I suffer from catastrophic anxiety. This means I always have an answer when someone asks, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I may not be thinking rationally, but I am really good at coming up with ridiculous outcomes for any scenario.
What is Catastrophic Anxiety?
The term, catastrophic anxiety, refers to our irrational and exaggerated thoughts: thoughts that have no basis in fact, but which we believe anyway. Generally, catastrophic anxiety develops out of very little. In my case, it stems from my innate need for control – a trait I’ve possessed since I was a toddler. My Mom describes my toddlerhood as filled with tantrums over my inability to manipulate my surroundings. From the outcome of a situation to the actions of others, I was overtly aware how little control I had and it made me angry.
Over the last two months I’ve learned a lot in therapy about anger. My anger stems from anxiety. In addition to regular anxiety, I experience catastrophic anxiety rooted in a number of significant events. A terrifying car crash in high school, long distance dating, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and more have contributed to my catastrophic anxiety.
What do you think is actually going to happen?
Do I ever really think something BAD is going to happen to me? YES.
Based on my life experiences, like being the only person I know to catch Covid-19, bad things can happen when you least expect it. I’m actually embarrassed to admit my current inner dialogue regarding my health today. But THIS is what catastrophic thinking is all about. It starts with one small worry: “What if I get sick again?” and catapults to, “What if I die tomorrow?”
It must be noted, the instances where my mind clings to worst case scenarios range from seemingly unimportant to overly significant. For example, a meaningless disagreement with a friend can trigger a variety of storylines, some ending in the loss of a friendship. Despite being aware that I’m magnifying a small situation, the overwhelming sense of anxiety that erupts from a catastrophic thought can be crippling.
Over time I am learning to accept I cannot control everything. Sickness, death, and human behavior is unpredictable. I can only take ownership of my actions and reactions in a situation.
What are you learning in therapy?
In therapy I am learning the tools for coping with my catastrophic anxiety. Living in the moment is one of my goals, instead of fearing what’s to come, as well as cancelling negative thoughts. We are also exploring how my reaction to irrational thoughts are irrational actions. And lastly, we are identifying the triggers for my anxiety. Self-talk is increasingly important in my healing and recovery process too!