Catastrophizing - Making a nuclear explosion out of a puff of smoke

Do you have a tendency to blow things out of proportion? Do you find yourself lying awake at night, worrying about what tomorrow may bring? If so, you may be suffering from a phenomenon known as catastrophizing. This is when you have the irrational thought that something is a lot worse than it actually is. You may think that you are being perfectly objective about the situation, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.

This line of thinking has quickly increased in prevalence due to the ongoing situation with the economy. There are a lot of people out there who have been laid off from their jobs and now they find themselves bracing for the worst. With the loss of a job (and the income that accompanies it), these people are starting to foresee the possibility of relying on food stamps and living on the street. Is this a reasonable expectation? While a minority may suffer that fate, the majority have an inaccurate future view. The economy is cyclical and things will turn around. Eventually.

Playing the Odds

It’s perfectly rational to consider a number of possible outcomes to any given situation. It’s important that you acknowledge the worst case scenario and make the proper preparations for it, but you also have to realize that it is very unlikely that you will have to face the worst. Know the possibilities, but also know their respective odds. It makes much more sense to expect what is most likely to happen, because, well, it’s most likely to happen.

Catastrophizing is making a mountain out of a molehill. This relates not only to our economic concerns; it relates to just about every aspect of our lives. Those who have an inherent tendency to catastrophize may notice a small blemish on their bodies and automatically assume that it’s cancer. You’ll want to see your family doctor, but chances are that the blemish is perfectly benign. In the relationship arena, you may get into a scuffle with your significant other, saying something that you don’t really mean. From that fight, the person who catastrophizes would assume that they will probably break up and will always be alone. However, the odds are that you will patch things up and life will go on.

What You Think is What You Get

Part of the irony here is you may be facing the self-fulfilling prophecy. Going back to the example of losing your job, if you truly believe that you will soon be out of house and home, you may not put in the same kind of effort to find a new job or explore a new opportunity. As a result, you won’t get a new job and, sure enough, you may find yourself with less than ideal living conditions. By contrast, if you believe that everything will be fine, you’ll spend more time to pull yourself out of that slump and you’re much more likely to find success elsewhere.

Don’t Worry About Thin Air

Catastrophizing can get even worse when you are literally making a mountain out of nothing at all. In the previous examples, you may have faced a small speedbump on the road of life, interpreting that speedbump as a lot worse than it was. However, many of us may have a tendency to foresee a catastrophic situation even if nothing has happened. For instance, someone may not have been directly affected by the recession yet, still holding the same steady job and living life as he always has, but he may start to brace for the poor house. Consider the possibility, sure, but don’t expect it to happen.

It is perfectly healthy to think about that molehill and consider what it may represent; just don’t let yourself view the molehill as anything more than a molehill.