Transform Catastrophic Thinking Into Purposeful Action During Times of Crisis

Military male with arm around female

Current as of Oct. 5, 2021

Do you find yourself worrying about the health of your loved ones? Anxious about the loss of a family member’s income? Wondering what your PCS will look like? Concerned about finding child care with school canceled?

With so much uncertainty and seemingly everything on the line because of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, it is not uncommon to have catastrophizing thoughts.

The Army Resilience Directorate offers the following information to help you turn catastrophic thinking into purposeful action.

What is catastrophic thinking?

Catastrophic thinking happens when thoughts lead to:

  • Worst-case scenarios
  • High levels of anxiety
  • “What-ifs” that may not be realistic

For example, you worry about the gym being closed and instead of finding another way to prepare for your physical fitness test, you come to the conclusion that you’ll fail the test and your military career will suffer.

Why it’s important to stop catastrophizing

You are less likely to find solutions when you’re dwelling on the worst that can happen. That’s because:

  • Anxiety creates a strong fight-or-flight response. The release of the stress hormone cortisol may limit your ability to think critically and creatively.
  • You waste critical energy by planning for a worst-case scenario that isn’t likely to happen.
  • You focus on areas that are out of your control.

Talk to a Licensed Counselor.

Schedule confidential, personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

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How can I stop catastrophizing?

Turn to strategies that help you think in a more productive way. Barbara Fredrickson’s research-based broaden and build theory can help your mind and body shift from the fight-or-flight response to a problem-solving mode. The theory states that positive emotions help to calm us so we can think more clearly and creatively.

There are 3 steps to the theory:

Step 1:

Notice when catastrophic thoughts have hijacked your attention or are causing worry, stress or anxiety.

Step 2:

Recognize that you’re not your best when under stress. Have a plan to shift to a more positive emotion. You might call a loved one, watch funny videos or practice deep breathing. Even telling yourself your thoughts are unrealistic can ease your stress and give you hope.

Step 3:

Address the problem once you’re thinking clearly. Focus on the areas where you have control. You may surprise yourself with a novel, creative solution. Using positive emotions to accurately assess the facts and tap into your creativity can help you make good decisions and solve problems, now and in the future.

If you need immediate help or are experiencing a crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and Press 1.

Stay up to date on all the latest information on COVID-19. For updates for the military community regarding the virus that causes COVID-19, view the following sites:

With so much uncertainty and seemingly everything on the line because of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, it is not uncommon to have catastrophizing thoughts.

The Importance of Practicing Self-Care During Times of Stress

Woman reading book at home

Current as of Oct. 6, 2021

You’re used to giving it your all. It’s what providers, service members and military families do. But prolonged crises like the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic can take a toll on your well-being. When stress is high with little relief in sight, taking care of yourself is key so you’ll be there for your loved ones and those you serve.

The importance of self-care

It’s hard to break away – even temporarily – when people depend on you. But it’s unrealistic to be on the go 24/7 when stress is already high. Neglecting yourself puts you at risk for burnout, compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress.

Think of your response to an ongoing crisis like COVID-19 as a marathon, not a sprint. The only way to get through it is to pace yourself so you can see to your own needs as well as those of others.

Three steps to self-care

Safeguarding your mental health and well-being is just as important as using the right tools for the job. You can’t function well without them. Practice self-care with these three steps:

  1. Recognize the signs of burnout: anxiety, irritability, disengagement, low mood and exhaustion.
  2. Take a break: Even 10 minutes to yourself can help you recharge. Use the time to do something that lifts your spirits. Take a brisk walk, practice deep breathing, check out the free digital health tools below. If you tend to lose track of time when you’re busy, set a reminder on your phone or wearable device.
  3. Help create a positive environment. We’re all in this together, both at work and at home. It’s important to lift each other up. Let your coworkers and family know you appreciate them. Be generous with praise, notice their accomplishments, be helpful and kind.

Resilience tools

The Defense Health Agency recommends a number of digital self-care apps found on the Military OneSource Recommended Wellness Apps page. These free tools were developed by the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, psychologists and other partners. They include:

  • Breathe2Relax: This app offers deep-breathing techniques to relax and unwind. Use it on the go to tap into your breathing.
  • Virtual Hope Box: This app includes personalized tools to help you cope, relax, avoid distractions and connect to others. There’s plenty here to help you learn how to handle stress and anxiety during self-care breaks.

The Defense Health Agency also recommends the following podcast:

  • Military Meditation Coach: This podcast offers relaxation exercises and tips to keep your mental health on track. Tune in during your self-care breaks to relax and clear your mind.

For providers

The Defense Health Agency’s Provider Resilience Toolkit includes the apps and podcast above as well as:

  • Provider Resilience was developed specifically for frontline care teams. It offers self-assessments, stress reduction tools and a dashboard to track your daily resilience rating. It can be found on our Recommended Wellness Apps page.

Stay up to date on all the latest information on COVID-19. For Department of Defense updates for the military community regarding the virus that causes COVID-19, view the following sites

When stress is high with little relief in sight, taking care of yourself is key so you’ll be there for your loved ones and those you serve.

The Military and Family Life Counseling Program

Counselor speaking to group

Need support for issues like preparing for a move or nurturing a relationship with a deployed spouse? The Military and Family Life Counseling Program assists service members, their families and survivors with flexible non-medical counseling when and where needed. Military and family life counselors are highly-qualified professionals trained to understand the unique challenges you encounter and deliver face-to-face counseling services, as well as briefings and presentations to the military community both on and off the installation.

What is the Military and Family Life Counseling Program?

