Cognitive Distortions Definition of Catastrophizing

The cognitive distortion of catastrophizing is pretty much what you might think it is: making something into a catastrophe when it's not. When we catastrophize, we tell our selves that something is so awful, so terrible, that we won't be able to handle it. That we would fall apart, or die. The more we tell ourselves the problem we are facing is a catastrophe, the more hopeless and helpless we will feel to effectively cope with it. Catastrophizing can result in increased anxiety and depression, and can make difficult situations feel even worse than they already are. There are several ways of rethinking catastrophic thinking to help you better handle adversity.

When you recognize catastrophizing, first ask yourself what about this situation is so terrible? Have you dealt with similar situations in the past? If so, did you survive? If you did survive, (and presumably you did) how?  What did you do to weather the difficulty?

How do you think you will feel about this situation a month from now? Do you imagine your feelings will be just as strong? What do you think you will probably do to move on? How about a year from now, how do you think you will think and feel about the situation? Would your feelings be as intense? And two years from now? Challenges often lose their emotional intensity and perceived importance over time. Think back to what you were most worried about five years ago and how it turned out. Do you even remember what you were concerned about then?

Are you the only one in the world to go through this? How many other people would you guess go through something similar?How many people do do you think are facing something even worse? How do you think they manage to move beyond the negative event and go on to do positive things in their lives? What does that tell you about how you may be able to handle this situation?

Consider what you have going for you in your life. What positive experiences are you able to have? What steps can you take to improve your life? Consider the aspects of your life that you take for granted and are not catastrophes, and cultivate gratitude.  

Think of someone you know who seems to handle adversity pretty well. If this catastrophe befell them, how do you imagine they would cope? What do you think they would tell themselves to be able to pick themselves up and get back on the proverbial horse?

Do you think everybody would think this situation is as bad as you do? If not, why not? How would they be making sense of this to not see it as a catastrophe?

If ten years from now you were to realize that this "catastrophe," although clearly not part of your plan, was actually the best thing for you at the time, how might this be the case? What positive things might come from this? What opportunities might this situation present, that you might not otherwise have access to?

Recognizing catastrophizing and considering other perspectives can reduce your belief that the situation is terrible or hopeless. By feeling better and more confident, you can effectively manage the situation. You are more likely to respond to the challenge skillfully, and with less emotional pain. The next time you hear yourself catastrophizing, try considering some of these other lines of reasoning, and see what happens.