After participating in a panel where there was a discussion on some of the long-standing impacts of this continued pandemic the topic of Catastrophizing came up. Some of the audience members weren’t familiar with the term so we thought this could be a good opportunity for some education and a quick read to bring our blog back to life!
What is catastrophizing? Please explain the brain science behind why it’s so easy for people to always think/expect the worst-case happenings.
It basically breaks down to be a cognitive distortion that forces people to jump to conclusions with limited information. Catastrophizing is when a person just assumes that the worst will happen. It tends to involve a belief that you’re in a worse situation than reality and/or exaggerating how difficult what you facing actually is.
Let’s say, someone might worry that they’ll fail their road test and not earn their driver’s license. From there, they might assume that failing means they’re a bad driver, will always have to rely on public transportation, Uber, or the kindness of people in their lives, will never take a road trip or own their own car. They might even think that this means they’ll never be able to pass or that this is an indicator of other things they will never be able to accomplish.
Depending upon some of your lived experiences or history of anxiety and/or depression, catastrophizing can play a role in situations and interactions but with systems and support can be managed.
How do you personally deal with catastrophizing? How do you prevent yourself from doing so, what are the techniques/methods you use yourself?
One of the methods that I have found to be helpful in managing feelings of catastrophizing is mindfulness techniques as well as grounding exercises. Since a big part of catastrophizing comes from the anxiety that we tend to face in relation to the situation, reminding ourselves of the facts of what is happening at the moment and the tangible things that we can reach out and touch can be instrumental in decreasing these feelings. Another thing that can be beneficial in this process as well can be doing a brain dump. Within the journaling process, identifying all of the things that are coming up in your mind and why the situation that presented itself feels like a catastrophe can do wonders for your ability to process whether or not it’s fact or feeling as the words are on the page for you to refer back to. When I do a brain dump I tend to circle the words that jump out at me and explore if it is rooted in reality or if it is my brain is just being its imaginative self and contributing to why I think the issue is a catastrophe or will be. Once I isolate that the majority of the things that I wrote down are manifestations of my anxiety I can work backward and utilize the skills that I have found to be most helpful in the management of those triggers.
At what point should someone consider seeing a professional about their constant catastrophizing?
When you are able to notice that catastrophizing is happening on a regular basis (which can look different for different people) or you begin to realize that you believe that you are catastrophizing more than you are managing your symptoms it may be time to see a mental health professional to support you in identifying what are some systems and skills that can be built in to help minimize these feelings. In addition, another indicator can be that it’s having a significant impact on your life in a way that you don’t identify as positive. If you can state that you are missing out on opportunities, engaging with others, significant impacts in your personal or professional relationships that may be an indicator that partnering with a professional can help mitigate some of the things that are coming up for you.