Catastrophization

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Amanda Booth

A Step-by-Step Guide for How To Stop Catastrophizing

We all can feel overwhelmed by the “what ifs.” We make an entire possibility a catastrophe before it even happens. We live in the future instead of assessing the actual facts of a situation in the present. That’s why this technique of decatastrophizing a situation is so important. Let me walk you through it. 1. Define the catastrophe. Use precise statements and avoid using “what if” statements. Be specific about what you think will happen. For instance, state “my boyfriend will break up with me.” Then, rate how terrible it would be if this happened out of 10 — 10 being the worst and one being “not so bad.” 2. Write down the likelihood of this catastrophe happening. Consider, has it ever happened in the past? Does it happen ever in real life? Has someone you know gone through this? When does this actually happen? 3. Write down how terrible would it be if the catastrophe actually happened. Define what the worst possible outcome would actually look like. What would happen? How would things be affected? 4. Write down what the best possible outcome is. What is the best-case scenario for your situation? How would things change? What would actually happen? 5. Write down how your friends and other people would talk to you about your concern. Would they agree with the level of concern you have? Would they believe all of the possible outcomes? What would they say if they were in your shoes? 6. Write down how you would cope if the worst possible scenario happened. Consider how you would deal with the catastrophe. How have you coped in the past? What has gotten you through past difficult situations? What are some strategies you can use to cope with the worst possible outcome? Who can you turn to during a difficult time? 7. Write down the most positive thing you can be told right now. What would put your mind at rest? What is something reassuring you can be told? What can someone say to make you feel better? 8. Rate the situation again after you have completed each step. Use 10 being the worst and one being not so bad. Did your rating change? What changed in your thinking? Did walking through these steps help you rationalize the situation and assess it from an outside perspective? Did this process help you prepare to deal with the actual situation by using facts? My hope is that it did. I used this process when I had lost my job and I was terrified I would be unable to feed myself and pay my bills. I would then become homeless and never find another job again. I went from zero to 10 in a matter of a few hours, worrying about my situation. I was catastrophizing. The situation was major, there was no doubt about that. My worst-case scenarios were actually possible, but this process helped me slow down and look at my situation with clear and rational eyes. We all can catastrophize a situation. In a world where we are up one minute and down the next, it can feel like we are swept away by our emotions. Our anxiety and feelings about a situation can lie to us and make us feel like the world is caving in around us. This isn’t about being overly dramatic about a situation it is about our propensity to make a situation worse than it is. If we can cognitively reframe our thoughts about a situation, we can help ourselves cope with it. My hope is that this process will help ease so me anxiety and tension you feel about situations you are facing in life that seem overwhelming and make the world feel like it is coming to an end.

Community Voices

Is anyone else feeling tired of everything feeling unstable? Thoughts on how to find stability? I have ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and so I'm in a constant storm of I want stability, but I don't know how to make stability. It's really awful.

5 people are talking about this
Community Voices

Covid Catastrophization

I work at a correctional facility and was just tested positive for Covid last Friday. My anxiety is horrible and I just catastrophize that it’s going to end up bad like those you see in the news. It’s to the point where it consumes my whole day. Does anyone have any advise?
#Catastrophization #Anxiety

6 people are talking about this
Community Voices

Rename Pain Catastrophizing

I saw this website about a project to rename the term “pain catastrophizing.” I never liked that term because catastrophizing is akin to exaggerating, embellishing, dramatizing, and plain old just making stuff up (AKA lying). I know how bad my pain can get and I am not exaggerating it.

