Suppressing anxiety, depression, PTSD actually helps — Here’s how

by Raj Das

Suppressing Negative Thoughts May Actually Improve Mental Health, Study Finds

For years, it has been widely believed that suppressing negative thoughts can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. However, a recent study conducted by psychologists challenges this notion and suggests that suppressing negative thoughts might actually lead to improvements in symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, was led by Michael Anderson, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge. Anderson and his team conducted research involving 120 adults from 16 different countries. Each participant was asked to list 20 fears regarding future events, 20 hopes, and 36 neutral events. The fears had to be recurring thoughts causing distress, rather than generic fears.

Next, participants were instructed to associate a single word with each type of event. Half of the participants were then instructed to focus on one of their negative words for a few seconds, preventing their thoughts from drifting towards more distressing ideas. The other half received the same task but with their neutral words. This exercise was repeated 12 times a day for three days.

At the end of the study, participants who had blocked out negative thoughts reported that their fears became less vivid, and their mental health had notably improved compared to the group tasked with suppressing neutral thoughts. Importantly, these findings remained consistent even three months after the study’s conclusion.

The study found that individuals who initially reported high levels of anxiety experienced a 44% reduction in their self-reported worries on average. Among those dealing with post-traumatic stress, their overall negative mental health decreased by an average of 16%, while their positive mental health increased by nearly 10%. Interestingly, no evidence was found to suggest that suppressing negative thoughts led to increased negative symptoms.

Furthermore, suppressing negative thoughts appeared to reduce the likelihood of participants’ mental health issues worsening over time. Approximately 80% of participants reported that they continued to employ the thought suppression techniques they had learned during the study to manage their fears three months later. The study did not find any evidence to support claims that people’s fears rebounded or intensified as a result of suppressing negative thoughts.

These findings challenge the commonly held belief that suppressing negative thoughts is detrimental to mental health. While further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind these effects, this study provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of thought suppression techniques. It suggests that training the brain to block out negative thoughts may be a useful tool in improving mental health and managing anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Given the prevalence of mental health issues in society today, these findings have the potential to inform therapeutic approaches and provide individuals with new strategies to alleviate their symptoms. However, it is important to note that the study’s findings may not apply to everyone, and individuals should consult with mental health professionals to determine the best approach for their specific circumstances.

In conclusion, the idea that suppressing negative thoughts is inherently harmful to mental health is challenged by this study. The findings suggest that practicing thought suppression techniques can lead to improvements in mental health and may be a valuable intervention for individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

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