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The Sister Scoop

Anxiety Symptom: Catastrophizing

(Amazing artwork by Natalie Dee)


I have a headache. The kind that’s in your eyebrows and teeth and makes your eyes water. I know it’s my sinuses. Everyone is telling me (including my own rational brain) that I have a sinus headache. But I don’t believe it. This voice inside me keeps saying, “You’ve had this headache for 3 weeks! If that doesn’t mean brain tumor, then I don’t know what does.”

While I like to think of my anxiety as (mostly) under control, like so many Anxiety Sisters, I still catastrophize—especially around health issues. I think of the worst possible scenario and make it not only real but also inevitable. In other words, we create our own catastrophes and react to them completely appropriately—which is to say we panic and have all kinds of anxiety-related symptoms.

Although most of my catastrophizing is around health-related issues, many people are triggered by money (e.g., a financial setback means they will end up broke and homeless) or by social situations (e.g., a casual remark means nobody likes them). Mags is triggered not by her own health but by the health of her children. When they get fevers, she stays next to them all night, making sure they are still breathing. While the rational part of her mind knows that a fever is no reason to panic, her anxiety causes her to catastrophize the situation, making the illness critical.

People who suffer from anxiety disorders are tricked by our brains (hyperactive amygdalae, to be more specific) into seeing hurricanes in a strong breeze, meningitis in a child’s fever, brain tumors in lingering headaches. To understand the power of the brain to create disaster, you only have to remember that, even with medical intervention and tried-and-true strategies, anxiety sufferers still believe our lives are in danger. To manage this disorder, we have to learn to live like everything is okay, even if we are convinced otherwise.

An Anxiety Sister asked me yesterday if she will ever be cured. I told her that I didn’t know—that everyone is different and some people do report becoming free of symptoms. But, in my case (and for so many fellow sufferers), my goal has been anxiety management. It’s not that I don’t have the anxious thoughts (see above!). Those will probably never go away, especially in connection to my health. But I’ve learned to respond to those thoughts in such a way as to prevent major anxiety symptoms. Using many techniques and medication, I can behave as though this headache is a result of impacted sinuses. I ask for reassurance (okay, I call Mags a lot) and carry on with my life, even if, not so deep down, I think I have a brain tumor. And, most importantly of all, I am trying to wean myself off googling my symptoms!

Anyone else deal with catastrophizing?


  • Rachel
    June 2, 2021

    I have a rare disease
    Dr blew me off and called me a hypochondriac. It finally got diagnosed and none of my Dr have done any research in how to help.
    It causes strange neurological symptoms.
    I try my best to manage my anxiety about my body and my Dr care. I suffer the fear of mismanagement by my Dr. Also that any physical ailment is going to end in a stroke.

  • Marie F Pritchard
    June 2, 2021

    I’m so grateful to have found your site.💙

    • Sharon Allen
      July 8, 2021

      Me too!

  • Patti Herrick
    July 8, 2021

    Oh my…..i could have written your story from above. I think every pain, ache, Or weird feeling i have is cancer or sure will end my life. I have had Anxiety disorder for over 40 years. My drs fi found a combination of meds that have helped me to control it i still live with the simmering anxiety every single day. Thank you for having this site so i can read peoples stories and it helps me calm down. Love to you guys ❤️ Patti

  • Cecile Wall
    July 8, 2021

    Yes exactly me. Illness anxiety
    Anticipatory anxiety. Going to Drs Absolutely freak me out.
    Imagine worst scenarios and cant sleep night before Always have to medicate before. Makes me physicaLet sick at thought of going

  • Patricia sands
    July 8, 2021

    Omg!!!! So I am dealing with this right this moment..
    I have a lump on my jaw bone below a bad tooth. I am pretty certain it’s an infection but because my tooth does not hurt I have obsessed that I have a bone infection that will require surgery. I am so afraid Saturday is my dentist appt and I am already freaked M out scared to go and scared not to go, I am afraid to take medication in any form and fearful of being put to sleep.. there is no good scenario for me. What can I do??????

  • S.
    July 10, 2021

    I feel so much better reading this! This is me. I am traveling soon and doing that with my plane ride!

  • July 12, 2021

    Well put. This is helpful. Thank you.

  • ReneeAP
    August 6, 2021

    Oh Gosh! This is me! I’ve been in 4 tornados so anytime a bad storm comes along, I am terrified! I spend too much time preparing for the worst. And when I used to work in a business where I had a “boss” – anytime I was called to the office I thought “what am I in trouble for now….” – also the medical stuff. Thank you for this article – this is exactly what I have!!!!

  • Shelby
    October 6, 2021

    It is reassuring knowing i am not alone in this thinking. Unfortunately, my Anxiety has ramped up due to covid. Every cough, sneeZe, or sniffle makes me think we’re all infected and sends me in to a Tail spin of worry.

  • Cecile Wall
    May 10, 2022

    Everything becomes exacerbated by anticipatory scenarios. Have it all the time. Always the what ifs. The articles n comments help to know we are not alone. Nevertheless less hard push through n rationalizing your thoughts. Thank you all for sharing

  • Betsy
    May 10, 2022

    Thoughts if having a brain Tumor is what started my panic and anxiety 20 yrs ago. I had tighten in my neck and blurred vision and Headaches from a stressful job. And off my brain went never to return. I didnt have a brain tumor thank God. But now i have a case of severe Panic and anxiety.

    • Abs
      May 12, 2022

      Hi Betsy–

      If we told you how many times we’ve heard that story (and experienced it ourselves), you’d be shocked! Anxiety is soooo physical–how can we help but catastrophize it?

      Sending love,
      Abs & Mags

  • Kelly
    August 20, 2022

    Every situation has to be examined for all possible what ifs. Also if any loved ones are flying, i have to use flight tracker to watch their flight or something bad will happen. Health wise i have An autoimmune Disorder so i just ignore everything until im so sick i have To go to urgent care. I also hide my symptoms from my doctor because i don’t want to be seen as a complainer and i want my life to go back to normal. I also have no idea why my phone is capitalizing every word 🤣

  • Donna
    August 21, 2022

    This is so hard and I feel for everyone who struggles with this. Worries of death, losing home, pets, illness, what If’s. I have lived with these worries and panic attacks so long and feel I am stuck this way. My brain is wired to worry and I dont know any other way of living. I am working on retraining my brain but I think I’m withdrawing more.

  • Joyce Thompson
    August 23, 2022

    So Glad I found This,

  • Suz Bice
    February 5, 2023

    Again, thank you for all you do For us Sisters. I’ve learned so much. What You’ve described is so me! But my issue seems to be about getting lost when im traveling anyplace. Anyplace! Even to the grocery store-4 miles away. So the anticipation of making any trip is huge anxiety for me. Huge. I’ve talked and talked to myself and once im on the way im better. And lets not Even start on my fear of long distance drives. The thought of driving 5 hours to my daughters is almost paralyzing.

  • Mariposa Blanca
    February 6, 2023

    Sitting right now with a stomach ache anticipating an appointment tomorrow… I’m 78 and have usual aches and pains, but all seem to be caused by stress and anxiety. You have helped me so much with your HELP button and your site. Than you!!

  • Elaine
    February 11, 2024

    Yes! Pretty much a of this! Good seeing y post again!!!


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