When You Believe Everything is a Catastrophe

Catastrophic Thinking

I can easily turn things into a catastrophe in my thinking. A recent example happened this week when my little French Poodle mix stopped eating. I took Nikki to the veterinarian and reported her symptoms. Blood tests and X-rays revealed nothing. The vet suggested an ultrasound if she didn’t get better; I thought it was cancer. One of my daughters said, “Dad, stop thinking this is a catastrophe.” Indeed, Nikki was healthy and had an upset stomach. Believing that a catastrophe is about to happen is not unusual in my thinking.

I am much less prone to thinking in terms of disaster. There are various reasons I have improved. One of them is psychotherapy. As a young man, I was unhappy with this catastrophic thinking. My psychologist pointed out that I was living as though a sword was about to drop on my head.

What is catastrophe thinking?

  • Catastrophe thinking is when your mind twists information into an imagined scenario of everything that can go wrong. It is a type of cognitive distortion. 

What is cognitive distortion?

A cognitive distortion is a pattern of inaccurate or irrational thinking that can lead to negative emotions and behaviors. It involves thoughts not based on reality and can lead to distorted perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world. Examples of cognitive distortions include unfounded assumptions, sweeping generalizations, and thinking the worst. Individuals can improve their mental health and well-being by identifying and challenging cognitive distortions.

Believing everything is a catastrophe blocks tackling challenges as problems appear more daunting. You could be afraid to drive for fear of injury or car damage.


  • I expect more bad things to happen when bad things happen to me.”
  • “When bad things happen to me, I blame myself for them.”
  • “I have no control over the things that happen to me.”
  • “When bad things happen to me, I cannot stop thinking about how much worse things will get.”
  • “When I have a physical problem, I likely think it is very serious.”
  • “When I fail at something, I give up all hope.”
  • “I respond to stress by making things worse than they are.”
  • Expecting a disaster is when your mind twists information into an imagined scenario of everything that can go wrong. It is a type of cognitive distortion. 

Some people can be overwhelmed by catastrophic thinking, and it’s hard to recognize unless they acknowledge the issue. 

Ways to stop catastrophic thinking

Catastrophe can be a difficult mental habit to break. However, it’s possible to change the way you think with practice.

  • Mindfulness practice

Studies show that mindfulness practices can reduce catastrophic thinking connected to pain. One practice to reduce disaster thinking is journaling.

  • Journaling

You can use a notebook, pen, or voice memo app if you don’t want to write to record your thoughts when you begin a disaster. Journaling can help you keep track of thought patterns and help you stop thinking disaster. Consider scheduling time during your week to review your journal entries and write the recurring themes you notice.

  • Would you say your negative thoughts to someone else?

Voicing out loud your negative thoughts instead of in your head might be helpful. Saying aloud, “My boss wants to see me fire me. I am a failure,” or “I feel pain. I must be dying,” could be enough to make you see your thoughts might be irrational. You’d probably not tell your partner, child, or colleague what you think. If not, consider asking yourself why.

  • Challenging yourself

Recognizing when you spiral can help you challenge yourself to stop the cycle. You can practice moments of stillness to connect with how you feel in that moment. Over time, the practice could help you develop an awareness of how to manage your thoughts.

Take 1 minute to observe your surroundings. Practice verbalizing what you observe.

  • Exercise

Exercise can reduce anxiety and stress.

You may add daily movement, such as

  • walking
  • yoga
  • water aerobics
  • pilates

For children and adults alike, turning everything into a catastrophe comes down to blowing things out of proportion. It creates barriers to facing challenges because problems seem much larger and harder to handle. You may fear getting injured or disfigured in accidents or damaging your car beyond repair, so you may avoid driving.

One last suggestion. Limit the time you spend watching the news, and be careful about what you view on Television. Being aware of the news is important, but spending over 30 minutes viewing news items is unnecessary.

Television programs can be violent and promote catastrophic thinking.



Find Relief from Anxiety with Mindful Meditation

Find Relief from Anxiety with Mindful Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation help individuals gain mental clarity. It also helps to manage stress and improve their understanding of themselves and their surroundings. As depicted in the photo, meditation focuses on “Live the Moment.”

