In my head, preparing for a worst-case scenario event seems completely logical. Why end up in a situation unprepared? What’s the harm in having a Mary Poppinsesque bag (besides the fact in real life, its insanely heavy)? I get a great sense of relief when I am prepared, such as when I bring my lunch to work or I brought my charger on a night out with my friends. However, it is never stops there. I can’t just have one backup plan; I need a backup plan for my backup plan. No matter how unlikely the event will be, I need to be ready. Do you start to see the issue?
This has a name, it is known as Catastrophizing, and it is unbelievably exhausting.
What is Catastrophizing?
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought, a cognitive distortion that leads individuals, such as myself, to negatively exaggerate an event, into a worst-case scenario. What was a small stressor, has now become a great catastrophe. (Hence, the name.)
The Logic of Being Illogical
While I can write about how this is an irrational, harmful, and illogical process, I can’t help but continue. I plan conversations in my head, with everyone. It is easier the better I know them because I can guess their response. The idea of talking to a person without having prepared all the possible topics of conversation is insane.
WHAT ABOUT THE AWKWARD SILENCE? Then I wonder why I have a headache, when I was supposed to be relaxing.
It is hard work talking to yourself all day.
Often, self-help websites will tell you to catch yourself in the act, recognise the negative thoughts and stop. This is easy for the dramatic ones. For example, I tend to worry about global warming and start preparing for doomsday, how I will survive or panic about the idea I won’t. In these situations, I can stop myself; recognise that I am exaggerating an article about dying bees to the end of the world. It gets a lot harder when the catastrophizing tricks me into thinking it is logical. For example, I get rejected for a Research Associate Post. I worry that I won’t make it as a Clinical Psychologist, that no one will hire me, so I start googling alternatives. ‘Alternatives to Clinical Psychology’, looking at graduate programs I had no interest but suddenly seem interesting. I spend an hour planning for the worst-case scenario, based on one rejection, from a post that was highly competitive. At the time, it made logical sense; I need to prepare for failure so that I can still make money.
The problem is I can never plan my future to the T because I will never know what is going to happen. There are an infinite number of ways my career could go, and if I prepare for every single one of them, I’m not only failing to enjoy the present, but exhausted, and most likely, 100.
This is much easier to write than to do (surprise), but recognising that I tend to catastrophize is a start. It lets me stop, mid-plan, to double check that this is not just a spiral. Sometimes it is too late, and I am already on Plan D, but that’s okay. It is a work in progress.
While I am working on it, I will simply delight in being known, for now, as the organised and “has their shit together” friend (even if that’s a stretch).
Always working on becoming less,
Anxious and Hungry