Unstress Center

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


Do you think catastrophizing makes things more stressful or less stressful?


"Catastrophizing" is what happens when you think that the worst possible outcome will happen when anticipating danger or difficulty, especially in circumstances where this is actually very unlikely.

For example, a well-liked and respected employee might fear being fired if she or he doesn't complete a big project in a short time.

Cognitive psychologists (e.g., Beck & Emery, 1985) teach us that catastrophizing makes things more stressful. That's because, unwittingly, our thoughts help mobilize our bodies and emotions as if a genuine (rather than imagined) catastrophe were actually happening. Emergency systems are up and running. We get ready to fight or flee with no present actual threat. How exhausting!

If you notice that you catastrophize, think logically. For example, On a scale of 1-10, is this really a catastrophe or is this a difficult problem instead?

Is this happening now? If not, must I rehearse being so scared? Do I have a crystal ball? If not, I might be prepared for a very fearful consequence, but I might also allow myself to expect less catastrophic results.


Marianne Ross, Ph.D., is a Licensed Psychologist in private practice in Irvine and Laguna Beach, CA. (714) 497-3454). She also works at the University of California, Irvine. Counseling Center/College of Medicine.


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