Worst Case! The art of dealing with thoughts of disaster

In a world characterised by uncertainty and constant change, we are often faced with the challenge of dealing with our own thoughts of disaster. This tendency to expect the worst in every situation can severely impair our ability to deal effectively with challenges and put a strain on our emotional well-being. It is as if we become trapped in a maze of negative thoughts that prevent us from seeing reality clearly and finding effective solutions to our problems.

Historical perspectives on catastrophic thinking

Catastrophic thinking, i.e. the tendency to expect the worst in every situation, is not a modern phenomenon. It was already a topic discussed in philosophical debates about materialism during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. At that time, catastrophic thinking focussed on the finiteness and transience of life, which made the world appear in a purely material light.

In psychology, the term catastrophising was coined by well-known psychologists such as Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck. They used it to describe a way of thinking that often occurs in people with anxiety and depressive disorders. These patients tend to have an irrationally negative view of the future, which exacerbates their anxiety and depression.

Catastrophic thinking also plays a role in medical research, particularly in pain therapy. Research has been carried out into how such thoughts influence the perception of pain and which treatment methods can be effective.

Nowadays, especially in the context of climate change, catastrophic thinking is often understood as a kind of sensitised perception. It makes people take the catastrophic effects of climate change seriously and act accordingly. This view sees catastrophic thinking not only as a psychological problem, but also as a necessary response to real, global threats.

In psychoanalysis, catastrophising has traditionally been seen as a form of excessive worry arising from deep fears and insecurities. This perspective emphasises the importance of understanding and treating the emotional and psychological causes of catastrophic thinking.

These historical observations show that catastrophising is a multi-layered phenomenon that is rooted in individual psychology as well as in social and cultural contexts. It has developed over time and has been interpreted and treated differently in various disciplines.

Effects and consequences of catastrophic thinking in everyday life and at work

Catastrophic thinking, the phenomenon whereby people tend to expect the worst possible outcome in situations, has far-reaching consequences in everyday life and at work. This pattern of thinking can lead to a number of negative consequences that affect both personal well-being and professional performance.

In everyday life

In everyday life, catastrophic thinking often leads to increased anxiety and stress. People who are prone to this thought pattern often experience constant inner restlessness and worry. They may find themselves in a state of constant alert, which can lead to sleep disturbances, irritability and a general reduction in quality of life. For example, someone who has a mild stomach ache may immediately assume the worst and spiral into anxiety.

At work

In a professional context, catastrophising can impair performance and decision-making. People who tend to expect the worst may be reluctant to take risks or take on new challenges. They may also tend to be overly cautious, which can inhibit innovation and creativity. In extreme cases, this can lead to burnout or job dissatisfaction.

Examples from practice

An example from professional life could be an employee who immediately assumes they will be fired after making a small mistake at work. This exaggerated fear can lead to unnecessary stress and reduced morale. Another example could be a person who immediately assumes a simple cold is a serious illness, which can lead to excessive worry and unnecessary visits to the doctor.

Disaster thinking can thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the fear of negative outcomes actually leads to a lower quality of life and professional dissatisfaction. It is therefore important to develop strategies to recognise and overcome this pattern of thinking.

Advantages and disadvantages of catastrophic thinking


Preparing for the worst: Disaster thinking can prompt people to prepare for possible negative events and take appropriate precautions.

Increased vigilance: By expecting the worst, you can be more vigilant and alert to potential dangers.

Motivation to solve problems: Disaster thinking can serve as a motivator to find solutions to potential problems and to act proactively.

Emotional resilience: Constantly dealing with negative scenarios can make you more emotionally resilient to actual challenges.


Increased anxiety and stress: Constant catastrophic thinking can lead to increased anxiety and stress, which affects general well-being.

Distorted perception of reality: Catastrophic thinking can lead to a distorted perception of reality and harmless situations being perceived as threatening.

Inhibition of action: The constant expectation of negative results can have a paralysing effect and lead to necessary or beneficial steps not being taken.

Impairment of interpersonal relationships: Catastrophising can lead to mistrust and conflict in relationships, as people tend to see the worst in others.

Restriction of enjoyment of life: The constant worry about possible catastrophes can severely restrict the ability to feel joy and satisfaction in life.

Self-fulfilling prophecies: Constantly thinking about negative scenarios can lead to unconsciously contributing to these scenarios actually materialising.

Neglecting positive aspects: Catastrophic thinking can lead to overlooking or failing to recognise positive aspects and opportunities in life.

Chronic dissatisfaction: Constantly focussing on what could go wrong can lead to chronic dissatisfaction and a feeling of hopelessness.

While catastrophic thinking can be useful in some cases to minimise risks and take precautions, the negative effects often outweigh the positive ones. It is important to find a balance and maintain a realistic perspective in order to preserve both emotional well-being and quality of life.

Overcoming catastrophic thinking

Overcoming catastrophic thinking requires conscious effort and sometimes professional help. It starts with recognising and accepting your own thought patterns. Strategies such as mindfulness exercises, cognitive restructuring and learning stress management techniques can be helpful and there are various strategies for overcoming catastrophic thinking:

  1. Self-awareness: The first step is to recognise and acknowledge your own thought patterns. This can be done through self-reflection or with the help of a therapist.

  2. Ask questions: One technique is to ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen and then consider whether you could get through it. This type of self-questioning can help to reduce anxiety and gain a more realistic perspective.

  3. Track negative thoughts: Another method is to follow the negative thoughts to the end to see where the illogical thinking leads. This can help to recognise the absurdity of some fears.

  4. Separate thoughts from the person: It is important to understand that you are not your thoughts. The ability to differentiate between yourself and your thoughts can help to reduce the influence of negative thought patterns.

  5. Grounding techniques: Grounding techniques can help to bring the focus back to the present moment when thoughts start to derail. Examples of this include breathing exercises or consciously being aware of your own senses.

  6. Noticing the good: We often focus more on negative events in our lives. To neutralise catastrophic thinking, it can be helpful to become aware of when things go well or when catastrophic predictions turn out not to be true.

  7. Acceptance: Another strategy is to accept bad things when they happen. This means facing the sadness and stress of uncertainty rather than trying to deal with it.

  8. Problem solving instead of problem focussing: Instead of focusing on the problem, it can be helpful to break the situation down into smaller, manageable parts and think in a solution-oriented way.

  9. Control over what is manageable: This technique involves realising that you cannot control the future, but that you have the power to either fight or accept the situation.

  10. Talk to people: By talking to people who have a distance to the topic and do not judge, you can distance yourself from the disaster. The objectivity gained in this way allows the topic to be analysed and invalidated in a neutral way.

REDEZEIT FÜR DICH helps people to distance themselves from the expected catastrophe: By listening to our listeners in a non-judgemental way, people can recognise the thought patterns they have learned and change them themselves. This helps them understand how they can better deal with stress and reduce their anxiety. REDEZEIT encourages people to actively work on their own mental health and free themselves from negative thought spirals. The REDEZEIT listeners offer support to change thought patterns.


VOX.COM: https://www.vox.com/even-better/24055564/catastrophizing-stop-assuming-the-worst-negative-thoughts

HELLOBETTER.DE: https://hellobetter.de/blog/katastrophendenken/