Musings + Essays


By: Jen Shoop
What I love about this approach is that it is generative rather than disciplinary. It is not saying: "You are ridiculous, stop worrying so much," but rather: "OK, that concern is valid, but what other non-malignant possibilities are there on the table?"

Earlier this summer, I woke up to a phone call from my father. I took a deep breath, assuming the absolute worst, my stomach in a knot, my mind racing.

It turned out he was simply trying to coordinate something regarding a piece of furniture he had offered me for our home.

I was out of sorts afterward, and it took me awhile to regain my composure. Even though the call was completely benign (and not out of the ordinary, either, as my father has always been an early riser), I had to gather myself.

I recently learned that this is called “catastrophic thinking,” and that all of us “catastrophize” from time to time. But I was reflecting after the incident that I do not “assume the worst” in most areas of my life — I am more often cautiously optimistic — but when it comes to the wellbeing of loved ones, I magnify even the mildest of situations.

Mr. Magpie recently recommended a practice he’d read about: the next time I find myself catastrophizing, I should imagine multiple possible outcomes alongside “the worst one.” That is, instead of “Oh my gosh, Mr. Magpie is late and not answering his phone, he must have gotten into a car accident” (this does flash through my mind when he goes incommunicado for longer than anticipated), I should add: “Or maybe he’s getting gas,” “Or maybe he stopped to talk to the parents at the drop off line,” “Or maybe he popped into Whole Foods for the half and half we need,” “Or maybe he got a flat tire,” or, or, or.

What I love about this approach is that it is generative rather than disciplinary. It is not saying: “You are ridiculous, stop worrying so much,” but rather: “OK, that concern is valid, but what other non-malignant possibilities are there on the table?” And then, by virtue of having different possibilities in front of me, I can’t help but think, “OK, so just playing straight odds in this random assortment of possible explanations, there’s a 1 in 10 chance something bad happened, so let’s keep a sense of perspective.”

Do any of you struggle with this kind of thinking? What helps you?


+A year in, still on a high from my new suburban lifestyle.

+What do you do when you’re feeling “run aground“?

+On empowering my children.

Magpie will be undergoing a major glow up in the next week or two, and the site may be temporarily unavailable at some point during this time. We will be back up and running with a new look (but the same far-flung mix of posts, toggling between the freighted and the frivolous) in short order! I have wanted to shorten the name from TheFashionMagpie to Magpie for years now and cannot wait to introduce you to the new nest. In the meantime, should you encounter it, please pardon the dust.

Shopping Break.

+MAJOR Cara Cara vibes for under $200. Perfect Thanksgiving dress!

+Oo, Gap! This is good! Also, their wildly popular Toteme-esque oversized striped sweater was restocked in all sizes!

+This is my favorite texturizing spray when I’m going for beachy / loose waves. All of Oribe’s products are simply second to none.

+Had a few questions about Halloween PJs for littles. These embroidered ones from Petite Plume are beyond adorable, but I love this pair from Gap, these Petit Lems, and these Lila + Hayes.

+Speaking of Halloween — I already have this activity and these surprise balls in my Target cart.

+I have wanted one of these ACNE Studios beanies for like two years now. I don’t know why I’ve never pulled the trigger? I am regretting missing out on the hot pink one they had last year (would be perfectttt this season) but this pastel pink is calling my name…


+Have gotten a few questions about the iPhone case pictured here. It is an old Etsy find but no longer available. You can find something similar here!

+This popular cocktail party dress is 50% off!

+Also a good time to buy your daughter a coat — also 50% off! — and your son of these great half-zips (such good colors).

+Going to do a big post on fall fashion for little girls because I spent more or less all weekend figuring out my daughter’s wardrobe for the upcoming season, but had to share that this CPC kids dress is 40% off — love this look/style for everyday wear.

+I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but I’m already planning to throw “A Very Kacey Christmas” Christmas party this holiday season and how perfect would this be?

+A little pick-me-up for your Harry Potter loving friend/sibling/child/etc.

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12 thoughts on “Catastrophizing.

  1. I understand. I’ve suffered two catastrophic events over the past year and a half learning of both from early morning calls. Losing my twin sister and my mother’s husband, most recently, both unexpected. The horror still reigns from these calls. I’m hoping to be able to change my thinking because it is having such a negative effect on my mental wellbeing, but it is a process to do so and I’m struggling. Love my people hard. I wake in morning and first thing I do is to check my phone for missed calls. Hope we both find a place of more optimistic thinking for a sense of peace and calm. You are not alone.

    1. Oh, Anne – I am so incredibly sorry for your losses. Your morning panics make complete sense within that context, and I am so sorry you have to live that out so regularly. Thinking of you!


  2. My therapist told me that overachievers and people who are used to being correct are prone to catastrophizing bc we think all our thoughts are true. I get paid to be excellent at certain things. I better be right! But then it’s hard to turn that off! I have started asking myself “is that thought useful” and “is that thought correct” which helps. If not useful or correct I send it off on the gray hound bus out of my mind.

    1. So interesting! I hadn’t thought about this w/r/t other personality traits. I like the question, “is that thought useful?” Thank you!


  3. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single one of these thoughts? Lol. Life is a rich tapestry! But I do have loved ones who struggle with them. My approach to helping them is similar to yours. Instead of picturing the worst case scenario, I tell them to picture the best possible outcome, which is equally likely to happen. And sometimes it does come true! One time I was at a a friend’s house and her husband was really late returning home and wasn’t answering his phone. Turns out he took a long detour to get us some sandwiches from their favorite sub shop.

    1. Love this – going to use the sub story as a stand-in from now on. “Or maybe he’s buying me my favorite Vace sub.” 🙂


  4. I am *so* prone to this. My husband is a runner and if he doesn’t send me a “departing” text so I can calculate his ETA, or if he has to walk a bit and that ETA stretches… whew. Sometimes I spin out so much, I’m planning all of the life changes that I’ll implement in response to the catastrophe — it’s a lot! And yes, the only way out of the spiral is to remind oneself of all of the completely reasonable alternatives!

    P.S. Waiting with bated breath for the girls fall wardrobe post. My toddler is always growing out of things at the tail end of seasons, and I refuse to buy sized-up summer dresses and shorts at this point. She also outpaced/outgrew a friend from whom we received hand me downs, so I no longer have a helpful “foundation” wardrobe. Ack!!

    1. I so hear you!! Mini also tends to outgrow things mid-season (especially footwear) which has been semi-chaotic! Lots of good stuff coming tomorrow!


  5. One of the most transformative thoughts for managing my anxiety has been learning that anxious thoughts pass. This feels simple, but it is challenging to remember that in the moment. I’ve gotten much better when experiencing anxious thoughts to think to myself, “Just wait. This will pass. You will feel better really soon.” Sometimes even setting a timer helps! 30 minutes on the clock and often that anxious moment has passed.

    1. This is such a great tip – thank you for this! I have leaned into a similar line of thinking when I’m feeling overwhelmed by time-consuming things. For example, I backed my car through the garage door (yikes) last spring and it took weeks of getting estimates, going back and forth with insurance, scheduling repair, getting a rental car, etc, etc, and I had to literally tell myself at multiple times, “Jen, this is not as stressful as it seems. You will get through this and forget about it. Just one foot in front of the other.”

      Thanks for sharing this practice with regards to anxiety / catastrophic thinking!!


    1. Hi Carla! I absolutely love Kacey, and she had this fantastically kitschy Christmas special a few years ago. My plan is to have every dress up Kacey style, serve egg nog, and have a dance party! 🙂


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