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A nervous man sits against a background of flowers. Both the man and the flowers are more significantly in shadow on the right than on the left.


Catastrophizing is a word that is used a lot in the mental health field in which I work. This phenomenon can also be called a cognitive distortion. Mostly associated with people struggling with anxiety and extreme stress and worry, it makes difficult situations seem catastrophic (hence the term catastrophizing :-)).

Mountain out of a molehill on steroids. I bring this subject to the table because all people do it at one time or another, but people with illness, whether it be psychological or physical, are most prone to this destructive type of thinking pattern. It’s important to be aware of your thought processes regarding your illness. Sometimes this can be quite tricky because one day you will be simply worried, but after having dealt with the same problems over and over again, the catastrophic line of thinking creeps in. Once you are thinking this way, it is very difficult to stop. Let’s talk about what it looks like and how one might learn to control it.

Catastrophizing about my IBS

Let’s start with an example of using our good friend IBS. I have felt good for several months now, but my last flare-up was a disaster. I had dinner out with friends the other night and ate some things I shouldn’t have. Here comes the catastrophe.

Now, because I misbehaved and ate things that can aggravate my IBS, I am now POSITIVE that it is just a matter of time until the next flare. Not only am I POSITIVE that it will happen, I know that it will happen soon. I will be fatigued, miss work (lose money), miss activities with my kids and will be in terrible pain. There. See how that works? Instead of simply saying, “Man, I really shouldn’t have eaten those fried mushrooms because they are an IBS trigger,” and leaving it at that, we create this whole distorted (very negative) narrative about what we believe will occur. This is not healthy or helpful. Managing illness of any kind requires a lot of strength and focus. Catastrophizing will sap that strength and focus. So what do we do about it?

Mindfulness can calm catastrophizing

I know that most everyone here is familiar with the term mindfulness. Mindfulness can help a great deal with this type of catastrophic thinking because it helps us stay in the moment and makes it more difficult to go forward or backward in time in our minds. Staying in the present can help stop the destruction before it starts. Taking it day by day, one choice at a time, one moment at a time and dealing with what is in front of you is paramount. Nothing more, nothing less.

There are several other coping skills that can be used that I may get into in another article. My advice to you is that if you are CATASTROPHIZING, it is probably a good idea to find a decent therapist. They can help you pinpoint the root of the fear and worry that is causing this mess.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.