Overgeneralization and Social Anxiety

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If you have social anxiety disorder, you might struggle with negative thinking. Many people with social anxiety think in terms of overgeneralization, a cognitive distortion that can worsen anxiety, depression, and fear.

Learn more about overgeneralization and how to manage it and minimize your anxiety. 

What Is Overgeneralization?

Overgeneralization frequently affects people with depression or anxiety disorders. It is a way of thinking where you apply one experience to all experiences, including those in the future.

For example, if you once gave a poor speech, you may think to yourself, "I always screw up speeches. I never can speak publicly without messing up." 

If you experience overgeneralization, you may view any negative experience that happens as a part of an inevitable pattern of mistakes. With social anxiety, this can impact your life greatly and inhibit your daily routine.

Overgeneralization can worsen your thoughts, making you feel that everyone dislikes you and that you can't do anything right. 

A self-limiting overgeneralization is when you keep yourself from meeting your own potential. These are common thoughts like "I'm not good enough" or "I could never do that." They can keep you from taking risks or next steps, harming your career and social life. 

But while overgeneralization can be a very distressing symptom, it can be managed and anxiety lessened by reframing your perceptions.

Reframing Overgeneralizations

Reframing is a process where you identify negative or unhelpful thoughts and replace them with positive and empowering ones. It's a way of changing the way you view something.

Reframing can be a powerful tool in managing overgeneralizations and social anxiety. It's a fairly simple process that can decrease your symptoms.

Identify Thinking Patterns

Recognize when you find yourself negatively thinking about yourself or not doing activities because you think you will fail. Be more mindful of your thoughts. You might even try writing them down in a journal. Once you start recording them, you may notice patterns.

Look Carefully

Take a closer look at thoughts you have written down and ask yourself, "Is this true?" Challenge the thoughts as you review them. Would someone else view your thoughts the same way? For example, you might find that no one noticed that you were nervous when you gave that presentation. Recognize your achievements, times when you excelled, and moments when you had fun with friends. 

Replace Your Thoughts

When you are thinking negative thoughts, use self-talk to think more positively. Maybe you always think, "I'm a terrible speaker and always screw up!" Try replacing that thought with "I'm more prepared and ready to give a great speech." Reframing with positivity can counter social anxiety and help you with the presentation. Look at experiences that cause you anxiety as a challenge rather than a threat. 

Overgeneralizations can be a debilitating symptom of social anxiety. They limit how you interact with others and can prevent you from achieving what you want to do in your life. Managing overgeneralization is often done in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained therapist who can help with positive reframing so you can manage your symptoms and alleviate your social anxiety.

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Additional Reading
  • Lissek, S., Kaczkurkin, A., Rabin, S. et al. "Anxiety Disorders and Overgeneralization of Classically Conditioned Fear." Biological Psychiatry, 909-915, 2014.