One of the many types of meditation is Mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It involves awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations, and environment. Included in this is accepting them as they are. Mindfulness can be practiced daily, for example, by paying full attention to what you do, such as eating, walking, or listening to someone. There are also formal mindfulness practices, such as mindfulness meditation.

Meditation is a way to focus on the mind and avoid intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is just one form of meditation. The idea is to sit upright in a straight-back chair or on the floor. The way to avoid thinking is to focus on breathing. Each time thoughts intrude, and that happens often, we refocus on breathing. Most people begin the practice of meditation with twenty-minute sessions. Then, the time is increased to thirty minutes or more.

There are many benefits to meditation. For example, it can activate the body’s relaxation response, helping to reduce stress. It’s also been associated with increased well-being and happiness. Findings show it can improve memory, attention, and decision-making skills. Research has linked it to reducing insomnia and improving sleep. 

Guided meditation is a technique used to help people relax and focus their minds. It involves listening to a professional on a recording that leads the listener through mental images and calming thoughts. Guided meditation reduces stress and anxiety, promotes relaxation, and improves overall well-being. This practice is often used as therapy or a personal growth and development tool. It can be done alone or in a group setting and tailored to meet individual needs and preferences.

Walking is a simple and accessible form of physical activity that offers a multitude of health and mental health benefits. Below are some of the notable benefits.

Walking can:

  1. Improve heart health. It can lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease by helping to improve circulation and strengthen the heart.
  2. Burn calories and can help maintain or lose weight with a balanced diet.
  3. It helps tone the muscles and improves the strength and flexibility of joints. For people with arthritis, it can be especially beneficial in easing pain and stiffness.
  4. Walking helps improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls in seniors.
  5. Help lower blood sugar levels and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which benefits people with type 2 diabetes.
  6. Help boost the immune system, making the body more adept at fighting illnesses.
  7. Combining physical activity, fresh air, and nature can have a calming effect on the mind.
  8. Help with better sleep.
  9. Allow the mind to wander, and may lead to increased creativity and improved problem-solving skills.
  10. Being with friends or in groups can provide social interaction that benefits mental health and creates a sense of belonging.

Incorporating walking into one’s daily routine can be a simple and effective way to enhance physical and mental health. 

I use guided meditation. There is an app that I use called “Calm.” While you can subscribe for free, the sound quality of the paid version is far superior. Meditation is used for a variety of purposes. Those purposes are listed in Calm, where the subscriber can select from various purposes. There are meditations to calm stress, reduce anxiety, promote sleep, walk in the woods, and many more. The user can select from a variety of lengths of time. For example, the time ranges from ten to thirty minutes. The people who guide the meditations are experts at what they do. Many of them are well known.

Meditate. It’s the best medicine of all.


I Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

“I Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda?” or How to Feel Shame, Regret and Self-Blame

How often have you heard yourself say those exact words? I have used one or all of those words during my life. Being a psychotherapist does not prevent me from making mistakes, just like all of us.

These words have roots in feelings of depression, anxiety, and chronic self-doubt. People suffering from these chronic conditions often wish they had made different or better life decisions. Accompanying these conditions is a tendency to be obsessional. Another way of saying obsessional is overthinking things.

During my forty years of psychotherapy, many clients habitually used the word “should” when discussing themselves. Some clients have said, “I should” do this or that or another thing.”

Another variation is “I should have.”When exploring that vocabulary word choice, clients explained they believed I, the therapist, wanted them to do the activity they “should have” done. Further exploration often revealed a history of parental expectation of the demand that they “should” clean their room, do their homework, or call grandma. If they failed to do these things, the parent was disappointed with them. Even worse was the outcome of parental anger.

We hear it, think about it, and say it to others. The word “should” falls under the category of a curse word. That word can be problematic because it often carries a sense of obligation or expectation, creating feelings of pressure, guilt, or shame.

The word “should” is often judgmental. While “should” is a bad word regarding our actions, it’s equally dangerous when directed at others. When we tell others what they should do, we judge them. Like others have no business telling us what to do, the opposite is also true.

The word “should” can be used in a way that lacks empathy or understanding. For example, it can be dismissive and invalidating if someone says, “You should just get over it,” to someone struggling with a tough experience or emotion.

