When someone is catastrophizing, they focus on the worst-case scenario and act as though it is likely to happen, even though it is unlikely. It is a particular kind of cognitive distortion.
Here are some instances of catastrophizing:
- “If I fail this test, I’ll never graduate from this school, and I’ll be a complete failure in life.”
- “If I don’t recover swiftly from this treatment, I won’t ever get better and I’ll be crippled for the rest of my life.”
- “If my spouse departs, I will never find anybody else, and I will never be happy again.
- Because a person makes a condition seem much worse than it is, doctors also refer to catastrophizing as “magnifying.”
According to research, catastrophizing can hurt one’s physical and mental health. For instance, those who catastrophize about their chronic pain may feel worse. Discover what catastrophizing its causes, prevention methods, and more by reading is, on.
There isn’t much agreement on what catastrophizing even is, much less what causes it, according to a 2020 review paper. There are a variety of possible causes for catastrophizing:
- Depression: A person with depression may dwell on unpleasant feelings, which makes them catastrophize.
- Anxiety: High levels of anxiety may make someone more prone to catastrophizing.
- A dysregulated BIS-BAS: People employ two theoretical systems to control their urges and anxiety the behavioral approach system (BAS) and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS). It may be easier to understand why some people catastrophize and others do not if these frames differ.
- Interoceptive awareness: This indicates that a person is more likely to be aware of subtle changes in their body, such as heart rate shifts or digestive feelings. High interoceptive sensitivity individuals may become alarmed by these changes.
Associated psychiatric disorders
The two are closely related to catastrophizing. Greater fear and obsession with risks or danger are symptoms of anxiety.
They might be concerned about an upcoming examination, going out alone, or social circumstances, for instance. We’ve all experienced anxiety at times. But severe anxiety brought on by anxiety disorders makes daily life difficult.
Anxiety: The main distinction between anxiety and catastrophizing is that anxiety occasionally has a positive impact on a person’s life. Anxiety, for instance, might assist someone in defending themselves from perilous circumstances. Catastrophizing, however, rarely serves any purpose.
Unnecessary emotions that divert attention from reality and take up mental space are sometimes brought on by catastrophic thoughts. Catastrophizing and anxiety can both be destructive, but anxiety can also be helpful in certain situations.
Depression: People who are depressed may dwell on their unpleasant feelings, which makes them catastrophize. When someone feels hopeless for a long time, they may catastrophize and picture the worst-case situation.
Catastrophizing in pain: “Pain catastrophizing” is the act of worrying excessively about pain, feeling helpless when it occurs, and being unable to stop worrying or thinking about it.
According to a 2019 study that was published in the journal Pain, subjects with generalized pain exhibited the greatest levels of pain catastrophizing.
This is persistent discomfort that is felt in one or more body areas. Additionally, catastrophizing may make the pain more intense and incapacitating, according to a 2020 Frontiers in Psychology paper.
However, other supporters, particularly in the community of persons with chronic pain, contend that the phrase stigmatizes those who feel pain and might discount their actual circumstances.
Medical procedures: The majority of people eventually experience anxiety and worry. But if someone consistently worries about the worse, they might need to work on their catastrophic thinking.
A doctor may recommend antidepressant drugs to aid if a patient has an underlying medical issue, such as depression. Antidepressants include, for instance:
- Inhibitors of selective serotonin reuptake (SSRIs) – These raise the concentration of the brain’s chemical serotonin. They are frequently the first line of defense in the fight against depression. However, several anxiety disorders may also require their prescription. Examples include paroxetine and fluoxetine (Prozac) (Paxil).
- SNRIs (inhibitors of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake) – These drugs raise the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. Examples of these are venlafaxine and duloxetine (Cymbalta) (Effexor).
- TCAs, or tricyclic antidepressants – Amitriptyline and nortriptyline are two of these medications (Pamelor). TCAs are less commonly prescribed by doctors these days because of their unfavorable side effects.
- Uncommon antidepressants: Trazadone and bupropion (Wellbutrin, Aplenzin) are two examples. An initial prescription from a doctor may contain a drug that is ineffective for treating both depression and catastrophizing. The doctor might recommend a different drug in this situation.
Anxiety sufferers may be prescribed antidepressants or anxiety medications like –
- Beta-blockers: These can lessen the physical effects of worry, such as perspiration and a quick heartbeat.
- Benzodiazepines: These quick-acting anti-anxiety drugs can make a person feel at ease and sleepy and begin working in approximately 30 minutes. They could, however, become addicted.
- Buspar: This modest anxiety-relieving medication takes around two weeks to start working.
Six guidelines for preventing paralyzing thoughts
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be used by mental health professionals to assist a person in addressing their catastrophic thinking.
CBT encourages self-awareness of catastrophic thinking, accepting responsibility for one’s behavior, and controlling and reversing irrational thoughts.
Remembering and applying the following strategies are six suggestions for doing this. These can aid in managing the illness:
- Recognizing that bad things do occur: There are difficulties in life, as well as pleasant and terrible days. One terrible day does not guarantee that all days will be bad.
- Identifying illogical notions: Catastrophizing frequently fits into a pattern. The beginning of thought is “I am hurting today,” for example.
Then, they will elaborate on the idea with worry and anxiety, saying things like, “This hurting means I’ll never get well” or “The pain is just going to get worse.”
One is better able to deal with these thoughts when one becomes more aware of them.
- Understanding when to stop: A person may need to say “stop” or “no more” aloud or in their thinking to stop the relentless, dreadful ideas. These words have the power to stop a person’s train of thought and aid in thinking differently.
- Considering a different result: Try to think about a positive or even less-bad consequence rather than a negative one.
- Offering uplifting statements: When it comes to catastrophic thinking, a person needs to have faith that they can get above their propensity for dread. They might want to repeat a motivating phrase every day.
- Taking fantastic care of yourself: When someone is worn out and stressed out, catastrophic ideas are more prone to take hold. Being well-rested and using stress-relieving activities like exercise, meditation, and writing can all make one feel better.
Anxiety, depression, and mindfulness disorders. Being mindful implies focusing on the present and being rooted in it rather than the past or the future.
It occasionally aids in the treatment of psychological problems like depression. For instance, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) might help stop depression recurrence. A 2020 study indicated that nurses’ stress and anxiety were lowered with mindfulness.
Another study conducted in 2018 on fibromyalgia-afflicted women discovered that specific mindfulness practices helped reduce pain sensitivity and catastrophizing.
Utilizing grounding techniques, people can develop mindfulness. Consider taking a few deep breaths, focusing on the here and now, and paying attention to the little things in your environment, such as sounds, scents, tastes, and feelings.
When under stress, many people engage in a habit known as catastrophizing. It may not always be an indicator of mental illness. However, if it develops into a chronic habit or interferes with day-to-day
activities, it can be an indication of sadness or anxiety. A doctor can help direct a patient to the appropriate treatment provider, while a psychotherapist can assist in managing catastrophizing ideas.