Catastrophizing is something that almost everyone experiences now and then; however, some people have an easier time putting these thoughts aside. In general, catastrophizing is when your mind gets stuck considering all the worst possible outcomes that your brain can come up with.
In and of itself, it is not a medical condition. However, it is a common symptom people experience with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
Catastrophizing is a symptom of anxiety, and it can heighten other symptoms making the overall anxiety even worse. If you believe you are often experiencing catastrophic thinking, you should speak with a medical professional to determine whether a serious mental health condition is causing it. No one should go through life constantly expecting the worst.
Check how providers on Klarity help clients diagnose and treat their anxiety, and book an appointment to speak to a medical professional experienced in anxiety treatment within 48 hours.
What is Catastrophizing?
The word catastrophe means a complete disaster with life-altering, devastating consequences. Individuals who experience catastrophizing see life events this way, obsessing over the worst possible outcome in a situation. In most cases, this is not reality, but individuals think that the worst will happen without considering any other possibilities.
For example, someone may feel like they are not prepared for a test and that they are going to fail the test. The thoughts then begin to spiral down an even more negative path. They believe the failed test will prevent them from graduating. Then, they won’t get a job, and, finally, they’ll be homeless.
This jump from a failed test to homelessness may seem like an unreasonable train of thought, but patients who are experiencing catastrophizing see it as the only possible outcome.
Who is Commonly Affected By Catastrophizing?
Anyone can fall into catastrophic thinking, but it is most common among young people, teenagers, and children around eight or nine years old. In 2015 a study analyzed almost 3,000 teenagers and found that those who catastrophized often usually also had an anxiety disorder.
Catastrophizing is common in patients with generalized anxiety disorder but can also be caused by other mental health conditions, including the following
- OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- Chronic pain
What Causes Catastrophic Thinking?
Catastrophizing can occur on its own, and many people catastrophize now and then. However, it is often linked to a mental illness, most commonly anxiety disorders. Mental health conditions predispose people to catastrophizing, and one can easily worsen the symptoms of the other.
Anxiety causes people to experience a heightened sense of fear, nervousness, and worry over their circumstances. This nervousness about what is happening in their lives or what could happen can easily spiral into catastrophizing, where all they can focus on is the negative consequences they think they will experience. Anxiety plants the seeds for catastrophic thinking.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
When people live through a traumatic event, it often alters how they see the world. This destruction of their positive beliefs about people and the world causes catastrophic thinking. They now view their trauma as proof that the worst possible outcome can occur, and some can start to believe that traumatic events are the only thing that will occur.
The root of catastrophizing is often fear and low-self esteem, and this causes individuals to believe that they are incapable of handling everyday problems. Depression makes people feel like they are not good enough or capable of living a happy and healthy life. They may feel unworthy or like good things simply don’t come their way. This pattern of negative thinking can lead to catastrophizing.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Many people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have very active imaginations and can easily find themselves catastrophizing. ADHD leaves individuals feeling anxious, confused, and frustrated, which creates the perfect environment for the mind to run wild with negative expectations.
Dealing with chronic pain not only takes a physical toll on the body but also an emotional toll on the mind. People who live with pain daily often feel helpless against it and may find themselves magnifying the pain and the threat it poses to their overall health.
Patients who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a high tendency to obsess over various scenarios and aspects of their lives. This can easily become very negative, and individuals with OCD may obsess over unlikely but detrimental conversations, events, and circumstances they believe will occur.
Catastrophizing is Not Classified as Its Own Mental Health Disorder
Catastrophizing is not a mental illness on its own, but it is associated with various common conditions and can be treated with similar methods. Individuals with conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and more may develop catastrophic thinking, which can worsen symptoms of those conditions.
For example, people with anxiety are often fearful and unreasonably stressed. Catastrophizing can make these feelings worse.
How To Identify Symptoms of Catastrophizing
Catastrophizing shares many symptoms and characteristics with mental health disorders, so it can be challenging to identify. Just like mental illnesses, catastrophizing can come on suddenly and quickly spiral out of control. In general, it can be identified as extreme feelings of fear and stress closely linked to a collection of thoughts about what is coming in the future or what could happen.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of catastrophizing:
- Feeling anxious
- Racing thoughts
- Extreme stress
- Negative self-talk
- Fear and anger
- Obsessive internet research
- Being stuck in your head
Catastrophizing can occur out of the blue or in anticipation of an upcoming event or situation. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, a healthcare professional can help you whether you are catastrophizing or not.
Get Diagnosed By a Licensed Healthcare Professional
If catastrophizing persists over time and you feel like it is negatively impacting your day-to-day life, you should speak with a healthcare provider. A medical professional can help you get a better understanding of your catastrophic thinking and determine whether a mental health disorder is the cause of it.
How To Stop Catastrophizing?
When a mental illness causes catastrophizing, a healthcare provider will come up with a treatment plan that treats both. This could be prescription medication, therapy, or both. If you are aware of your catastrophic thinking habits, you can try to divert your mind away from what could go wrong and focus on what could go right.
Redirecting your feelings and emotions can be difficult and will take practice, but it can be extremely helpful for training your mind not to spiral out of control. If you are having trouble successfully shifting your focus away from the worst possible outcome, it could signify that your catastrophizing is related to a larger issue.
Seek Help And Get Diagnosed By A Licensed Professional on Klarity Today!
Do you spend most of your days worried about the future having catastrophic results? No one should be constantly controlled by negative thoughts and expectations for upcoming events.
Klarity can connect you with an experienced licensed professional who can find out whether your catastrophizing is related to a mental illness and find a treatment option that will relieve you from always expecting the worst.
Book an appointment with an anxiety-trained specialist within the next 48 hours by filling out our free, 2-min mental health evaluation.
Michelle Pugle. “Understanding Catastrophizing and How to Stop It” Very Well Health.
Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA. “How to Stop Catastrophizing”. Medical News Today.
“Why ‘Catastrophizing’ is Common in OCD”. Pinnacle Counseling and Testing Center.
Laura Petrini and Lars Arendt-Nielsen. “Understanding Pain Catastrophizing: Putting Pieces Together” Frontiers In.
Tamara Rosier. ADHD Catastrophizing in Times of Crisis: What to Do When Fear Spirals” Attitude Mag
“Catastrophizing” Psychology Today