The word “should” can be problematic when used in a judgmental, authoritarian way or lacking empathy. It is important to be mindful of how we use language and to communicate in a way that is respectful and compassionate toward others.

Following are some examples of the use of the word “should.”

  1. “You should eat a healthy breakfast every morning.”
  2. He should apologize for what he said to her.
  3. We should study harder if we want to get better grades.
  4. They should wear helmets when riding their bikes.
  5. The government should invest more in renewable energy.
  6. I should call my parents more often.
  7. She should take a break and relax for a while.
  8. It should stop raining soon.
  9. “You should read that book; it’s great.”
  10. He should ask for help if he’s struggling with the project.

Here are some words that you can use instead of “should”:

  1. Could
  2. Ought to
  3. Must
  4. Need to
  5. Have to
  6. It would be good to
  7. It’s advisable to
  8. It’s recommended that
  9. It’s important to
  10. It’s necessary to

These are words to say to me instead of “I should.”

  1. Could
  2. Want to
  3. Will
  4. Intend to
  5. Choose to
  6. Prefer to
  7. Am committed to
  8. Am aiming to
  9. Am working on
  10. Am striving for

These words can help you approach tasks or goals with autonomy and personal responsibility rather than feeling like you “should” do something out of external pressure or obligation.

It’s important to explore further the term “I should have.” A variation of “I should have” is “could have, would have, should have.” Here, too, there are negative and self-critical meanings. One of the worst has to do with feelings of regret about past decisions or behaviors. None of us can change the past. What we can do is learn from our mistakes or what we perceive as mistakes.

These words and their variations are negative. It is much more helpful for all of us to avoid regret. As the great Buddhist philosopher said,

the past is gone, and we don’t know about the future. We must live in the present because each moment of life is precious. We will never have those moments again.

Let’s stop using “should” or “should have.” And let’s give up regret. Everyone has regrets, but it’s not helpful to dwell on them.






Isolation and Addiction

Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes because it was pleasurable.

Addiction is a family problem, so the individual with the addiction is not necessarily the most important in the recovery process. The person with the addiction is the center of attention in the family. One of the most perplexing problems in the family is that some members enable the individual with the problem to continue to abuse alcohol or drugs by supplying them with the money to purchase the substance. The enablers believe they are helping the substance abuser by preventing them from living on the streets or illegally getting money. Sometimes, there is a complete denial of the problem. In this context, the word denial means the inability to know that there is a problem.

Characteristics of Codependency

Following are some commonly used characteristics of codependency.

Sometimes the codependent is a father, mother, husband, or wife. The codependent needs or wants certain things from the addicted individual, such as

  1. Wanting to be liked or loved.
  2.  Seeking approval
  3. Believes they can relieve the pain of the substance abuser.
  4.  Needs to protect the person who depends on the substance
  5. Will put their interests aside for the substance-dependent person
  6. The codependent puts aside their own for their future for the sake of the addicted person
  7.  The codependent is driven by the fear of rejection and
  8.  the fear of anger
  9. There is a great need to feel safe in the relationship

It’s important to emphasize that the codependent person is unaware of these behaviors and denies drug or alcohol addiction.

The addictions

The problem with using any of these substances to self-medicate is that, while there is a temporary, good feeling, people feel sick and depressed more than before. For example, after drinking all night, most people feel very ill with their hangovers the next day. Sometimes, people will drink all day. This strategy to self-medicate does not work. And the users are not conscious of the fact that they are self-medicating.

Among the addictions is the opioid epidemic. It has reached terrible proportions. The question is the why of alcohol and drug abuse. One recent factor contributing to drinking and drug abuse was the pandemic, which isolated people in their homes. Drinking and drug abuse became coping mechanisms for loneliness and isolation. People could not go to work. They were often sent home to work on computers connected to the office, creating the environment necessary to spread addiction.

Many young people abuse alcohol and opioids because they feel isolated. But their isolation is no longer because of the pandemic. The problem is that these young people sit in front of their electronic devices. That alone is isolating. That isolation leads to loneliness, and loneliness leads to addiction in young people. There is also increasing depression among young people. It becomes a vicious cycle where these young people feel lonely and abused drugs or alcohol, which causes them to feel more depressed. What is alarming is that this is causing increased suicide among our teenagers.

