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

How to Get Over Anxiety

“So it’s been rapid-fire catastrophes lately, Bill. Well, in my mind anyway. I don’t understand what’s going on here. Why am I doing this to myself?”

It’s just awful, isn’t it? I mean, this self-created catastrophe business can be pure torture. And I’m telling you, unless you come to understand what you’re doing – and intervene – it can go on and on and…

Well, like everything we chat about here on chipur, relief and healing spring forth from understanding. So what say we roll up our sleeves and do some learnin’?

What is Catastrophizing?

Within the realm of cognitive (having to do with mental processes) theory and therapy, catastrophizing is one of the more common cognitive distortions. What are those? Well, they’re exaggerated and often irrational thoughts that hold the power to generate (and perpetuate) depression and anxiety.

Simply, catastrophizing is when you create – well – a catastrophe that simply doesn’t exist, or won’t occur. It’s all about the “What Ifs?” and worst case scenarios of your mind. Need some examples? I’ll give you a couple as I explain the two types of catastrophizing…

  • In the Immediate: Your heart palpitations have been driving you crazy lately. This morning you saw a commercial for the new atrial fibrillation clinic at one of the local hospitals. And so now you’ve officially diagnosed yourself with AF (and, of course, it’s going to take your life).
  • In the Future: Your anxiety and associated depression have been intense. And, go figure, you’re out of work and interviewing. Two weeks ago you barely survived (or so you thought) a biggie. Lo and behold, a recruiter just called and you scheduled an interview for a week from now. Oh, you’ll go; however, you’re absolutely sure you’ll royally blow it.

That’s catastrophizing!

Now, it’s really important to understand that catastrophizing isn’t a disorder. No, being a cognitive distortion, it’s a manifestation – a symptom, if you will – of your mood and/or anxiety pathology.

Why Do I Catastrophize?

Well, who truly understands the wonders of the mind;  however, when it comes to why you catastrophize, I’ll lay odds on an acronym I came up with: P.E.A.C.E.

  • Protection: If in your mind, danger lurks around every corner, catastrophizing makes perfect sense. What better form of self-protection than believing in horrific outcomes? And what better way to justify avoidance?
  • Explanation: Explanations are huge during times of pain. So maybe the self-created catastrophe isn’t the most desirable outcome. But it sure beats the heck out of being clueless as to what’s behind your desperation and distress.
  • 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: When was the last time you witnessed, or read about, a true catastrophe that someone wasn’t crying-out for help? Self-created catastrophes can provide the perfect setting for doing some crying-out of your own. And if you’re (un)lucky, 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 this 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 that catastrophizing is a symptom – 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. To invalidate them, consistently sit down with your list and assign one (or more) of the components 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!

Let’s Close

No doubt about it, this self-created catastrophe business can be pure torture. But coming to understand what you’re doing is the first step toward relief and healing. And then it’s a matter of learning to live in the world of facts and proof, not conjecture and desperation.

You can do it. I just know it!