Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“Catastrophizing” & “Overgeneralizing”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make false assumptions, and much more. 

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  So far, the cognitive distortions all or nothing,” “mental filtering,”disqualifying the positive,” “jumping to conclusions”, “emotional reasoning”, and “overly rigid rule-keeping” have been addressedDuring this blog post, the cognitive distortions “catastrophizing”  and “overgeneralizing” will be presented, along with a way to overcome and avoid using these unhealthy thinking styles.

Catastrophizing refers to times when we take relatively minor negative circumstances and blow them completely out of proportion.  We do this by imagining the worst and considering all of the disasters that this relatively minor event will cause.  For example, you call to invite a friend over for dinner this Saturday, but they decline your offer.  Before allowing him/her to explain their reasoning, you hang up and conclude that they no longer want to be your friend.  You then go on to imagine your friend telling all of your other friends how foolish you are.  Based on this, you decide that you will no longer have any friends.  How about another more salient example?  Upon hearing your elderly parent sneeze, you immediately assume that they have symptoms of the Caronavirus (CVOID-19).  You go on to imagine him/her wheezing on their death bed and conclude that they will be deceased before the end of the month. 

We can do several things to avoid and alleviate this type of unhealthy thinking style.  First, we can acknowledge it for what it is.  It is simply a thought.  When we begin thinking this way, we can begin to put things in perspective by considering the other possibilities that may be a result of why we are catastrophizing.  Are you sure that our friend no longer wants to be friends?  Could they have valid reasons for declining your offer?  Is it possible that your elderly parent might be sneezing for other reasons?  Could they have seasonal allergies? 

After putting things into perspective, we can consider the evidence that we have for and against the reason for our catastrophizing.  Do you have enough factual evidence that your friend wants to discontinue your relationship?  Have they given you a reason to believe this in the past?  What about the factual evidence regarding your elderly parent?  Do they have a dangerously high fever?  Are they exhibiting any other symptoms that give you evidence to believe your initial thought?

Of course, there is the possibility that your friend could want to end your relationship.  Or your elderly parent could have CVOID-19.  However, before reaching these conclusions, it is important to consider all of the evidence we have for and against them.  By doing this, we can avoid unneeded and unnecessary anxiety. In the worst-case scenario (our catastrophe comes true), we will be in a much better position to handle and overcome it. 

Overgeneralizing occurs when we make assumptions about the future based on an isolated instance in the past or present.  This type of unhealthy thinking style often leads to a strong sense of hopelessness.  For example, you have been cheated on in one of your past relationships.  Based on this, you conclude that ALL relationships will consist of being cheated on.  Or, you know one person who has sneezed and been diagnosed with CVOID-19.  Based on this, you conclude that everyone who sneezes will be diagnosed with CVOID-19.    

To overcome this unhealthy thinking style, we can incorporate several strategies.  First, we can identify our thinking patterns.  Begin to recognize when these overgeneralizations occur.  Become more mindful of these overgeneralizations by writing them down or starting a journal.  After recognizing and recording these negative thoughts, we can begin to recognize patterns related to them.  Now that we have a sense of our patterns related to these overgeneralizations, we can begin to challenge them.  Are they known to be true (for a fact)?  Would another person view these things in the same way? 

Finally, we can replace these negative thoughts with more accurate ones.  For example, my ex cheating on me is not a reflection of the success of my future relationships.  It is a reflection of their moral character more than anything.  And, because one person who sneezes has been diagnosed with CVOID-19 does not mean that everyone who sneezes will be diagnosed with it. In fact, 95% of the population sneezes or blows their nose around four times a day! Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“catastrophizing” & “overgeneralizing”)!

(Photo by Yoav Aziz)