Beyond Catastrophizing by Sherri Lantinga, Ph.D.

By admin
In Women
Mar 13th, 2014

“Catastrophizing” is a fancy, psychological way of saying “making mountains out of molehills.” Our drive to do things well (to have a beautiful home and charming kids and respect of colleagues) brings us energy and accolades, but it can also lead to anxiety and depression that hurts us and others. These tips help you avoid the self-talk and choices that can lead us to overwhelm, undue stress, and the feeling of catastrophe.

  1. “In the world of good enough, this is perfect”:  I first learned to repeat this phrase while doing home remodeling. Sometimes a wall is just a wall (or a meeting, or a class, or a dinner), and spending extra energy fussing over every square inch has diminishing returns – in most situations, no one will notice tiny flaws, so be satisfied with a “B”and get on with something else.
  2. “Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good”:  Sometimes when we’re trying to craft the perfect policy or procedure, or we feel pressure to get everyone to agree to a new idea, we miss sight of the common ground where we DO agree. This phrase reminds us to start with what you can and then build on it. Think steps, not single bounds.
  3. “It’s my policy not to…”:  Saying this phrase in a regretful tone lets you get away with saying no to nearly anything (without actually saying no). For example, it’s my policy not to accept new tasks on Fridays, or to bake treats for department meetings, or to attend more than one evening work function per week. I can’t help it – it’s my policy.
  4. “As it turns out…”:  This phrase (again, said regretfully) is ideal for communicating that you aren’t going to fulfill some promise or commitment you already made (perhaps in a moment of weakness). It sounds as though you’ve tried to make things work out but circumstances were beyond your control. So, as it turns out, I can’t make it to that breakfast meeting tomorrow (or join that task force, or get that report to you on Tuesday).
  5. Must, ought, could:  Our college librarian developed this MOC system for prioritizing new book orders, and I use it to prioritize tasks when I’m feeling overwhelmed. What MUST I get done today (or serious problems would certainly result), what OUGHT I get done today (but tomorrow would be ok, too), and what COULD I get done today (but could easily wait a few days or forever)? Those “could” items tend to stay on the list, so after a week I either change them to Musts (if they’re important but not urgent) or I just dump them without regret.
  6. Raggedy underwear isn’t good for anyone:  Wearing shabby undergarments (or eating the burned toast, etc.) doesn’t save the planet, your self-confidence, or much money. Get rid of them (and anything else that brings out your inner martyr) and get something that makes you feel good about yourself, which creates energy and productivity.
  7. “The world won’t end if I go to the bathroom.”  Really – it won’t. Take 5 minutes – even 10 – a few times a day. If the world WILL crash because of your bathroom break, then the world is ending anyway so you might as well use the bathroom first.
  8. “Thank you so much for….”:  This phrase isn’t just for writing cards – it helps you graciously end a conversation or turn down a request. Thank you SO MUCH for meeting with me today (say this as you stand and offer your hand – even effective if it’s not your meeting), for asking me to serve on that panel, for asking about my mom’s health. I really appreciate it. Good bye.
  9. Hire it out:  If you hate doing some task, then use your network to find someone who actually likes doing it and then hire them to do it for you (or do something for them in return). Hated tasks drain your energy and joy; enjoyable tasks are energy givers. I recently had a woman sort all my family medical bills and insurance forms; in return, I’ll weed her garden this spring. We’re both happy.
  10. File it in the future:  E-mail lets other people dump work on you, and it’s tough to stay on top of it. Some e-mail systems let you color-code or prioritize items in your in-box. I like to use a “delay delivery” option to forward items to my future self. So, instead of letting scanned application materials sit in my in-box until his/her interview next Monday, I forward it to myself for delivery on Monday morning, just when I need it. Then I can delete it from today’s box.

Our lives are often stressful enough – but we make them more so by holding unrealistic expectations or agreeing to do too much. These tips can get you started on recognizing the molehills for what they are instead of making them into threatening mountains. Pick just one tip to use today or this week – see what a difference it can make!

© 2011 Sherri Lantinga, Ph.D.

Sherri Lantinga, Ph.D., is a psychology professor and Dean for Curriculum and Instruction at Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. Her desk is tidy enough, her family is presentable, and her students seem to be happy. For more information about her, go to her blog at

just_whelmedAnd if you like these tips and find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you will want to access the Just Whelmed Wee Weekly Workshops. Each week you will receive mini workshops are designed to help you reduce your stress so you can become just whelmed