What Can Be Done About Catastrophizing

This is the last post of a three part series: Understanding Catastrophizing, The Role of Catastrophizing in Chronic Pain, and What Can Be Done About Catastrophizing

The first step to stopping catastrophizing is, not surprisingly, awareness. People who catastrophize really don’t recognize what they’re doing – this is their reality. That’s why if someone is spinning out of control right in front of you, it’s possible that you can help by naming other possible outcomes that they might consider. They will argue with you, so it’s best to be ready for that. They will insist that they are going to have to live under a bridge, die of an extremely rare disease, and go insane…or get eaten by a bobcat, or fall off of a ferris wheel, or have their flesh eaten by a virulent strain of bacteria. At any rate…they will try to convince you that you are wrong, but press on, because whether they admit it or not – they are hearing you and hopefully after enough conversations like this, they will hear a little voice whisper, “Are there any other possibilities?” Just don’t expect the aha moment to happen right now.

The ABCs of problem solving can be modified to apply to catastrophizing:

Alternatives – what are some of the alternative outcomes here?

Best Ideas – what are some of your best ideas for avoiding the catastrophe that you feel is about to befall you?

Commitment – commit to trying one of your best ideas – name the specific time and place that you’ll try this idea out.

Going back to the discussion of catastrophizing and chronic pain;

Alternatives – the doctor will be able to help me find a way to manage my pain, I will be able to exercise/work/go out with my friends again…

Best Ideas – massage, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory diet, stretching…

Commitment – I will call my doctor for a referral to physical therapy today, I will schedule a massage tomorrow, I will make an appointment to see a dietitian…

Catastrophizers are often just trying to protect themselves by preparing for every potential problem ahead of time. The truth is that no matter how much time you spend trying to prepare yourself, when the thing that you’re preparing for actually happens- you won’t be emotionally ready. It is true that worrying does nothing but rob today of it’s happiness; there are some things in life that you just can’t be prepared for, but telling yourself that you’ll be able to cope with whatever happens can help you to go forward with a sense of determination and strength. If you aren’t able to exercise the way that you once did, you can cope and find a new way to work movement into your life. If your doctor isn’t able to find a way to help you manage your pain, you can cope and get a second opinion or try an alternative therapy. If you lose your job, you’ll cope and call on some contacts that you have at other companies or brush up on your skills by enrolling in a class or attaining more education.

As  J.K Rowling describes it, “I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” She could have easily catastrophized the fact that she was suddenly divorced, a single mother…and fearfully close to being officially homeless. Did I mention that she was 21? People in their early 20s are not generally noted to be exceptionally resilient. She didn’t sink into a spinning vortex of panic and catastrophe, though. Instead she went on to become one of the best-selling authors of all time and to discover (as she puts it) her strong will and discipline.