Suppressing negative thoughts may be good for your mental health, according to new research from the UK.
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Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit determined that by training 120 volunteers across 16 countries to “suppress their negative thoughts about negative events that worried them,” their mental health improved.
The scientists at the University of Cambridge also found that after suppressing these thoughts, the events became “less vivid.”
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, was inspired by the negative effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on mental health.
“These findings challenge century-old wisdom that suppressing thoughts is maladaptive, offering an accessible approach to improving mental health,” the authors wrote.
The scientists at the University of Cambridge found that after suppressing these thoughts, the events became “less vivid.” WESTOCK – stock.adobe.com
Many of the participants have serious depression, anxiety, and pandemic-related post-traumatic stress.
Each was asked to think of 76 scenarios that could happen in their lives over the next two years — 20 “fears and worries,” 20 “hopes and dreams,” and 36 “neutral events.”
The events had to be “something that they had vividly imagined occurring.”
All the scenarios required a cue word and a key detail for use during the study.
The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.Getty Images
Participants were asked to rate each event based on: vividness, likelihood of occurrence, distance in the future, level of anxiety about the event (or level of joy for positive events), frequency of thought, degree of current concern, long-term impact, and emotional intensity.
They also completed questionnaires to assess their mental health.
Then, on Zoom, they were led through a 20-minute training.
Every day for three days, participants were instructed to split their thoughts into 12 “no-imagine” and 12 “Imagine” repetitions for these events, using their cue words in the “no-imagine” trials to suppress any “images or thoughts that the reminder might evoke.”
Many of the participants have serious depression, anxiety, and pandemic-related post-traumatic stress.digitalskillet1 – stock.adobe.com
After the three days, and then again three months later, they ranked the events with the same point system as before.
They also filled out a questionnaire documenting any changes in their mental health.
“It was very clear that those events that participants practiced suppressing were less vivid, less emotionally anxiety-inducing, than the other events and that overall, participants improved in terms of their mental health,” Dr. Zulkayda Mamat said in a statement.
“But we saw the biggest effect among those participants who were given practice at suppressing fearful, rather than neutral, thoughts.”
Each was asked to think of 76 scenarios that could happen in their lives over the next two years.Getty Images/iStockphoto
The authors even noted that those who had likely cases of PTSD saw their mental health improve.
And, they found that participants who had continued to use the technique they learned during training had the most profound results.
“The follow up was my favorite time of my entire PhD, because every day was just joyful,” Mamat said.
“I didn’t have a single participant who told me, ‘Oh, I feel bad’ or ‘This was useless’. I didn’t prompt them or ask, ‘Did you find this helpful?’ They were just automatically telling me how helpful they found it.”