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Are You Catastrophizing?

When you find yourself in a difficult circumstance, what is your response? Do you tend to focus on the negatives of the situation (or relationship) and your helplessness to within it? Or are you able to keep a positive perspective even when faced with tough odds?

It is a loaded question, of course. All of us–even the most upbeat people–have succumbed to the spiral of negative thinking when faced with certain difficulties in life. This is called catastrophizing. ¬†When related to pain, catastrophizing has severe negative implications, creating a hostile environment for the healing process and the person.

In a book chapter Dr. John Heil co-wrote titled Pain and Performance, he and his co-author, Leslie Podlog, describe catastophizing as a “maladaptive cognitive coping strategy…characterized by an excessive focus on pain (rumination), with an exaggeration of threat (magnification) and the perception of not being able to cope with the pain (helplessness).” It is a condition of being so focused on the pain and its awfulness that one becomes paralyzed by it, and enslaved to it.Typically, the more intense the pain experience, the more likely catastrophizing will become part of the person’s response.

Catastrophizing leads to a myriad of negative reactions–and eventual habits–for the person in pain:

  • increased muscle tension
  • increased anxiety
  • stimulating neural systems that produce heightened sensitivity to pain
  • impairment of good decision making
  • impairment of the ability to take appropriate action in response to pain
  • increase of negative self-talk associated with the pain
  • inhibited motivation to carry out rehabilitative programs or regiments

Fortunately, as Heil and Podlog point out, catastrophizing–as with any bad habit–can be unlearned and replaced with healthy coping skills. Recognizing when you have established a pattern of catastrophizing is the first step–and arguably the most important. Then you must go about the work of replacing the negativity with powerful and positive coping mechanisms.

We will talk more about positive coping skills to combat catastrophizing. For now, consider what roll catastrophizing may be playing in your struggles with chronic pain. Be honest. Be proactive. Seek support!

Make it a great weekend, everyone!

  • Team BRPM


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