Suppressing negative thoughts can be good for your mental health, study suggests Science and technology news
The common belief that suppressing negative thoughts is bad for your mental health may be wrong, according to a new study.
Researchers asked volunteers to block out negative thoughts and found that their mental health improved and thoughts became less vivid.
Professor Michael Anderson of Cambridge University said that clinical treatment has accepted the idea that suppressing thoughts actually leads to them becoming more prevalent.
“The whole point of psychotherapy is to deepen these thoughts so that you can deal with them and strip them of their power,” he said.
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, he decided to interrogate this idea to see if he could help people through the pandemic.
In collaboration with Dr. Zulkayda Mamat of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit recruited the 120 people in 16 countries to test whether it might be possible – and beneficial – for people to practice suppressing their fearful thoughts.
Each participant was asked to think of a number of scenarios that could happen in the next two years – 20 negative fears, 20 positive hopes and 36 mundane and neutral events.
The fears had to be current concerns that had repeatedly entered their thoughts.
For each scenario, they provided a cue word that would remind them of the scenario and a one-word detail.
Half of the participants were told to stare at one of their negative words for a few seconds and acknowledge the fear, but then block out other thoughts.
The other half participants were given the same task, only with their neutral words. The exercise was repeated 12 times a day for three days.
At the end of the experiment, the group that suppressed negative thoughts reported that this fear was less vivid and that their mental health had improved compared to the group that suppressed neutral thoughts.
The results held true three months after the end of the trial.
“What we found goes against the accepted narrative,” Professor Anderson said.
“Although more work will be needed to confirm the findings, it appears that actively suppressing our fearful thoughts is possible and could even be potentially beneficial.”