Just Say No to “Catastrophizing”

just_say_noOne of the hardest things for me is being out of control of a situation or when things don’t go according to plan.

Accepting there’s nothing I can do to change a bad situation frustrates me to no end. I usually try to hammer away at every possible option, analyzing the situation to death.

But not every situation has a remedy; sometimes crappy things happen and we just have to deal with the curveballs life throws at us.

As I work on my anxiety issues and overcoming perfectionist tendencies, I’m learning how to deal better with stress, and a big part of that is trying to remember not to “catastrophize” things big or small when problem-solving.

Today’s example has nothing to do directly with disordered eating; it has to do with work. But it’s relevant to my blog messaging so … away we go!

Though I’m the PR manager at a digital advertising agency and the agency is my “client,” if you will, I also play the role of account executive to a local non-profit client that is near and dear to our agency’s heart.

And since we’re purely an interactive agency, we don’t do print work for our clients anymore … except for this one pro-bono client.

That said, we’re introducing a new, year-long campaign this summer, and we were going to start it in the form of a newspaper insert that  would be sent to 62,000 homes in the region and cost several thousand dollars out of the non-profit’s (minimal) budget and uploaded to the non-profit’s Web site.

The creative was beautiful, the copy compelling … The client loved it, my boss loved it. We were super-excited to see it come to fruition.

Then first-thing at work yesterday I found out that the newspaper used an OLD file that had a bunch of typos on it, instead of the NEW file my colleague sent the paper last week!

The paper’s rep had assured my colleague they’d destroy the old one (not just replace the file) and clearly, they didn’t. They also tried to shift the blame to us, which sucked even more, as we knew we’d done nothing wrong.

Upon hearing this, my stomach fell to the floor.

I knew:

1) I’d have to tell my boss what happened, and even though it wasn’t directly my fault, I am the account executive for this client and she sits on the board of said client … so I’d need to accept being the fall gal.

2) I knew the marketing director of the non-profit would be pissed and devastated, as this was the first time anyone would see the new campaign but also because he’d have to take the heat from everyone under the sun who would call him pointing out errors, which made our work look amateurish at best and lazy at worst.

In reality, we had put painstaking effort into that finished product, and the newspaper messed up, plain and simple.

At first I was really upset. But then I remembered no one has been hurt, no one has died … it’s not the end of the world.

I tried not to “catastrophize” –something Dr. G. and I talked about in therapy. I tend to make big deals out of everything … drama queen to the tenth degree. But stressing about it wouldn’t solve anything. What’s done is done, it is what it is.

I hated the idea of owning up to something we didn’t do … but knew I needed to talk to my boss. Fortunately, she was not too upset; after years in the industry she knows these things happen and knew it wasn’t our fault.

The thing is, while we can make a change to a Web site’s content or an online media unit quickly for a client, once something is done in print, it’s a done deal (save for a reprint). There is no “going back” on a moment’s notice like there is in the digital world.

So after speaking to my boss and the creatives who put so much effort into this piece (only to see it printed in shambles!), I gathered my courage and called the client and spoke with him, trying to strike the right balance between being apologetic (but not too apologetic, as I tend to say “I’m sorry” too much) and conciliatory.

He was upset, naturally, but understanding — having worked together for many years, he knows the caliber of work we do here, the pride we put into everything we do. He also knew it wasn’t our fault … though it’s hard not to feel like I’m to blame when I’m the one giving such bad news (he had been out of town and hadn’t seen it yet).

He is in the process of asking the paper to print a correction, and I hope it happens. 

It doesn’t help the situation much, since 62,000 households have already seen the incorrect insert, but my colleague found proof that we’d uploaded the correct image to the newspaper’s site–she’d printed a copy of the confirmation. So we know we’re in the clear — a little sweet justice for an otherwise ugly situation.

All in all, it was the icing on the cake of a morning that started craptastically with dropping a bottle of my favorite salad dressing (TJ’s Balsamic) from my lunch bag in the parking lot, and having it splashing up onto the legs of my favorite Joe’s jeans!

But here’s something to be proud of:  I might have reeked like a salad bowl all morning and have been part of a screw-up at the office, but it wasn’t an excuse to beat myself up over it — or stress-eat.

And that’s something to be proud of.

How about you? Do you catastrophize? How do you avoid doing it?