A contributing factor to the sense of isolation felt both by young and old alike is the decrease in altruism in our culture. Altruism involves acting selflessly for the benefit of others. It can have a meaningful impact on those around you. Altruistic behavior links to many benefits, like improved emotional well-being and physical health. Altruism involves engaging in selfless acts for the pleasure of it. An example of altruism is a person giving their jacket and shoes to a homeless person.

Many have written about a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism. Narcissism is a self-centered personality style characterized as having an excessive preoccupation with oneself and one’s own needs.

Concern and care for other people’s feelings are lacking in many adult people today. It’s become each man for himself.

Contact Allan N Schwartz at dransphd@gmail.com





Self-Blame, Self-Criticism, and Shame

Self-Blame, Self-Criticism, and Shame

“Self-blame is a cognitive process in which an individual attributes the occurrence of a stressful event to oneself. The direction of blame often has implications for individuals’ emotions and behaviors during and following stressful situations.” 

“Self-blame is common among adult sexual trauma survivors and it is very common among children who grew up in situations where abuse occurred. Guilt is a sign that the person has not completed his or her grief.”

“A distressing side effect of shame, self-blame, and guilt is that it is emotionally exhausting, undermining our sense of self-worth and competency. “

The old saying is, “It takes two to Tango.” I have often said this to clients who blame themselves for everything from their divorce to many other events. To emphasize their cognitive distortion, I’ve even told some individuals, “I know you’re responsible for climate change, the earthquake in Turkey.” It is not meant to be funny. I explain how readily they blame themselves for everything in their lives.

I have worked with patients who entered psychotherapy because of depression over their divorce. These patients included people who were recently divorced. Some divorced long ago. Some blamed themselves for their lost marriages.

In several cases, people blamed themselves for not recognizing problems with their ex-partner when dating. The result was that they were ashamed of themselves and embarrassed by what they saw as an unforgivable error. They were convinced there were warning signs it would not be a good marriage and ignored those signals.

People have an endless capacity to be self-critical because of the unrealistic belief in perfection.

There are many examples of people who were blamed, by their parents, for an entire list of problems at school and in the home and family. Many years ago, one of my patients remembered an argument between his parents. When he asked his mother if the argument was his fault, she said yes. He continued to blame himself for everything that happened in his marriage and among his children.

Perfection is written about in other articles. The fact is that all of us are imperfect. That imperfection leads some people to self-blame for every perceived failure. Feelings of low self-worth, insecurity, and incompetence result from this thinking. Therefore, learning self-compassionate is essential. What is self-compassion? According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D., self-compassion has these three things:

1. Self-Kindness

2. A Sense of Common Humanity

3. Mindfulness

Self-Kindness allows for imperfection and self-forgiveness. We share many of the same things with other people. It is the opposite of the steady stream of criticism that we direct at ourselves. It is the opposite of self-hate which permeates the psychology of too many people.

The question is how to develop self-compassion. The answer lies in what is called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is focusing attention on the present moment without judgment. Meditation is used to accomplish this. Mindful meditation focuses on living in the present moment while letting thoughts drift away. I encourage the reader to go to the website of Kristin Neff:



Keep in mind that self-compassion includes compassion for others.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

What is now known as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is my area of expertise because I can confidently state that I have it. I am 80 years old. I wasn’t aware that I had ADHD. ADHD explains why my mind wandered in school and when I was reading. I failed in all of my efforts to concentrate. As a result, my grades suffered, and I was thought of as either not very smart by some teachers and other teachers who thought I was lazy because they recognized my intelligence.

I never understood that my social anxiety and avoidance had much to do with RSD. I am confident that RSD accounted for my bouts of depression. I felt so insecure that I could never understand how my wife could select me as a marriage partner and have me as a father of two children. We were married for nearly fifty years until her tragic death from Pancreatic Cancer. I realized ADHD as a mental health practitioner, but only recently learned of RSD. Learning about both conditions has been enormously helpful. That is why I state that:

“Sometimes, What you don’t Know can Hurt You.”

