The other morning I had breakfast with a good friend. We have both experienced significant medical wake-up calls in the past couple of years, and this led us to talk about our mortality and the journey we have each been on. We started to laugh over one common experience.
We can attest to the fact that a health scare changes your perspective. After such an event, you become acutely aware of your physical well-being and any potential threats to your health. This heightened awareness can lead to suspicion of every ache and pain that you may feel. Even the slightest discomfort can trigger panic, as you worry that it may be a sign of a larger health issue.
The other night, I woke up with a cramp in my leg and started worrying if it could be a blood clot. Even though I am on medication to prevent blood clotting and was not familiar with how a clot would feel, the thought of it stressed me out.
Into the doctor
Later that day, I had a scheduled appointment with my doctor, and when I told him about my cramp, he informed me that I was “catastrophizing.” As a writer, I was immediately struck by the word and couldn’t get it out of my mind. When I got home, I looked it up and learned more about how catastrophizing can cause anxiety and negatively impact mental health.
Catastrophizing. It’s a phenomenon that we all experience at some point in our lives, but it can be especially detrimental for leaders who are responsible for making important decisions for their organizations. Let’s take a closer look at how it impacts decision-making abilities.
Can you imagine this: You’re the CEO of a not-for-profit organization, and you receive an email from a donor. They express their dissatisfaction with your latest philanthropy campaign. Instead of looking at the facts and addressing their concerns, you immediately think to yourself, “This is it. We’re going under. We are doomed!” You start to panic, you call an emergency meeting with your team, and you spend hours brainstorming ways to save the organization from financial ruin. In reality, it was just one unhappy person, and you could have easily addressed their concerns with a simple email. This is an example of catastrophizing.
Now, some people take catastrophizing too far. We all have that friend who thinks every headache is a brain tumour or that a missed call from their boss means they’re getting fired. While hilarious in hindsight, it’s not so funny when it comes to decision-making in the workplace.
A leader called me one day in a panic. She had received an email that her office would be closed for a day due to maintenance issues. Instead of just using the day as a chance to catch up on work, she became convinced that the ministry was being shut down for good. She actually started packing her desk and looking on LinkedIn for other job opportunities. Imagine her surprise when she showed up to work the next day, and everything was back to normal!
Joking aside, catastrophizing can seriously impact a leader’s decision-making abilities. When we blow things out of proportion, we lose sight of the facts and make decisions based on fear and panic rather than logic and reason. This can lead to poor business decisions, missed opportunities, and even a decrease in team morale. Catastrophizing does the same thing at a personal level as it skews our perspective. We go on to make poor decisions, panic and a sense of despair can arise as a result.
What if you are a Christian leader? When a Christian leader, known for preaching about trusting God in everything, starts catastrophizing, it conflicts with the message of faith and trust in God’s plan. It can create unnecessary fear and anxiety rather than fostering a sense of peace and confidence in God’s sovereignty. Instead, Christian leaders should encourage their followers (and themselves) to trust in God’s goodness and wisdom, even in difficult situations, and to have hope in His ultimate plan for their lives.
So, what can we do to combat catastrophizing? Firstly, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this really as bad as I’m making it out to be?” Look at the facts and try to make decisions based on logic rather than emotion. Secondly, pray. Find solace from your racing thoughts by directing your focus towards God. Thirdly, learn to see the humour in life. When we take ourselves too seriously, we are more likely to fall into the trap of catastrophizing. By keeping things light and finding humour in situations, we can reduce stress and make better decisions. I appreciate that my doctor, my friend and my wife all made me laugh about my irrational catastrophizing.
It’s important to remember that catastrophizing can seriously impede a leader’s decision-making abilities. Don’t let irrational fears and anxieties cloud your judgment. What’s key is that you maintain perspective, focus on the facts, be prayerful and take decisive action. And, inevitably, it doesn’t hurt to sometimes just laugh things off.