Catastrophic thinking.

The misery of always assuming the worst case scenario.

Victoria Holbrook
4 min readApr 26, 2021


Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

A missed call from the boss and a voicemail that says “please call me”. I immediately think I’m in trouble. It turns out that he wants to thank me for my support with a recent interview or congratulate me on good feedback that I’d received from a client. I make some mistake at work and my thoughts ‘snowball’ alarmingly from “I’ve made a silly error” all the way down to “I’m getting fired” in a matter of seconds without really considering the likelihood of it ever getting that far.

I found a very small white lump on the inside of one of my eyelids last year and even though I knew rationally that it’s likely to be a cyst or blocked gland (i.e., harmless!) I couldn’t shake the thought that it might be some rare form of cancer and that if I didn’t get it checked soon it might be too late, they wouldn’t be able to save me and I wouldn’t live to see my fortieth birthday.

This thinking spiralled and led me from a chat with the pharmacist (“it’s harmless, don’t worry”) to a phone call to my doctor (“it sounds like a cyst, very common”), then a video call with another doctor for a second opinion (“it looks like a cyst, nothing to worry about”) and finally an appointment with an ophthalmologist who told me exactly what the first doctor had said. It’s a harmless cyst. That little freak out cost me £245 and weeks of time lost worrying.

A couple of years back I was travelling out to France for a week’s holiday when my brain suddenly decided that it wasn’t sure if I had turned the oven off. I knew that it was highly likely that I’d turned it off as I am very fastidious with my checks before I leave the house for an extended period of time. Nevertheless, I was soon imaging the oven setting fire to something in my flat (even though it’s an electric hob, so there’s not even a flame!) and then the flames spreading to the flat next door, soon the whole building is on fire, people’s possessions have been destroyed and it’s all my fault.

This worrying drove me to going onto the internet daily to check the news for my city while I was on holiday to see if there had been a fire in my building reported. I am actually quite embarrassed to tell you that’s what I did because it just sounds so insane (especially as it would have been easier to call my landlord and ask them to go in and check)

Just writing these instances down highlights how crazy and out of control my thoughts can get and the sort of obsessive behaviour that they drive. What is even more troubling is that my body gets involved. Not wanting to be left out, there are physical reactions that take hold. I feel sick, I can’t eat, struggle to focus, waking up in the early hours thinking that it’s my life that’s the nightmare, not the dreams I have when I do fall asleep.

My mind either goes straight to the worst case scenario or follows a series of steps that gets me from minor error to total disaster in a heartbeat. In fairness the steps between the various, steadily worsening outcomes are somewhat logical, but still unlikely. I even think about and rehearse what will happen at each step, as if I’m convinced that I will be forced to deal with these highly unlikely outcomes and I need to be adequately prepared.

Of course, disaster does strike us all now and then, but it’s quite rare in the grand scheme of things and often if things do go wrong, it’s never quite as bad as we imagine. It’s amazing what we can cope with and what we can bear as humans. I’ve definitely rehearsed and panicked about a lot of stuff that has never happened or never got anywhere near the level of catastrophe that my brain would have me believe.

On the one occasion that the worst case scenario did happen, I just took things one day at a time. In reality no amount of rehearsing would have made it any better or any easier when the event happened. And you know what, I’m fine. I got through it. It wasn’t the end of the world! But even though I know this, it is still very hard to control the thinking. Despite evidence from the past that everything will be okay in the end, it doesn’t stop me spiralling into a vortex of seemingly uncontrollable thoughts when something potentially bad is on the horizon.

I am trying hard these days to not listen to my thoughts as much. My current tactic is to drown them out with ‘The White Stripes’ on very loud. I always assumed that they were true and to be trusted, but I’m not so sure anymore. I know they are trying to protect me, but the truth is my whole life is a risk. If I do nothing, try nothing and don’t put myself out there, then life isn’t worth living. The overthinking and overanalysing is pointless and just makes me miserable…and what’s worse is that it’ll end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy! A friend of mine told me only a couple of weeks ago that worrying “is like sitting in a rocking chair”. “It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere”. Wise words indeed!



Victoria Holbrook

30-something. Consultant. Coffee and cookie obsessed. In need of a creative outlet.