Catastrophizing (A Cognitive Distortion)

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Thank you for stopping by for my ongoing positive self-talk series.  Self-love starts with positive self-talk, and all of that starts with you.  Shifting the way that you think requires the ability to recognize the power of your thoughts.  You can learn to love yourself by changing what you think about yourself and how you talk with yourself.   

We all struggle from time to time with cognitive distortions.  The healthiest person you know will struggle with a little cognitive distortion here and a little exaggeration there.  Doing this here and there won’t have an impact on your mental state in the short term.  However, when you start to do it constantly and become your everyday thinking style, your mental health will suffer. 

If you feel that your mental health has suffered to the point that you would benefit from therapy, then take a look at Therapy-Online.com and you can use my link to receive a 20% discount [affiliate link]. It’s my belief that everyone should be able to have access to mental health resources and if you feel that you would benefit from therapy then I encourage you to give it a try.

What does it look like to jump to conclusions with catastrophizing?

Catastrophizing is assuming that the worst is going to happen.  And causes people to jump to the worst possible conclusion, usually with very little information to go off of.  And even going as far as exaggerating the difficulties that you are having.  This type of cognitive distortion causes persistent worry or depression because you are literally making a mountain out of a molehill.    


Here are some examples of what this cognitive distortion looks like. 

Finding yourself worrying about failing an exam and then assuming that if you do, you’ll never finish school, get the degree that you are working towards, and as a result, will never get a job.    

Arriving to work a few minutes late and believing that your entire day is ruined and you find yourself in a crisis.    

Assuming that you know what a partner or friend will say or do and so you start your “dress rehearsal” of how awful it will be because you have jumped to the worst possible conclusion.    

How this cognitive distortion can be harmful. 

This type of cognitive distortion is notorious for causing crises where they do not exist.  If you look to the future and believe that it will go all wrong, it will probably go all wrong.

This is because we create our reality around our thoughts.  So, if we walk around thinking, “it’s going to go wrong for me, something is bound to screw it up…”  Because we believe that something is going to go wrong, we will make it go wrong because that’s what we’re looking for (self-fulfilling prophecy). 

This cognitive distortion can really wreak havoc on your mood and your relationships.  Most individuals who fall prey to catastrophizing experience depression, anxiety, and social anxiety from this cognitive distortion.  Because we tend to feel pretty hopeless that things will ever go right.    

How to know if you’re using catastrophizing in your life. 

You might be if…

If you are assuming that things will go wrong without any objective evidence to support it “because it always goes wrong…” 

You are predicting that something will occur (with little to no evidence) in an attempt to beat it to the punch.   

You are acting in a way that supports your catastrophizing and thus (unknowingly) creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that enforces the belief that you created.  For instance, acting as if someone will hurt you emotionally, so you pull away from them, in which case they pull away from you. This then becomes further evidence for the negative belief (catastrophizing + self-fulfilling prophecy = crisis). 

Catastrophizing – A cognitive distortion

How to get out and overcome catastrophizing. 

  • I.C.E. – and I’m not talking about “in case of emergency.” 

I’m talking about…

Identify the thought that indicates you are catastrophizing. 

Call it what it is – a cognitive distortion. 

Explore if the thought is valid.  What is the evidence?  If another individual was there would they too see the same evidence?   

  • Separate your self-worth from the evidence – Rarely do we ever look for evidence that steers us away from our predictions. But, regardless of whether your prediction is accurate or inaccurate, what will it cost you to continue to hold onto it?  And do you really want to pay its price?  Or would it be better just to let it go?    
Daring Greatly book by Brene' Brown Ph.D

Check out Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown Ph.D. [affiliate link].  Sometimes we catastrophize because we feel vulnerable.  It’s like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, so we begin our “dress rehearsal,” just in case it does happen.  But it doesn’t mean that we have to continue to live a life that always has us feeling like we are one step from catastrophe.             

  • Introduce shades of grey into your thinking – Consciously recognize when you are catastrophizing. Then, take a few deep breaths, and re-examine the situation more objectively.
  • Write it down – Journaling is a fantastic way to identify what you are telling yourself. We all have narratives, and when we write them down, we can start to analyze what they look like. For example, do you catastrophize only over certain things? And if so, is there a common theme? Journaling also creates a space to hold your thoughts, so you’re not trying to keep all of them in your head.
  • Accept your fears – We tend to catastrophize when we feel the most vulnerable. And you know what? It is completely okay to feel vulnerable. You can even dialogue with your catastrophizing. Let your thoughts know that you recognize that you are making more out of this than it is. This is perhaps how you kept yourself safe previously, but it is no longer working for you now. So please take a few deep breaths, get back into the present, and take it from here.
  • Use a worry window – This is a prescribed amount of time during the day (10-15 minutes) where you can worry about anything and everything during that window of time. But once the time is up, then consciously redirect your thoughts back to the present and back to your normal activities.

Let me know your thoughts and what strategies have worked for you for overcoming catastrophizing.        

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