We all know what a catastrophe is but what about catastrophizing? Catastrophizing is a common occurrence in people that are feeling anxious. Catastrophizing is caused by anxiety but also serves to fuel anxious symptoms. Because of the cyclical worsening that happens with symptoms of anxiety it is important to interrupt this cycle. People stop living in the moment and spend much of their time worrying about the future.
An anxious person can turn almost anything into a possible catastrophe.
Some people with anxiety are over-sensitive to normal bodily sensations. They may catastrophize any physical symptom they feel. Physical symptoms, intermixed with anxiety, are a common driver of panic attacks.
People can catastrophize about finances, friendships, or may jump from one catastrophic thought to the next.
Sure, some of these worries might be reasonable at times. But an anxious person will take a very small thought and turn it into a huge worry based on very little evidence.
Catastrophizing thoughts are generally not based on current reality but future projections related to worry thoughts. Catastrophizing anxiety thoughts aren’t productive projections and don’t cause you to improve your future. It’s energy wasted and not energy spent on improving life.
And projections associated with anxiety are never positive. They don’t uplift you or make you feel hopeful. Instead, they cast a shadow of gloom and doom on life and make you feel out of control.
The first step to stop worrying about the future is to recognize when you are doing it! Some people have been feeling anxious and catastrophizing for so long that it comes naturally to them.
When you are feeling anxious are you worrying about the future? Catastrophizing the consequences without evidence? Take a minute to think about your anxious symptoms and ways that you project into the future. When you are worrying, stop to ask yourself if you are projecting a consequence and using catastrophizing anxiety.
The first goal is to recognize it! Stop and take some time to look at your worry thoughts when you are feeling anxious.
A version of this article first appeared here.
Dr. Melissa Welby is a psychiatrist that participates in people’s process of discovery, empowerment, and search for satisfaction and happiness. She treats a variety of illnesses including depression, anxiety & panic attacks, adult ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorders), bipolar disorder, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and borderline personality disorder. She is also the current president of the Connecticut Psychiatric Association.She completed her Internship & Residency at Cambridge Hospital, affiliate of Harvard Medical School, 2000 to 2004. Dr. Melissa Welby is Board Certified in General Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 2005 to present.