Do you know people who always think of the worst-case scenario? Do they always blow things out of proportion? Do they react in an over the top and dramatic way? Do they go from 0–100 emotionally in seconds? Do they perceive things as terrible or awful? Do they always make a mountain out of a molehill?
The Oxford dictionary’s definition of catastrophise is to ‘view or present a situation as considerably worse than it actually is’ and so catastrophising is when someone reacts to a small incident as if it is a major incident. A person who catastrophises emotionally magnifies, exaggerates or blows out of proportion a perceived threat or worry. They use very strong and exaggerated language.
Common catastrophic phrases:
- My head is killing me!
- I’m starving!
- I’ve told you a hundred times!
- I’m dreading the meeting!
- My life is over!
- It’s the end of the world!
- That’s disgusting!
Other words that catastrophisers use are: terrible, awful, atrocious, appalling, nightmare, fiasco, hate, disastrous, horrible, revolting. Get the idea?
Catastrophising is an unhelpful thinking style that is often connected to black and white thinking. Many of us are prone to catastrophising at times, but some more than others and such language does not allow for perspective in situations. Research has shown that acting and using language in a catastrophising way can negatively affect psychological and physical well-being. This is because when we think, react, and speak in a catastrophic manner our body reacts as if the situation or event has actually happened, causing needless anxiety and stress.
People with parents who catastrophised are more likely to have this thinking style. Children witness their parents acting in a catastrophic way to events and situations and so learn to respond in the same way.
Hyperboles are often used in written and spoken communication to add emphasis and humour to literature and advertisements. However, unless for example, we are writing a story or performing on stage, we ought to really be wary of using them in our daily lives.
It is quite easy to change a catastrophic approach to events and situations once an individual recognises they are reacting and speaking in a catastrophising manner.
Firstly, learn to recognise when you are about to or are reacting in a catastrophic way to an event or situation. Tell yourself that you are over-reacting and try and gain perspective over the situation. Aim to calm yourself down and try to relax before the anxiety created gets too high.
Try to think in a less dramatic way and consider the language you are about to use and change it to more appropriate language for the situation. In other words, mean what you say as opposed to exaggerating the reality of the situation – try and recognise that things are not as bad as you are making out. It will also help if you consider adding more humour to such situations and be less serious about things.
Reducing catastrophising by being aware of your thinking and language will enable you to be less stressed and reduce anxiety. Try it, it works!
Mandy Willdig is Thrive Programme consultant. Mandy has been a teacher for nearly 30 years before going through The Thrive Programme.