Catastrophizing: Finding a Sense of P.E.A.C.E.

“This derealization and depersonalization business is horrible. Okay, I know it – I’m irreparably mentally ill. I’m finished! It’s over!”

Yes, you’ve been having an awful time with derealization and depersonalization lately. The disturbing distortions of reality are horrible for sure. And now you believe you’re mentally ill without hope (nope).

Or maybe it’s this. Your anxiety, and associated depression, have gone way over the top. Last week you went to the grocery and had to bail five minutes after grabbing a cart.

The fridge and pantry are empty and it’s time to go again. But you’d rather eat glass, because you know what’s going to happen.

Welcome to the world of catastrophizing!

Catastrophe Sells!

Go ahead – tune-in to CNN, MSNBC, or your local news. I’m guessing in seconds you’ll be exposed to a catastrophe. Right? I mean, it’s been the potential for financial default here in the US over the past week or so.

Catastrophes sell. Always have, always will.

Unfortunately, for someone enduring a mood and/or anxiety disorder, catastrophes are easy enough to conjure up. And when you throw the news of the world on the fire, the flames rise high.

Understanding is Freedom

No doubt, the realm of the “What Ifs” and believing in worst case scenarios is treacherous. But once you understand the dynamics involved, your life can become a whole lot easier.

I pound the point home time and again – understanding why you feel, think, and behave as you do is crucial. Between insight and its generated hope, 3/4 of the battle is won.

Two Types of Catastrophizing

In the intro, I presented two different scenarios. And they’re intended to represent the two types of catastrophizing. One occurs in the present, and the other is applied to future events.

Now, it’s important to understand that catastrophizing isn’t a disorder. It’s a manifestation – a symptom – of your mood and/or anxiety situation.

And though you need to work on managing your catastrophizing, the bulk of your work still needs to be focused upon your foundational disorder(s). And the fruits of those labors will just naturally kick a severe dent into catastrophizing.

Why You Catastrophize (…and a sense of P.E.A.C.E.)?

So why do you do it? Well, who knows for sure what’s behind the miracle of mind;  however, here’s where I lay my money. And to make it easy to remember, I’m bringing it to you in the form of P.E.A.C.E…

  • Protection: If you’re living based upon the perception that danger lurks around every corner, catastrophizing makes perfect sense. I mean, what better way to protect yourself than to buy-in to all sorts of horrific outcomes. It’s the perfect rationalization for avoidance.
  • Explanation: When you’re in emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical pain; you long for explanations. So, for example, the person enduring derealization and depersonalization comes up with irreparable mental illness to explain his/her circumstances. It certainly isn’t a desired outcome, but it beats the heck out of being dominated by a mysterious force.
  • Assurance: As much as you may hate what you now know to be catastrophizing, it provides a certainty of mind. And when any sense of self is tough to come by, created catastrophes supply identity.
  • Cry for Help: You may not realize you’re doing it, but being in the midst of a catastrophe is the perfect environment for securing help. And if you’re lucky (not really), you may even find someone who’ll take care of you.
  • Expectation: What better way to avoid crushing disappointment than not expecting anything good in the first place? Believing and fulfilling worst case scenarios saves a lot of slaps in the face.

When you combine all of the above, it’s pretty easy to understand why you so easily become an ever-cycling, snowballing mess. And it’s also easy to understand why you perpetuate your perceived catastrophes.

But when you understand the value of making P.E.A.C.E. with catastrophizing, freedom is just around the corner.


In making P.E.A.C.E. with catastrophizing, I’d like you to give the following a go…

  • Make sure you’re dialed-in to the dynamics of catastrophizing – and exactly what it is you’re doing. Insight is everything.
  • Believe in the fact that what you’re experiencing is but a symptom of your mood and/or anxiety situation.
  • Understand that 99.9% of the time, the What Ifs and worst case scenarios never occur.
  • Learn how – and practice – to objectively observe your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • For one week, jot down your catastrophic feelings, thoughts, and behaviors as they occur. Sit down with your list and assign one of the points of P.E.A.C.E. Are you dealing with any of them? Is the catastrophe in the immediate, or anticipated, legit?
  • Take the time to absorb your findings.
  • The next time you catastrophize, pause. And with insight, move forward with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors within the context of reality.
  • Practice!

The Wrap

No doubt about it, catastrophe sells. But you don’t have to be a buyer.

Simply take the time to find a measure of P.E.A.C.E.

You’ll be just fine, okay?

Would you like to read all of the chipur articles on the psychology of the mood and anxiety disorders? Click here.