What Is Catastrophizing And How Does It Affect You?

Updated October 05, 2018

Reviewer Deborah Horton

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Have you ever found yourself in a situation where something bad is happening to you? Well, if you haven't you should buy a lottery ticket, because you're an extremely lucky person. If you're like most of us, however, you've had bad days or bad experiences. These are normal, and they're a part of daily life. If you've ever thought that your world was falling apart because of a bad day, well, maybe you're right. If you experienced a huge personal loss, a divorce, a job loss that you really needed or something similar then life as you know it definitely did change, but there's a difference between understanding that things are bad now, and catastrophizing, which is what we're going to talk about.

What Is Catastrophizing?

First, what is catastrophizing? Well, we've already said that it's normal to have bad days and bad experiences. It's even normal to feel like things are falling apart because of some of the more serious bad experiences. Catastrophizing, however, is making mountains out of molehills. That means if something bad happens or something goes wrong, making it into a much larger problem than it is. It can also mean prophesizing your future, or looking into the future and expecting bad things to happen.

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For some people, this is a conscious thought process, while others don't even realize that they're doing it. For anyone who does, however, it can cause a lot of problems in your life. We'll talk about that in the next section, but for now, we'll focus on what it is, dooming yourself to fail before you've even gotten the chance to try. Does that even seem fair to you when you think about it objectively?

Why Is Catastrophizing Bad For You?

So, why is it bad for you to do this? Well, in the mildest sense it's bad because it causes you to feel bad about yourself. When something bad happens to you, and you just jump to the conclusion that you've failed and you're a terrible person, or you're awful at something you're hurting yourself. Self-esteem is important in everything that you do, and if you're destroying your self-esteem this way, it's going to affect everything else you do in your life.

Low self-esteem means that next time you may not even try and when you top that off with the catastrophizing you don't see the reason to keep trying. After all, if you're going to fail anyway, why would you even waste your time? Sounds logical, right? But there are two problems with this method of thought. The first is, you don't even know if you're going to fail. You may assume that you're going to, but it's not definite. The second is that even if you do fail, there are reasons that you should try in the first place.

Trying new things or new experiences and pushing your boundaries helps you grow as a person, but if you always feel that you're going to fail you may not do these things, and that means staying stagnant in what you're doing right now. While that may seem just fine, it's not going to help you become a better person or a stronger person. You're just going to stay exactly the way that you are right now. Maybe that's okay, but it's not going to be 'great' and don't you want to get to great someday?

Another important thing to consider is when your catastrophizing leads to depression. If you always think the worst of yourself and the worst of the things that you can do it can lead you toward depression. You start feeling bad about yourself and the things that you've tried and failed at. Those failures start to feel more and more important, and you start thinking that you just can't do anything right. Soon you stop trying, because you assume you'll fail anyway, and now you're falling into depression, which has its host of side effects and problems that can go along with it, like not enjoying your life.

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If your catastrophizing gets to the point that you're pushing it onto others, you could be causing a lot of harm as well. Imagine how your child is going to feel if you tell them not to join the baseball team because they'll never hit the ball anyway. Imagine how your partner is going to feel when you tell them not to go for the promotion because they aren't good enough. They're going to feel bad, and before you know it, they're going to be thinking just the way that you are, which isn't working for you, so why would you want to tear them down too?

What To Do About Catastrophizing?

All right, so you know that you're catastrophizing for yourself and you know that it's not good for you. Maybe you're already starting to feel depressed, or you're already starting to push those thoughts and beliefs onto your children or partner, and now you're feeling bad about it. But what do you do? Stopping a way of thinking isn't as easy as other people might think. Even when you try to be positive, those thoughts creep in on you and before you know it you're sucked right back under.

The best thing that you can do is get yourself some help. Trying to get through this alone is not working for you already, right? You find yourself slipping. Every time you think you're doing pretty good and being positive someone else tells you that you're a downer. Then you start feeling bad again, right? So, getting help is a great step, but where are you going to find someone that wants to help you with your way of thinking? It's easier than you might think.

All of those people who have heard you get upset at yourself before want to help you. They want you to be happy and to be proud of the things you do, and that means they're willing and able to push you to think positive. Your partner is willing to be your cheerleader and tell you all of the great things that you've done and helped you see setbacks for what they are, a minor bump in the road, but not something that's going to completely tear you apart and destroy any hope of success in the future.

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Your children and your friends even can and will likely get in on the action. They'll help you with thinking positive, seeing the silver lining and in other ways just trying to get yourself out there and start working towards new, bigger and better things, even if you're scared of failure at the time or you're not sure if you're going to be able to make it. Maybe you won't, but with friends and family there to support you it's going to feel a whole lot better than if you were to fail alone because they'll make sure you don't start catastrophizing again.

Getting Professional Help

Getting help from others after the fact is a great way to help with your process, but the best thing that you can do is change your way of thinking, and that's going to be a whole lot more difficult than trying to see the silver lining after the fact. But what can you do to change the way that you think about things? Well, you could see a professional. A therapist or psychiatrist is capable of helping you work through whatever it is that makes you feel this way about yourself and the situations that you find yourself in.

What's great is that you can find professional help anywhere now, including online. BetterHelp is one way that you can reach out to a professional, and you don't even need to leave your own home to do it. You just log on to the website, find someone that you feel comfortable talking to and get started with your session. You'll be able to connect with people that aren't even located anywhere near you, but they're able to work with you because of that internet connection, plus, you never have to miss a session because of an unexpected trip.

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No matter how you choose to go about it, working through your catastrophizing ways is important. It helps you take more risks, put more stock and faith in yourself and even put more stock in your children, friends, and family. People are going to like being around you a whole lot more if they can count on you to at least be practical (if not completely positive). You're going to find that you like yourself a whole lot better too, which is always going to be an important part of the puzzle. Catastrophizing is holding you back, but with a little bit of professional help, you can push yourself forward again.


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