Do you often think a decision or an action will lead to the worst possible outcome?

Steven Colber, a TV personality, eats popcorn and says

If so, you might be a catastrophizer.

Recognizing signs of catastrophizing can help you:

  • challenge negative thoughts

  • see things more realistically

  • understand yourself better

  • support others who might be struggling with this condition

There are 4 telltale signs catastrophizers share more often than not.

1. Exaggerating

Name it

Catastrophizers magnify the impact of a problem or a situation and describe it using exaggerated language.

A girl crying and saying,

They might say:

  • I always mess up!

  • I'll never be successful.

  • I'm completely off base.

  • Everyone hates me.

Flaticon Icon Tame it

Recognize when you're catastrophizing by being mindful of any exaggerated language or overly negative interpretations of events.

If you catch yourself exaggerating, describe the situation focusing on the now, without jumping to conclusions or rehashing what happened in the past.

2. Jumping to Conclusions

Name it

Catastrophizers usually jump to the worst possible conclusion without considering more balanced perspectives.

Woman saying,

They tend to concentrate on the unfavorable outcomes and overlook the positive ones, even for small setbacks.

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When you notice catastrophic thoughts, challenge them by asking yourself, "Is this really happening or am I jumping to conclusions?" Look for evidence that describes what is actually taking place and think of alternative outcomes.

3. Overthinking

Name it

Catastrophizers constantly dwell on negative thoughts and replay worst-case scenarios.

A graphic that reads,

People under stress, or those who believe that overthinking (or ruminating) will provide them additional insight to help solve their problem(s), often find themselves stuck in a cycle of negative thinking.

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If you catch yourself overthinking, know that there are ways to break the cycle.

  • Talk to a trusted friend or family member to seek a different perspective.

  • Work out what you can and can't change, then make a plan to address the things in your control.

  • Try meditation or deep breathing.

  • Distract yourself with a hobby or a chore.

4. Heightened Emotional Response

Name it

Catastrophizing is linked to intense emotional reactions, such as panic, fear, or despair even in situations others may perceive as minor.

A white male fans himself and wipes his forehead as if he's hot.

These intense emotions are often accompanied by a physical response like increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, or other signs of anxiety and fear.

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Name how you feel and take stock of what is happening in your body.

  • Try meditation and deep breathing to calm your body and mind.

  • Visualize your problem getting smaller.

  • Exercise to help reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Focus on the present moment where you have control over your actions and decisions.

  • Replace catastrophic thoughts with reminders of past successes and your ability to handle challenges effectively.

Put Yourself First

Instead of seeking practical solutions, catastrophizers may resort to unproductive coping strategies, like avoidance or substance use.

A character sitting on a couch and eating Doritos.

If catastrophizing significantly impacts your daily life or causes intense distress, speak with a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and support tailored to your needs.

Flaticon Icon Remember

Everybody's journey is different.

  • Breaking free from catastrophizing takes time and practice.

  • Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way.

Quiz: Alex's Journaling Exercise

Alex feels things could be better and wants to mindfully examine their thoughts.

Recognize all signs of catastrophizing Alex wrote down in their journal.

Flaticon Icon A. Kai didn't text me since our fight. He hates me now. Soon I'll have no friends left at all.

B. I was looking at the phone chargers at the mall and the security guard gave me a look. I bet he thinks I'm a thief. He probably went straight to the security office and added me to their list of folks to watch.

C. I failed my last math quiz. I need to go to office hours and get some help before the next quiz.

D. I've had 3 screener interviews and nothing else. They can tell I'm a fraud. I'll never get a job.


Select all signs of catastrophizing that apply:

Take Action

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With dedication and self-compassion, you can develop a more positive and balanced outlook on life.


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