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Catastrophizing: 8 Ways to Fight P.E.A.C.E.

Catastrophe sells. Where would CNN and FOX be without it? But for someone enduring a mood or anxiety disorder, it gets old. Or does it?

This is an edit of the featured article in this week’s chipur newsletter. It was so strong I had to share it here. By the way, don’t miss out on pieces like this – click here to subscribe to my newsletter.

Let’s face it, the world loves a good catastrophe. No disrespect to victims and families, and I’m not implying all of us get a kick out of human suffering, still – catastrophe sells.

If you endure a mood and/or anxiety disorder, personal catastrophes occur all the time. And in spite of their hardship, they just keep a comin’. Hmmm…

What is Catastrophizing?

Catastrophizing is when someone creates a – well – catastrophe that simply doesn’t exist or won’t occur. It’s all about What Ifs? and worst case scenarios. Here, I’ll provide an example as I explain the two types…

  • In the Immediate: You’ve been having an awful time with derealization and depersonalization. After a big-time bout with both this afternoon, you now believe you may be schizophrenic.
  • In the Future: Your anxiety, and associated depression, have been intense. Last week you went to the grocery and had to bail five minutes after grabbing a cart. It’s time to go back, but you’d rather eat glass because you know what’s going to happen.

Catastrophizing isn’t a disorder. It’s a manifestation – a symptom – of our underlying mood and anxiety pathology. Certainly, you need to work on it; however, the bulk of your efforts needs to be focused upon your foundational issues.

And the fruits of those labors will just naturally kick a severe dent into catastrophizing. Of course, there’s much more you can do; and we’ll discuss that in a short.

Why Do I Catastrophize? ( P.E.A.C.E.)

Well, who truly understands the miracle of mind;  however, when it comes to why you catastrophize, I’ll lay my money on the following…

  • Protection: If you believe danger lurks around every corner, catastrophizing makes perfect sense. What better form of protection than buying-in to horrific outcomes? And it’s the perfect rationalization for avoidance.
  • Explanation: When we’re in any kind of pain, we long for explanations. So, for example, the person enduring derealization and depersonalization comes up with schizophrenia to explain his/her circumstances. It isn’t a desired outcome, but it beats the heck out of being imprisoned by a mysterious force.
  • Assurance: As unpleasant as it is, catastrophizing provides a certainty of mind. And when any sense of self is tough to come by, created catastrophes provide identity.
  • Cry for Help: Being in the midst of a catastrophe is perfect for crying out for help. And if you’re lucky (not really), a responder may even be willing to become a caregiver.
  • Expectation: What better way to avoid crushing disappointment than to expect (and create) the worst?

When you consider P.E.A.C.E., it’s pretty easy to understand why you may so easily become an ever-cycling, snowballing, catastrophic mess.

8 Ways to Fight P.E.A.C.E.

Once you understand the dynamics involved in catastrophizing, your life instantly becomes a whole lot easier. I pound the point home time and again – understanding why we feel, think, and behave as we do is insight. And between insight and its generated hope, 3/4 of the battle is won.

Here are 8 Ways to Fight P.E.A.C.E…

  1. Understand the dynamics of catastrophizing.
  2. Accept the fact that catastrophizing is a symptom, and nothing more.
  3. Believe that 99.9% of the time, What Ifs? and worst case scenarios never occur.
  4. Learn how to observe your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors – viewing and receiving them as an outsider.
  5. For one week, jot down your catastrophic feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Consistently sit down with your list and assign one of the pieces of P.E.A.C.E. to each.
  6. Absorb your findings.
  7. Apply your work. As catastrophes occur – pause. And with insight, move forward with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors within the context of reality.
  8. Practice!

Catastrophes may sell, but you need to quit buying. Learning to live in the world of facts and proof, not conjecture and desperation, is the ultimate way home. You can do it.

Save the catastrophes for CNN!

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  • Ben

    Hi, Bill.  Thank you for this post.  I’ve been catastrophizing a lot lately, mostly around issues regarding my health.  Of course, as you note in your article, all of the things I’ve been worried about have yet to happen — and probably never will — but the first place my mind tends to go is “What if…?”

    A few weeks ago, however, I had a realization.  I was in the midst of a panic about something or other, and I was writing down my thoughts and feelings when I interrupted my own narrative to write, “What is keeping me from accepting the reality of the situation?”  For me, as I’m sure is the case for many of your readers, the answer is fear.  Your P.E.A.C.E. acronym really helped me to put all of this into perspective.  I also seem to find myself going back to a question that I encountered while learning about CBT.  That question was, “Am I underestimating my ability to deal with this situation?”  The more I think about it, the more I realize that my fear forces me to sell myself short.  My fear gets in the way of my logical, wise mind and does not allow me to truly understand and appreciate the myriad of ways that I have coped with difficult situations in my life.

    I have made the decision that, as challenging as it may be, I am not going to live my life in fear.  I am going to continue to question my negative thoughts and assumptions, to hold a mirror up so that I can see the world as it really is, and to do the best I can to identify those times in which my mind is going places that it shouldn’t.  Knowing that there are other people out there who feel the same way I do has been a tremendous comfort.

    I appreciate your articles and your kind words.