The Catastrophe Scale: A Simple Tool for Matching Stress to the Size of the Problem

by Lydia Johnson, M.S. (Certified Holistic Career Coach)

I’m betting you’ve done incredibly hard things that take incredible willpower, self-control, dedication, effort, planning, grit, and energy. You’ve climbed the corporate ladder, cultivated multiple deep relationships, and maybe you’ve even successfully wrestled screaming toddlers into car seats.

But, friend, in our high-stress world, sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everything is an incredibly hard thing. That makes sense! You’re so used to fighting 100 fires at work and home that sometimes everything feels like an equally giant, world-ending fire.

Luckily, there’s a handy tool that can help us regain our sanity and perspective: The Catastrophe Scale. The best part? It was made for kids… so it’ll help you and your kids!

How the Catastrophe Scale Works

There are many different versions, but the one I’m familiar with comes from the internet’s favorite pre-k teacher, @iam.mrluke:

(The amazing Mr. Luke himself. Go check out his TikTok & Instagram!)

His Catastrophe Scale has 5 categories, from least worrisome to worst: Glitch, little problem, medium problem, big problem, and catastrophe.

Glitches are just little bumps in your day— things you can solve by yourself or shrug off after a bit of time has passed.

In contrast, catastrophes are giant, life and health-threatening or altering events—hopefully, you’ve never experienced one at work!

That angry client? It’s probably just a small to medium problem—something you have to take action and solve, but not threatening or a true emergency (despite their vocal opinion otherwise).

So simple, but so helpful, right?

(If you like this, you can read an article about using this with kids… or you… here)

Your Quick Tip Tuesday Homework: Use the Catastrophe Scale

For the next week, practice labeling every problem that comes your way into the above categories. Also, rate your stress level on a scale of 1-10. You might consider making a morning phone alert to remind you and keeping a log in a journal or favorite note app.

Bonus: In addition to tracking the scale of the problem, practice labeling whose problem it is. Is it your problem or someone elses problem? You can choose to care or support someone elses problem… but it is helpful to remember it is theirs, not yours. You’re just lending a helping hand!

The goal? To raise awareness of how stress levels fluctuate throughout the day, what problems trigger the most stress, and whether there are any situations in which we can dial down our stress because it turns out it’s just a little glitch we were treating as a big problem!

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Holistic Career Coach & Founder of ThriveCulture Coaching

I’m a dual-certified career coach and Industrial-Organizational Psychology consultant on a mission to banish Sunday Scaries and help you reclaim your life from work stress. I specialize in helping ultra-busy people design a fulfilling and burnout-free career that leaves more space for the rest of your life. Whether you need to overhaul everything, find a new job, or make your current role work better for you, I’m here to help.

You can learn more about my holistic and evidence-based approach on my website or jump on the phone for a FREE 20-minute consult call to learn more about how career coaching can help you finally enjoy a fulfilling, burnout-free career.

 

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