With that in mind, let’s learn about RSD.

Rejection-sensitive dysphoria, or RSD, is when a person feels intense emotional pain related to rejection. The word dysphoria is a strong feeling of pain or discomfort.

People with RSD experience more intense feelings of rejection than we usually consider rejection. The negative feelings that come with RSD are powerful and hard to manage. People with RSD are likely to interpret vague interactions as rejection. They find it difficult to control their feelings and thoughts of rejection.

The factor that makes this even more difficult for these individuals is that they do not know they have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. These people consider themselves unattractive, undesirable, unintelligent, and not worth it for anyone to have them around. If anything happens that they interpret as rejection becomes a further confirmation of their worthlessness.

An important symptom of RSD is emotional dysregulation is the inability to regulate emotions. The feelings are of being overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or even emotionally in pain.

Symptoms of rejection-sensitive dysphoria

As mentioned, the key symptom of RSD is intense emotional pain. That pain usually has to be triggered by rejection or disapproval. However, people with RSD often have difficulty describing what it feels like because it’s so intense and unlike most other forms of pain (emotional or otherwise).

People with RSD often show the following traits and behaviors:

  • It’s easy for them to feel embarrassed or self-conscious.
  • They show signs of low self-esteem and trouble believing in themselves.
  • They have trouble containing emotions when feeling rejected, which is often noticeable in children and teenagers with this condition. Some may react with sudden anger or rage, while others may cry.
  • Some people with RSD may turn their feelings inward. These individuals become severely depressed, and sometimes, it’s mistaken for sudden emotional shifts that can happen with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
  • They’re often “people pleasers” and become intensely focused on avoiding the disapproval of others.
  • They start projects and tasks or set goals if they think of success.
  • They compensate for fear of failure or rejection by going all-out or striving for perfectionism. However, the downside is that they often experience intense anxiety and may not easily prioritize self-care or downtime.

RSD happens in people with ADHD. It may be linked to other personality and mood disorders. Still, more research is necessary regarding who experiences this issue and how common it is.

If you think you have RSD, it’s essential to see a healthcare provider to get a diagnosis of a related condition like ADHD and then to follow up with a mental health provider.

Your provider can recommend treatment options and guide you on what you can do to help yourself as you learn to manage RSD.

The Tragedy of Suicide

The Tragedy of Suicide

Suicide is tragic. It cuts a life short and devastates the family, friends, and loved ones left behind. The children of people who die by suicide are more likely to make a suicide attempt in their lives later. Those who survive a suicide attempt might have a severe disability or other injuries. One of my favorite entertainers was Stephen “tWitch” Boss, a dancer on the Ellen DeGeneres TV show.

People who attempt suicide see no other options in their lives. These people not only believe they have no other options but also want to end the emotional suffering they are experiencing.

People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities are at risk of suicide. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to die by suicide. Men often choose deadlier methods, such as guns. Women are more likely to use poison or suffocation from gas or carbon monoxide.

According to the NIH, older men and those 85 and older have the highest risk of suicide. The other group with a high risk of suicide is teenagers.

Teenagers are very susceptible to social media. Bullying occurs on social media, hurling insults at the targeted scapegoat. Such insults included comments about physical appearance, personality, intelligence, and desirability as a friend, among others. The worst comment hurled at these young people is that they do everyone a favor and commit suicide. Filled with despair, they commit suicide.

One of the most effective tools for preventing suicide is to know the warning signs and take quick action to get the person into treatment. A vital warning sign of suicide risk is when somebody talks about suicide. It is a myth that someone’s talk about suicide is only an attempt to get attention.

Additional warning signs include:

  • Withdrawal from usual activities.
  • A change in mood.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Change in sleep patterns.
  • A sudden shift into a good mood from a depressed mood.

That sudden shift in mood can signify that the individual decided to commit suicide.

It is essential to ask the person directly if they are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide. There was a commonly held myth that asking the person about self-harm puts the idea into their minds. Most people will answer honestly, and the question will not push a person to attempt suicide.

Finally, if a loved one or friend is in danger, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This free, federally funded service is available to anyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.

Please send your comments and mail your questions to dransphd@aol.com

%d bloggers like this: