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Anxiety Can Feel Like A Catastrophe

January 8, 2014 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Excessive worry that is part of anxiety can make us think a problem is bigger than it is. This is known as catastrophizing, and it makes anxiety worse.

Excessive worry doesn't feel good. Both our bodies and our minds experience it in often painful ways. Anxiety frequently causes the mind to fret over a problem. When we do that, we’re thinking about the problem itself rather than a solution for it, and the problem can become quite a monster. Our thoughts have run away with it and now blow it out of proportion, turning metaphorical little mole hills into gigantic mountains. Problems seem like catastrophes.

Without even realizing what we’re doing, we are catastrophizing our problematic situations. “Catastrophizing” is a term used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and it describes a specific thinking pattern that is very common in anxiety.

When we catastrophize, we agonize over a problem, assume the worst, and jump to horrible conclusions. A fight with a significant other, for example, is perceived to be a catastrophe leading to certain separation. A mistake at work, of course, will lead to termination.

Catastrophizing Can Be Part of Different Anxiety Disorders

The mind in panic disorder is very prone to catastrophizing. In this particular anxiety The excessive worry that is part of anxiety can make us think a problem is bigger than it is. This is known as catastrophizing, and it makes anxiety worse.disorder, the mind almost automatically assumes that a panic attack will occur in certain situations. Not only that, the mind is convinced that a panic attack will have horribly catastrophic consequences.

In social anxiety disorder, catastrophic thoughts focus on embarrassment and rejection. The mind continues to catastrophize by believing that such embarrassment and rejections will have terrible results.

The excessive worry about mistakes that is common in generalized anxiety disorder can lead to the “what-if” game. When we catastrophize, the answer to the “what-if” question is usually extreme and disastrous. “What if I do poorly on this test,” jumps to “I won’t be eligible for scholarships so I won’t be able to go to college and I'll be stuck with a job I don't want.”

You Are Not Powerless

With anxiety, catastrophizing can become a vicious cycle. Excessive worry intensifies the focus on the problem, catastrophic consequences are imagined, and the perceived consequences increase anxiety. This doesn't mean, though, that you are stuck in a trap of irrational thinking.

The very first step to take is to begin to notice that you’re catastrophizing. Pay attention to your thoughts and catch yourself assuming that disastrous outcomes are in store.

Once you've identified a catastrophic thought, pause and consider other possibilities. Will a missed deadline at work surely cause you to be fired? Or are there other possibilities?

Accept that you aren't at the mercy of fate. You truly do have the power to take control of your thoughts. As you stop catastrophizing, you just might find that your anxiety is reduced right along with it.

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2014, January 8). Anxiety Can Feel Like A Catastrophe, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/01/anxiety-can-feel-like-a-catastrophe



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Monique Saenz
says:
January, 18 2014 at 2:24 pm
I agree. For me it's the noise and extra high energy generated by the crowd. I tend to avoid outdoor concerts and events where there are thousands of people standing, packed like sardines. If I really want to go to such an event, I really have to prepare mentally and I usually don't last through it. However, if the event is a concert at a football stadium, or even a football game I have a better chance of making it through.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 21 2014 at 12:49 pm
Noise is definitely problematic for many people experiencing anxiety (or other mental health conditions). I can relate to this, because I have difficulties with noise. Your reference to high energy generated by crowds is very insightful. It's a dimension that is often overlooked, which is unfortunate. "Crowd energy" is intense and does impact anxiety (and again, other mental health conditions). Thanks for mentioning these things.
Trisha Giorgio
says:
January, 15 2014 at 9:49 pm
Also crowd but people think it's not big deal. It's big deal it's long process to talk with therapy sessions

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 17 2014 at 1:39 pm
I think you're right -- it IS a big deal. Crowds are a problem for many people. And it does take time to work through anxieties with a therapist. Anxiety is complicated, but it can definitely be overcome. If someone tells you that your anxiety is no big deal, try to remember that this opinion is just that -- an opinion, not truth. And it's one born out of a lack of understanding. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

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