How Catastrophization Holds Me Hostage Every Day


Catastrophizing is an aspect of my poor mental health with free rein of my mind day in, day out. It is characterized as irrational thoughts and is often a symptom of depression and anxiety. We all catastrophize throughout our lives on one level or another; it just happens that for some reason I face it daily, to some serious extremes. While I have learned to cope better with these things through therapy and hard work, it is still something that can take hold pretty quickly, and it can be terrifying until I can defuse the thought in my head.

Catastrophizing can take many forms and affect people in all kinds of different ways. A prime example is if your boss calls you into their office unexpectedly. Most people will probably panic to some extent and naturally start thinking through all the possibilities — maybe you’ve done something wrong, and you’re about to lose your job. The likelihood is that isn’t going to happen, and you’re worrying over nothing, but it’s a pretty typical reaction and probably more widespread than we think.

While that example has happened to me on a few of occasions in the past, it’s far from my regular catastrophizations. Yesterday, for instance, my parents were away on holiday and my brother was out, which left me home alone if you don’t count the cats. I heard the door go, my mind switched to autopilot, and I imagined a masked intruder running up the stairs with a knife to murder me. That sounds extreme and far-fetched, which it is, but to me in those 30 seconds it could be real, and I’m truly expecting it.

There are less extreme everyday examples of catastrophizing that are just distressing, which can include things that can be triggered from insignificant but out of the ordinary events. For example, if one of my cats isn’t home for some time, I start worrying they’ve been hit by a car or if a family member isn’t awake at their usual time, I begin to imagine they’ve died. It’s not only the event that plays out in my mind — it’s the aftermath too, and that can risk snowballing into debating my response to myself.

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It’s difficult to describe catastrophization as anything but torturous. It’s often distressing, frightening and panic-inducing. It can be difficult to challenge and control. While I have developed a way of reflecting and reasoning with myself, I still deem it unhealthy and as having a negative impact on my health and well-being. It’s not even a rare event; it happens countless times on a daily basis, and nothing is sacred.

I only worked out I was catastrophizing by reading about it online. I think it’s one of the less recognized, visible or discussed symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. The first step to beating this aspect of mental illness is acknowledging you catastrophize in an unhealthy way. It may take some time, patience and hard work, and you may need to seek further help from your doctor or therapist, but it is entirely possible to reduce or even prevent catastrophization entirely.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog and on Twitter.

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Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash

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