Cat-astrophizing: Why Expecting the Worst is Bad For Your Mental Health

How is it that cats somehow know when you are running late? Somehow, they manage to care about you, even less than normal. Has your cat ever played that adorable game of hide and seek with you? Tell me if this sounds familiar. I spill my coffee. This forces me to change clothes. Of course, now I have to get different shoes. While changing, I messed up my ‘do’ so now I have to fix that. In the process of redoing my hair, I realize that I forgot to brush my teeth. I was distracted earlier when I went to pick up my toothbrush. Not this time. I finish up with my pearly whites just in time to remember that the reason I did not brush my teeth before. It was because I had not seen the cat. I had put my toothbrush down and spend an extra ten minutes checking all of her favorite hiding spots. 

You check your watch and realize if you leave right now and hit every green light, you will make it to work on time. Oh D*mn it! You still don’t know where the cat is! 

Instantly your brain goes to worst case scenario. They have chewed through an electrical cord and got zapped. They are clinging to life somewhere. I call my boss and say I have a flat tire. Then I remember that one time the dog chased the cat under the bed. She ripped up the bottom of the box spring and hid in there. Yep, there she is. Totally fine. Just grooming herself. She does not ever bother to look up at me. She had no desire to leave her cozy napping spot. She was not going to waste the energy to come to me. No matter how frantically I called her. She simply did not want to be bothered. That is why she chose the spot she did. Eventually she looks up at me in a very judge-y way. The look that only cats and teenage girls can give. I think to myself what an a*^hole my cat is. I tell myself I will never worry about her like that again. Until the next week when I repeat the steps above but this time it was milk I spilled and while trying to clean it up, I slip and threw out my back. 

This is called catastrophizing. To stick with our theme, cat-astrophizing. Basically, the brain automatically goes to worst case scenario. You don’t just think that the cat is sleeping somewhere and tell yourself that you have had her for 12 years and she has ignored you all 12 of those years. The normal reaction would be to look at the statistics. She has never done anything to get herself hurt. The likelihood that she is currently on her last life and that is why she is not responding is just ridiculous. 

What about when your kids tell you they will call when they get back to their dorm room after having Sunday dinner together? The drive is only an hour. It has now been an hour and ten minutes. They probably got in a car accident. They were highjacked at knife point. No, they were kidnapped. The possibility that they had to stop for gas. Or they are on the phone with their boyfriend. Clearly that is not what is happening here. 

You are running late for work (see above paragraph) and you are going to be late and you know your boss is going to fire you. You messed up that one email last week. You don’t even really deserve this job. If you loose your job, your wife is going to leave you. You can’t afford an apartment on your own in this economy. You will need a roommate. What if he is a serial killer. Or a child molester. You will probably come home to your apartment one day and he has stollen all of your stuff. Now you have to sit in a lawn chair. Oh wait, you don’t have enough for rent so you have to move into your car. 

If you have never had thoughts spiral out of control, you are lucky. My guess is that if you are reading this, you are more like me and battle these dooms day scenarios on a regular basis. 

I always told myself that if I think worst case scenario then if it is anything less, I am already prepared. After all, our family motto is that it could always be worse. I have been taught to automatically assume something bad will happen. In most cases, it did. I want to be mentally prepared for whatever life is going to throw at me next. Chance are it is not going to be kittens and cookies. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Constantly anxious. Always tired from all the worrying. 

            If you think back to cave man days, it made sense for them to focus on the worst. They needed to prepare for everything. They had to always be thinking ahead. They could not go out to gather without a spear. There was always danger lurking. They needed to have enough woolly mammoth skin to make it through the winter. They were not sure when the next time they would stumble upon a knocked over tree for firewood. They did not know where their next meal would be coming from. They did not have access to one day shipping if they suddenly run out of food. 

Guess what, we are not cave people anymore. Expecting the worst is now just a way of torturing ourselves. The saber tooth tiger did not go from town to town to pick out which set of people looked the healthiest for his diet. He happened upon someone, he ate them. It is that simple. Yes, he spent time looking for and stalking his prey. He did not waste time thinking that he should eat a man this time because last week he ate a cave lady. Or maybe he should stick to a ground sloth. He has put on some weight lately. Take this lesson from the cat, not our ancestors. 

            I am simply saying that always worrying about the next disaster will stop us from living in the moment and enjoying life now. We need to give ourselves a break. We need to stop letting our minds spiral. Especially about the things that we have no control over. Go hug the kids, throw the ball for the dog and kiss your significant other. Call your mom every once in a while, too. Trust me, she won’t be around forever and hearing from you means more to her than you know. 

Kathy Watkins has spent the last 20 years of her life working for animals. Lions, tigers, and bears…literally. She has taken a cheetah to a well-known speedway to stand elegantly during opening ceremonies. Mountain lion to a school auditorium for an educational presentation with elementary-aged children, check. Serval to an art gallery, no problem. You want to see a house cat on a leash while waving and then doing circles, been there. Cats for the news, for commercials, for movies, for conservation fundraisers, for a full spread in a very well know magazine with the initials N and G. Done it, done it, done it, done it, and done it. 20 years of blood, a lot of sweat and more tears than anyone should have to experience in a lifetime. Did we mention sleepless nights? Lots of those too. Kathy has worked for some of the biggest organizations and for herself. She had surpassed her wildest dreams, yet there was still a feeling that something was missing. Kathy had spent her entire adult life (literally, 2 days after she turned 18) learning about exotic cats, how to care for them, how to read their behavior and most importantly, how to keep them satisfied. She had put so much work into the animals and learned so much about them but, until recently she never actually learned what she should have from them.

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