15 thoughts on “Just Say No to “Catastrophizing”

  1. I’m am totally with you. I am a drama queen through and through. I feel like everything is the end of the world. Some of the keys for me is learning to relax which is something that come so easy to others but not for me. I have found that regular yoga practice is the best thing to keep my mind in balance and my anxieties at bay. I have also come to appreciate a hot lavendar scented epson salt bath every day which releases tension in my muscles and makes me feel easy going throughout the day.

  2. Yup, big time catastrophizer here. Getting better with it over the years, especially when it comes to work stuff. I often think just what you said–no one died or was physicall/mentally harmed by whatever went wrong so no big deal in the long run. I tend to have problems keeping my health related worries in check. Definite hypochondriac tendencies here and my mind immediately jumps to the worst case scenario. Its all part of anixety issues and control (not being able to control what the body does) etc.

    Good for you for being the “fall girl”. It is a hard place to be (and definitely sweet justice when you can prove it was someone else’s mistake!)

  3. I was also informed by my therapist that I catastrophize events. Oh the joys of perfectionism! Good job not getting too bent out of shape.

    As I read your post, I noticed that a big focus was on the fact that it was not your fault. I would feel the same way, but it got me thinking about how I would feel if it actually was my fault. I have a tendency to think mistake = I am an utter failure. My sister continues to point out to me that everyone makes mistakes and for other people I barely give it a second thought, but for myself, I am unable to get over them for a long time. I agonize over my own mistakes. I am working on it, but was just wondering how you think you would have handled it if you realized it was completely your fault?

  4. That’s a good question, Susie. I already admitted culpability when it wasn’t my fault … but had it been … well, I’d have done what I’ve done in the past: admitted it through shaking lips!

    I had something like that happen at my old job in the energy industry in DC…It was my fault that we’d printed something incorrectly for a press conference at the National Press Club (one of our two big annual media events) and *everyone* at the association had approved the presentation slides and executive summary a million times and the arrow that was supposed to indicate upward pressure on natural gas prices (post-Katrina) was a downward arrow– TOTALLY WRONG!!

    We’d all looked at it and no one caught it and I was the final eyes, the final proofer. It was my document, my baby … and so it was my fault. At the last minute, we got back the copies and realized they were wrong and I had to own up to my boss. It was like $5000 in re-run costs and he was pissed at me, naturally, at first …but then we calmed down and just got it reprinted and moved on and the event was perfect. Still, it was soooo scary because it was my fault. Ironically, we got the most media coverage (trade and national) ever that year, so my big eff up ended up being overshadowed by a ton of press.

  5. I would have freaked out. But it really is impossible to be perfect. I spend so much of my time trying to make sure I appear perfect that something like that would nearly kill me. But you survived! I work at reminding myself that even mistakes are allright. But it`s certainly hard. I find I catastrohpize the potential outcome of me making a mistake. This is something I`ve worked on. THe outcome in my mind I have to really question. Like: Will I really get fired if I mess this up? Will they really think I`m completely incompetent if I make a mistake? not likely.

  6. That is SO wonderful!! Part of the reason I do love blogs so much is because we can share in each other’s triumphs like this. :-)

    Myself in a similar situation, I can just see it leading to stress eating. I just seem to take everything VERY personally – but you are right…no one died, everyone was fine. I need to remind myself that in MANY situations.

    I wish I knew how to avoid catastrophizing! I think so much of it is my sensitivity. My mom once told me to think about situations like this: Will it matter in 5 years? 10 years? Well, usually the answer to that is no for my situations! It’s hard to remember that in the moment, but it is true. I often tell myself that if I’m running late to an appointment (I hate being late!). It really won’t matter years down the road – why get so worked up about it?

    1. Holly, it’s def. about sensitivity. It makes working in some places REALLY hard, I know … but it’s true, it won’t matter in 5 yrs, or even 5 hours often … hard to remember that in the moment, though!

  7. way to go lissa! i feel like i have to “step outside” and look at a situation. my counselor says to “think about what im thinking about” but not ruminate (stress.) i think writing can be a way to step outside and think things out in a healthy way. yay for journaling/blogging!

  8. I have never blogged or commented on a blog, but just have to thank you all for your comments. Just left the therapist at noon, having been informed that my catastrophizing was at the root of everything troubling, and was preventing me from being in that great eye of the storm place that mindfulness.brings. Within 5 minutes of being back at work, I learned that I had sent an important appeal notice to the wrong division of a large state agency. The senior partner was so not happy with me, and I kind of live to please:) This time I tried not catastrophizing and googled very phrase. This blog appeared. All of your comments calmed me as my assistant helped with preparation of a new notice. Thank so much!

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