The Military and Family Life Counseling Program offers free short-term, non-medical counseling to:

  • Active-duty service members
  • National Guard members
  • Reserve members (regardless of activation status)
  • Department of Defense expeditionary civilians
  • Immediate family members or surviving family members of any of the above

One-on-one, couple, or group — counselors help you manage issues like:

  • Deployment adjustments
  • Stress management
  • Moving preparations and getting settled
  • Relationship building
  • A problem at work
  • The grieving process following the death of a loved one or colleague

If you’re facing something that a counselor can’t address, you will receive a referral for medical counseling services in your community through a military treatment facility or TRICARE. In general, military and family life counselors do not address:

  • Abuse cases
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Other mental health issues that may require long-term attention or medication

If you are in immediate crisis, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.


You don’t have to worry that seeking help will impact your service member’s career. Services offered through the Military and Family Life Counseling Program are confidential, not reported to the command, and do not impact a service member’s security clearance.

Exceptions to privacy include duty to warn, suspected family maltreatment (domestic violence, child abuse or neglect), harm to self or others, and illegal activity.

How to reach a military and family life counselor

When you are ready to focus on your emotional health, reach out for support. Contact your installation’s Military and Family Support Center.

You can also find support for the youngest member of your military family. Contact a child and youth behavioral military and family life counselor through:

  • A child development center
  • Installation-based youth and teen centers
  • On- and off-installation public schools
  •  A youth summer camp sponsored by your military Service
  • The commander or unit training point of contact

Nearly all of those surveyed about the Military and Family Life Counseling Program would use counseling services again and would refer the program to a friend. Make an appointment with a military life counselor to improve your skills to manage military and family life.

How to Cope With a Traumatic Event

Service member paints to help with PTSD

A violent act, catastrophic accident, or sudden loss can leave you feeling anxious and fearful, which are normal reactions. But if anxiety and fears are taking over your or a loved one’s life, you may want to consider professional help. Military OneSource offers confidential, non-medical counseling – face to face, online, by phone or video – along with the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255), and resources for post-traumatic stress disorder. All are available for free.

Reminders and events can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder, bringing back painful memories and emotions for months or even years after the trauma. Learn about common reactions to trauma, some coping mechanisms and ways to help others, along with resources for more information and help.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

Common feelings and reactions following a trauma

Traumatic events may cause you or someone you love to experience a range of feelings and reactions, such as:

  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Disruption of sleep patterns
  • Eating problems increase or decrease

Although these feelings and reactions are normal, you can help yourself or your loved one manage and cope with them so they don’t become overpowering.

Possible coping mechanisms

Coping strategies like these may help you or your loved one recover from anxiety, depression or other post-trauma feelings and reactions that may be impacting your life. Strategies may include the following:

  • Spend time talking and sharing your feelings with people you love. Doing so can put things in perspective, which may make your day-to-day life more manageable. It can also help you focus on positive relationships instead of the traumatic event.
  • Take care of yourself. If you feel well physically, you might manage your feelings and reactions better. Eat healthy foods, exercise moderately, get enough sleep, and take any medications prescribed for you. Avoid using drugs or alcohol to cope – this may lead to you feeling worse over time.
  • Try to stick to your typical, day-to-day routine. It can be a healthy distraction from feelings after a traumatic event. Going back to your home and work responsibilities can renew a sense of purpose and lessen feelings of isolation.
  • Practice stress-relieving techniques. Exercise, journaling, meditation, listening to music and deep breathing techniques are just a few activities that can help relieve stress by focusing your mind on something other than the traumatic event. Try these to find what works best for you.
  • Avoid media coverage of the event for a while. Too many reminders or fixating on the event may heighten your anxiety. If it’s unavoidable, try to watch any news coverage with a friend or supporter and discuss the event or your feelings if you feel comfortable.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek support from friends, family and professionals. Many people also find comfort in their religious beliefs and faith communities during difficult times.

Extending help in times of crisis

If a friend or relative is deeply affected by a trauma, there are ways you can help. People who go through a traumatic event may not get a chance to talk about their feelings and experiences. They might think they don’t need to share their feelings, or they think something’s wrong with them because they’re having trouble coping. Here’s how you can help:

  • Reassure him or her the emotions they’re feeling are a normal reaction to a traumatic event. Remind them fear, anger, hopelessness and shock are common feelings others – possibly even you – have had.
  • Share your feelings. If you experienced a similar event, your insight could be comforting.
  • Invite your co-worker, friend or relative to a ceremony, vigil, religious service or fundraising event. Taking part in efforts to remember or help the victims of a tragedy and their families can bring comfort and a sense of community. Sometimes just being with other people who experienced trauma can help with emotional isolation.
  • Include him or her in your family events and normal daily routines. This can help relieve feelings of isolation.

Each person reacts differently to trauma, so be patient when offering help, and expect a range of emotions and reactions. Check in periodically and let him or her know you’re available for support throughout the coping process.

Resources and support

No one has to struggle alone; in fact, asking for help is a sign of strength. Friends and family can provide a lot of support, but you may also consider seeking help from a counselor or professional therapist.

Free, confidential, non-medical counseling is available 24/7 from Military OneSource, whose consultants can refer service members and their families to services in their local community. Non-medical counseling services are also available face to face, online, by phone or video by calling 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. Your installation’s Family Support Center can also provide confidential, non-medical counseling with Military and Family Life Counselors. Find out how Children and Youth Behavioral Military and Family Life Counselors can help your child cope.

Coping with a traumatic event can be complicated and can take time for you and those you love. You’re not alone. Use your available resources to help you manage and cope with your feelings.