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Thought control leads to mental wellness: Cambridge study

mental wellness

The research challenges the widely-held belief that suppressing negative thoughts is detrimental to mental health

Suppressing negative thoughts can lead to positive outcomes for one’s mental well-being, says a study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge reported by IANS. 

The study challenges the widely-held belief that suppressing negative thoughts is detrimental to mental health.

The research involved 120 volunteers from 16 different countries who were trained to suppress thoughts related to negative events that caused them worry. The results were surprising; not only did the suppressed negative thoughts become less vivid, but participants also reported an improvement in their mental health.

“What we found runs counter to the accepted narrative,” said Professor Michael Anderson.from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. “Although more work will be needed to confirm the findings, it seems like it is possible and could even be potentially beneficial to actively suppress our fearful thoughts.”

This study’s findings have significant implications for the treatment of conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). National guidelines have historically discouraged thought suppression as an ineffective coping strategy. However, this research suggests that suppressing fearful thoughts could be beneficial.

Dr. Zulkayda Mamat, from Trinity College, Cambridge, who led the study, believes that inhibitory control might be a crucial skill for overcoming trauma and anxiety. 

“It was very clear that those events that participants practised suppressing were less vivid, less emotionally anxiety-inducing, than the other events and that overall, participants improved in terms of their mental health,” Dr. Mamat said. “But we saw the biggest effect among those participants who were given practice at suppressing fearful, rather than neutral, thoughts.” 

The study aimed to determine whether this skill could be taught and help people cope better, particularly in the context of the increased anxiety brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants in the study were asked to think about various scenarios that could occur in their lives over the next two years, including 20 negative “fears and worries,” 20 positive “hopes and dreams,” and 36 neutral events. The results showed that participants who practiced suppressing their fearful thoughts experienced less vivid and emotionally distressing thoughts. This effect was particularly pronounced among those with post-traumatic stress who suppressed negative thoughts, with a significant reduction in negative mental health scores and an increase in positive mental health scores.

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