Depression Catastrophizing: Learn to Recognize and Manage It

April 29, 2019 Jennifer Smith

What is catastrophizing in depression?  According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology,1 to catastrophize is "to exaggerate the negative consequences of events or decisions." I define it as freaking out over little-to-medium crises or unexpected occurrences in my life. It's like thinking the whole evening is ruined if I forget to thaw the chicken for dinner of feeling like I'm a mess all day if the outfit I'd planned to wear isn't clean. Catastrophizing could be set in motion by getting an unexpected bill in the mail. It could begin upon receiving a text from a friend canceling plans. Perhaps a catastrophization trigger for you would be the difficult decision of choosing between two great job offers. Any one of these events can set off a chain reaction that results in catastrophizing that worsens depression.

Catastrophizing in Depression

Catastrophizing is something that those of us with depression are likely to do from time to time. We tend to dwell on negative thoughts, so fearing negative consequences is likely to follow; however, now that we know what catastrophizing is, and that there's a strong possibility we may have to deal with it, we can learn to recognize it and, hopefully, manage it by stopping it before it really starts.

Coping with Depression Catastrophizing

I've found the best way to cope with catastrophizing in depression is to prevent it from happening in the first place. How do I do this? I know my triggers. I keep a journal and make a note of it when something or someone has been a trigger for my negative thoughts. Then I can be prepared for a potential episode of catastrophizing and work toward managing it.

What are the triggers that can lead to my catastrophizing?

  1. Stress: This comes in all forms. From coping with depression to parenting a special needs child; from financial issues to managing a home, stress is an ever-present part of my life, as I'm sure it is for everyone. When that stress builds, it can lead to catastrophizing. So, how do we make the stresses of life more bearable? We can start by finding ways to incorporate more relaxation and self-care into our lives. How do I do this? I walk outdoors once -- sometimes twice -- a day. It's my time away from all the demands of home and family. The combination of physical movement and time spent in nature works wonders for me. 
  2. Feeling alone: When I feel like I'm the only one who has depression or negative thoughts and fears, then that can lead me to catastrophize. I solve this by talking with my support groups or by reading books written by others who also have depression
  3. Harsh or hurtful words: I am not immune to being hurt by others, although I am getting there. Age and self-love have helped me tremendously. Yet, looking back, I remember times when I was nearly broken by the harsh and hurtful words spoken to me. Those words became the inner dialogue that fueled my negative thoughts, which then led to a great deal of my catastrophizing with depression. I'm not positive that it couldn't happen again, as healing is not linear. Right now, however, I am able to take hurtful comments directed toward me and push them outward. I surround myself with love, positive energy, beauty, and joy. I journal positive things about myself. I belong to an online group where our goal is to help each person love and accept herself. For every negative statement someone speaks to me, including my own mind, I've got at least two positive statements to counter it.
  4. Lack of sleep: If I'm not getting adequate sleep, I am much more likely to catastrophize. Being tired exacerbates my depression, thus fueling negative thoughts that can easily spin out of control. I have a bedtime routine: shower, peaceful music by candlelight, then read until I'm sleepy. This nightly ritual signals to my body that it's time to prepare for bed and rest. Also, a disclaimer here: I take a medication prescribed by my psychiatrist to help me sleep. 

So, know your triggers. Be prepared for times in which depression catastrophizing is likely. Find ways to manage your stress, reach out to others, surround yourself with people who build you up, work towards cultivating self-love, and aim for adequate sleep. When you do these things, catastrophizing can be reduced and maybe even eliminated.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA Dictionary of Psychology. 2018.

APA Reference
Smith, J. (2019, April 29). Depression Catastrophizing: Learn to Recognize and Manage It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Jennifer Smith

Find Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

Leave a reply