How To Beat Catastrophizing in a Relationship

Catastrophizing is harmful in a relationship

Do you or your partner ever blow things up, way out of proportion?  Or have irrational or exaggerated thoughts about every little thing that happens in your life?

Two forms of catastrophizing

Catastrophizing can take many forms, but here are two simple examples.   First, it can be in the form of having an irrational thought and believing something is far worse than it actually is. Second, it can be blowing up a current situation or catastrophizing out of a future situation that hasn’t even happened.

How is catastrophizing different from an actual threat

Here are some things we need to know.   

Our brains don’t always know the difference between catastrophizing (imagining a threat) and an actual real threat.   

What ends up happening is that we begin with just a simple irrational thought and this thought sends our brain into overstress mode.   We then attach an emotion to this irrational thought, such as; fear or danger. Now, this thought is definitely not going anywhere. This thought now becomes a “what if situation”.   Here, in the “what ifs” we begin to play around with all kinds of catastrophizing scenarios. Basically, our brain has now been hijacked and we are in panic mode and we have no other choice but to catastrophize this situation.

Here is an example: I went to my doctor’s appointment today.   It went well but my doctor wants me to do some blood work. Wait, now I’m nervous!  Why does he want me to do blood work? What if he thinks I have some horrible disease?  What if he thinks I am dying? OMG! What if I am dying?

If this sounds like you or your partner, here are some steps to help STOP CATASTROPHIZING –

1. Challenge the “what if “ thoughts

Ask yourself if the thought is serving me a purpose?  Is this thought healthy? Is there actual evidence that these thoughts are true?   If the answer is no, don’t give that thought another second of your time. Replace that thought, distract yourself, or simply keep repeating this thought is not true.  Sometimes we need to challenge these irrational thoughts and bring ourselves back to the present where we are in power of our thoughts.

2. Play out the “what if “thoughts

Play out this irrational and catastrophizing event. So I go to do blood work and something isn’t right.  What happens then? Will I be ok? Will the doctor have some suggestions to fix things? Sometimes we forget to play out these scenarios to the very end.  What likely will happen in the end is that we will be ok and there will be a solution. Perhaps something shows up on your blood work there is a good possibility a vitamin or supplement can help.  We tend to forget to play out the scenario all the way to end and remind ourselves we will be ok.

3. Ask yourself about how you handled stressful and uncomfortable situations

More than likely you have handled many many stressful and uncomfortable situations in your life.  So how did you do? Let’s go back and remind ourselves we can handle tough times and, lets pull from those resources and tools we used then and use them again now.

4. Be patient

Be patient

Catastrophizing is a way of thinking.  It takes time to shift how we think. The biggest thing you can do for yourself is being aware of your thinking and be patient with yourself.  These things take time. With awareness and, practice things can change.

5. Get support

Get support

Sometimes catastrophizing gets the best of us.   It can create anxiety and dysfunction in our lives and relationships.   It might be time to seek out professional help and resources to assist you in working through so thoughts and feelings.  


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Nahal Hydaryacil
Marriage & Family Therapist, Domestic Violence
Dr. Nahal Nichole Hydaryacil. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (License LMFT108460) who practices psychotherapy in Irvine, California. I hold a Doctorate Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Alliant International University, and also has earned a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from National University. I actively participate as a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

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