Catastrophizing – Cognitive Distortion #5
Catastrophizing is when we expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
Here’s a story to illustrate Catastrophizing.
Emily was a new mom who loved her baby more than she could’ve predicted. She had waited so long to have a child and now here he was, a perfect angel. She loved her baby so much and yet worried about every little thing.
SIDS was a real concern, at least until the baby reached one year old when the risk was significantly lower. She worried about driving anywhere as traffic deaths were the leading cause of death for children. She worried about people who were unvaccinated and exposed her baby to dangerous viruses. She worried about any other infection that didn’t have a vaccine. She washed her hands frequently and used Purell when she couldn’t wash.
Overall, Emily was so happy with the new addition to their family, but that joy was overshadowed by worry. She found herself having trouble falling to sleep and staying asleep because of the worry. What if she missed something overnight? What if the house caught fire or someone broke in? There was no time that Emily could fully relax.
One day Emily woke up and realized that worrying or catastrophizing wasn’t gaining her anything. There was no way to prevent a tragedy with worrying. She couldn’t fix / prevent / stop a problem through worrying. She could be proactive about hand washing and car seats, but after those steps, actual worry wasn’t helpful.
Worry was preventing her happiness. Worry was sapping her joy.
Right then and there, Emily decided to stop worrying. Every time a worry thought crept into her head, she said a prayer, thought about something happy, took action on whatever problem was going on and pushed those worry thoughts away.
It took vigilance to stop catastrophizing. The thought patterns were engrained and habitual. It was so easy and comfortable to worry. She had thought for so long that if she worried enough she wouldn’t be surprised when something terrible happened. Living in a state of constant worry was her way of preventing grief when or if something bad actually happened. Emily realized that IF something bad did happen, she would be sad and upset no matter how hard she had worried in the past. She would have a reaction and it would be ok.
Emily’s new plan was to hope for the best, expect some problems now and then, and stop worrying.
Can you identify with this story? Do you catastrophize? I know I can. It’s exactly how I reacted when my first baby was born. I don’t think I slept well until my youngest was three and I realized that all this worrying wasn’t gaining me anything, but exhaustion.
There’s a difference between being prepared and worrying. Preparing has an endpoint. Worry never ends.
As much as you can, practice turning off the worry brain and pushing those thoughts out of your head by prayer, distraction and filling your head with good thoughts.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Matthew 6:25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about
A dark sky can induce can induce a lot of worry… Or wonder, depending on how you look at it.