Rename Pain Catastrophizing
renamepc.stanford.edu

#Pain
#ChronicPain
#PainCatastrophizing #catastrophizing
#catastrophize
#Catastrophization
#RenamePC

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Community Voices
Bobbie Byrd

What It's Like to Live With Catastrophic Thoughts

I can’t breathe. I wish I could. There are days I wish my chest didn’t ache and my heart wasn’t running wild circles around the lawn. It seems like not that long ago I felt “normal.” I could do the things other people did and I wouldn’t feel so out of place. Laughter and smiles came easily then, and the tears came without the threat of losing it all. Yet, here I sit, not able to breathe. The anxiety holding my chest hostage while the catastrophic thoughts hold me hostage. My husband went to counseling today. He didn’t just go to any counselor; he went to see my counselor. They talked about me, hence the panic and anxiety . Yes, I did give them permission to talk about me, but that was on a day I was doing really great. I even urged him to go see her to help him understand where I was and how he could help me. But that was then, and this is now. Now I’m in a panic and have been since yesterday. I can’t breathe, my arms are like jello and my legs are throbbing with pain. I spent part of last night in the dark closet, trying to get the anxiety that comes with these thoughts under control. Most people might just be concerned about two people meeting to talk about them, or they might be a little bit worried, but my thoughts are a little bit darker and harder. I have catastrophic thoughts. Simply put, it means I always think the worst thing will happen, and thanks to my past and events such as Hurricane Harvey, my catastrophic thoughts have been validated at times. Living with catastrophic thoughts means panicking is easy. When I leave my kids home alone sometimes, I’ll have a thought of someone breaking in and hurting them. I think that’s a somewhat common thought with a lot of parents, catastrophic thoughts or not, but I always seem to take it a step further. Many times I’ll picture graphic images of what will happen that will make me worry or obsess over if they are truly safe or not. Catastrophic thoughts mean I’ll put off doing things. A simple bank transaction in my head might lead to bankruptcy. Or signing my kids up for little league might lead to child protective services (CPS) being called on us for random reasons that don’t make logical sense. Catastrophic thoughts mean I go above and beyond to keep myself and my family safe and taken care of. Two years ago, my catastrophic thoughts told me our town was going to flood, food would be scarce and our town would suffer. Then, it came true thanks to Hurricane Harvey. Any catastrophic thought I can look back on and see might have happened in some way in the past, only grows stronger in my head. Afraid my husband is going to leave me for something simple like spending too much one time at the grocery store? I know in the past my dad left, so why wouldn’t my husband? Having a full-blown meltdown because I have a new doctor’s visit planned that I think might come with horrible news? I remember that dentist appointment that resulted in the bill for $20,000. I always think the worst is going to happen, and sometimes it does. So if that’s the case, why can’t I breathe today? Because in this space where I know my husband is going to see my counselor, I’ve already come up with a worst-case scenario and I’m bracing for impact. In my head, they’re betraying me. Together, my husband and counselor are going to come up with reasons I will never get better and they will develop a plan against me. Maybe they’ve decided together I can no longer take care of myself as I fight severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and they’re going to court to take away my rights. Logically, I know that’s not true. Logically, I know they are both for me and working together to help me, but I can’t help but wait for the other shoe to fall. I didn’t talk to my husband this morning before he left for his appointment. As of right now, I’m planning on canceling my appointment for tomorrow with my counselor. I’m hurt and I’m angry, but it doesn’t make sense. I gave them my permission. I asked him to meet with her, but now my head has me convinced nothing but terror awaits me. In my head, trust has been broken. Catastrophic thoughts rarely ever make sense. The thoughts seem like foolishness to others, but to me, they’re real and they bring pain and panic with them. In fact, most people don’t know I think like that because I hide it. In the past when I’ve given a hint of the thoughts to someone else, they accuse me of being dramatic or overthinking things. But this is how I think. This is real. This makes it hard to breathe. And I hope tonight my marriage won’t fall apart because he had one appointment with my counselor. Don’t tell me it’s nonsense. To me, it’s real and it makes this life harder.

Community Voices

I’ve been having extremely high stress and been catastrophising (thinking someone is going to come kill me when I hear a noise). I’ve been having to balance school and a new job.
I usually try to deal with stress with TV, music, coloring, bullet journaling but they don’t seem to be working. Anyone have any out of the box ideas to de stress?

12 people are talking about this
James Woods

Anxiety: How Catastrophization Makes Me Afraid 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. 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 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash