprised of ‘Fortune Teller Error,’ and ‘Mind Reading’ where people believe in their accuracy in predicting future outcomes and/or what others are thinking. It can make people very anxious when catastrophic thinking habits are not balanced by contradictory facts, or if the facts are dismissed or minimized.”
The mind-body connection of catastrophizing
Beyond the effects on your mental health, this kind of fearful thinking can trigger strong physical reactions in your body. The amygdala, located in the center of the brain, is activated by fear and alerts the nervous system. This causes a release of adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, which can trigger your “fight or flight” instinct. This instinct results in elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration as well as increased blood flow to your limbs to help you “fight” or “run for your life”.
While this “fight or flight” response is meant to prepare us for danger, the increased adrenaline affects our cerebral cortex, the area of the brain that controls judgment and reasoning, cognitive functioning, and ability to think clearly — ultimately coloring our decision making.
How can I stop catastrophizing?
If this is a common experience for you, you may want to try cognitive reframing, a psychological method that involves identifying and changing the way you view experiences, events, or emotions in order to stop yourself from “making a mountain out of a molehill”. The technique allows you to shift your mindset so you're able to look at a situation, person, or relationship from a slightly different perspective and replace your negative thoughts.
For example, if you find yourself catastrophizing frequently at work, consider some of the situations that may trigger those thoughts. Is it conversations with specific people or working on specific projects? If you identify those potential triggers, you can practice reframing your thinking in advance of the situation to help avoid fearful thoughts. Before facing the triggers you’ve identified, envision positive scenarios and ideal outcomes. Expect the best instead of preparing yourself for negative results or failure. Be specific and walk yourself through an ideal experience. Include details like positive conversations and outcomes. Envisioning these scenarios with a positive mindset can help you avoid fearful thinking and the effects that come with it.
What strategies or tips do you find helpful to promote positive thinking?
Mental health concerns are not a new topic by any stretch of the imagination, but what is new is the validation and support that has been desperately needed by so many... for so long. Throughout history, people with mental illness have been ostracized, lobotomized, institutionalized, and demonized, but as our understanding of many of these common conditions has grown, so has our capacity for compassion and treatment.
If recent events have taught us anything, it’s that we are all facing private battles, often waged internally. In the United States, an estimated 15% of kids and 20% of adults are living with a mental health condition at any one time. While many feel comfortable talking about mental health, others are still lacking support to find the resources they need.
Culturally, there is still a wide range of thinking when it comes to conditions such as depression and anxiety. While some communities still prefer to encourage their members to internalize their struggles or share them only with leaders, many others have adopted a broader mindset on mental health resources by setting up support groups and treatment centers and speaking openly on topics that were once considered “sensitive”. This mindset shift has led to a more global normalization of mental health concerns — and not a minute too soon.
Here are a few ways you can reduce stigma and bring more awareness to mental health concerns in your community.
Speak openly about mental health. Stigma is rooted in ignorance, so educating yourself and those around you helps counteract lingering negativity. If you feel comfortable speaking about your own mental health with a trusted person in your life, it may help that person feel safe to do the same.
Utilize local support groups. Open dialogue often leads to discovery, so having available resources at the ready could be a game-changer for the next person you talk to!
Share relevant articles. Social media’s influence stretches way past the bounds of what we’re eating for dinner, so if you find an article with a positive spin on mental health, share, share, share!
Reach out to the experts. If you're looking for someone to talk to about your mental health, we’ve gathered some additional mental health resources to help you find support and information.
You may be feeling the added pressure at work these days, and most days it probably feels like everyone wants some of your time. Here are a few easy tips for maintaining your positive attitude and protecting your headspace in your professional life. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup!
Set manageable boundaries. Blocking your calendar for lunch or focus time and not responding to emails after hours are great ways to protect your “downtime”. Last-minute meetings, impossible deadlines, and covering staffing shortages are all common occurrences in today’s world but reducing as many of them as you can and setting clear boundaries for your valuable time can help give you some sense of control over your day.
Take regular “brain breaks”. While our smartphones are often dubbed “tools of mass distraction”, they can be an invaluable means of temporary escape. Taking short, regular breaks can help reset your brain, increasing your overall productivity. Download a few quick games that interest you or keep a light read loaded on an e-reader app and allow yourself a few minutes to decompress when the opportunity strikes.
Tackle one thing at a time. If your to-do list should be relabeled as a “must-do-NOW" list, remember that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Prioritizing your tasks, writing them down, and crossing them off in order of importance can give you some sense of control over your day and keep you focused.
Help your neighbor. While this advice may seem counterintuitive to #1, taking some time to voluntarily help a coworker — instead of being “voluntold” to do so — feels good! If you see someone struggling under the weight of their obligations, ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. Even if you simply shine a little light on a task that seems overwhelming to them, the resulting sense of community will brighten the day for both of you!
Keep your visual spaces clear. Much like the chair full of clean laundry mocking us from the corner of our bedroom, we’ve all got “that pile” of paperwork on our desk that’s begging to be dealt with. Just looking at it probably makes you stressed! Schedule 15 to 30 minutes every day to tackle that pesky pile, and (if possible) keep it out of sight.
If you find these tips to be helpful, check out our previous Five tips for improving your mental health post!