Suppressing worrying thoughts may improve our mental health

Photo of a young woman coping with loneliness and isolation during covid-19 outbreak

It’d typically be higher to suppress anxiety-inducing ideas

AleksandarNakic/E+/Getty Pictures

Clearing the thoughts of fearful ideas, moderately than processing them, might typically be good for our psychological well being.

Within the late Nineteen Eighties, scientists discovered that individuals who have been first requested to keep away from eager about white bears, and later to consider them, had extra ideas in regards to the animals than individuals who have been solely requested to consider white bears. This led to the widespread perception that blocking out undesirable ideas mockingly causes them to reoccur extra typically.

Consequently, some types of remedy purpose to spice up psychological well being by guiding folks to recall and discover tough experiences moderately than suppress them.

Now, Zulkayda Mamat and Michael Anderson on the College of Cambridge have discovered that some types of thought suppression can truly be useful.

“While you keep away from a thought by doing or pondering of one thing else, sure, you have a tendency to draw that thought once more,” says Mamat. “However we discovered that suppressing ideas by ensuring your thoughts is with none thought – for instance by imagining a clean area or imagining pushing that thought out of your thoughts – could be useful.”

The researchers recruited 120 folks and requested them to think about future situations that may happen of their lives over the subsequent two years. The members weren’t requested whether or not they had been identified with any psychological well being situations, however surveys they took revealed some signs.

Every participant got here up with 20 damaging situations they have been afraid of, akin to shedding a liked one, and 36 impartial situations akin to hanging out the laundry. For every situation, members had to offer a cue phrase that may very well be used to evoke the thought.

Over Zoom, Mamat and Anderson skilled 61 of the members to suppress damaging ideas, and 59 of them to suppress impartial ideas, for 20 minutes per day over three days. Throughout every coaching session, the researchers confirmed members the cue phrase to set off a thought of a situation, after which requested them to dam the occasion out of their minds, earlier than presenting a brand new cue.

Instantly after the final coaching session, 90 per cent of the folks suppressing fears reported that it made the imagined occasions much less vivid of their minds. About 75 per cent of those that suppressed impartial ideas reported the identical.

Members additionally self-reported the extent to which they’d signs associated to melancholy, post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) and anxiousness in surveys earlier than and after the coaching.

The researchers used these experiences to calculate that amongst members who scored extremely for signs of PTSD earlier than coaching, those that suppressed damaging ideas had a 16 per cent discount within the severity of their signs after coaching, whereas those that suppressed impartial ideas noticed a 5 per cent fall.

Likewise, in individuals who reported signs of melancholy earlier than coaching, suppressing damaging ideas lowered their scores greater than suppressing impartial signs.

The surveys additionally revealed that folks believed that suppressing damaging, however not impartial, ideas additionally boosted their well-being. The useful results on psychological well being measures nonetheless remained three months after coaching.

Even when the outcomes are confirmed in bigger research, suppressing some ideas may be dangerous, says Mamat.

“There are some ideas that it is best to strive to consider and course of and cope with, however there are different ideas in regards to the future that you may’t do something about and suppressing them might assist,” says Mamat.

“The concept makes an attempt to suppress damaging ideas have paradoxical and detrimental results is kind of widespread amongst researchers, clinicians and most of the people,” says Isaac Fradkin at College Faculty London. “The research convincingly challenges this preconception.”