Cognitive distortions are patterns of distorted thinking that can cause you to inaccurately view reality often in negative ways. These distortions often happen without you even knowing they are occurring and can cause unwanted stress. A common cognitive distortion is overgeneralizing.
Overgeneralizing is when you think of something as being always or never. For example, that something will continue to occur forever and will literally never end, or that it will never happen.
A timely example is the current global pandemic resulting from the COVID-19 virus that has been going on for more than year.
The pandemic has been for many people one of the greatest challenges of their lives. It has disrupted both their personal and professional lives in ways that couldn't have been imagined.
People have been abruptly faced with many challenges including:
Being at home far more than ever before
Not being able to visit family and friends
Spending far more time alone in isolation
Being fearful of catching the virus
With all of these sudden changes occurring and the overwhelming associated scary news it has been easy to overgeneralize and to think of these events as always or never. For example,
I'm always going to be stuck at home
I'm never going to get to see my family again
I'm always going to be alone and isolated
Things will never be like they were before
I'm never going to be able to travel again
The pandemic will last forever
When overgeneralizing we take the events that are occurring and extrapolate them to thinking in terms of always or never. Such always/never thinking can easily create unwanted stress and even feelings of anxiety and depression.
If we step back and look at such always/never thinking we see how our thinking has jumped far ahead with too little information. The truth is no one can predict exactly how the pandemic will play out. In some locations it is starting to subside and restrictions are being relaxed. In other locations the pandemic is sadly still raging. However, what we do know is that no matter how bad things are the effect of them is rarely always or never.
The first way to combat overgeneralizing is to recognize when it's occurring. To listen for the telltale signs of saying or thinking in terms of always or never. Listening for these signs brings a sense of awareness that can help you see that your thinking may be exaggerated.
Next, remember that there are many things that you once thought were going to be always/never but that turned out differently. The fact that your thinking is always/never right now doesn't mean these events will actually turn out this way.
Finally, try reframing your thinking and literally restating your thoughts. For example, if your thought is, "I'm going to be alone forever" a helpful reframing might be, "Yes, I'm having to spend more time alone now because of the pandemic which I can't control. But I still am able to connect with others either online or in person with appropriate precautions. And the severity of the pandemic is or will be subsiding and will allow me to be around and connect with more people in the future."
Remember to keep your ears open for "always" and "never." They're a clue you may be overgeneralizing.