Suppressing Negative Thoughts Can Improve Mental Health

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A man suffering mental problem

Mental health, a crucial component of overall well-being, encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social stability. It affects how we think, feel, and act, influencing our decision-making, stress management, and interpersonal relationships. In today’s fast-paced world, where stressors range from work pressures to global pandemics, the importance of maintaining and improving mental health has never been more paramount.

Enhancing mental well-being isn’t merely about treating mental disorders; it’s about cultivating resilience, fostering positive emotions, and equipping individuals with coping mechanisms to navigate life’s challenges. Through a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medication, individuals can bolster their mental health, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life.  

In a groundbreaking study that challenges long-held beliefs about mental health, researchers have discovered that training individuals to suppress negative thoughts can have significant benefits, especially in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic’s mental health crisis. The study, titled “Improving mental health by training the suppression of unwanted thoughts,” was spearheaded by Zulkayda Mamat and Michael C. Anderson and has been published in the esteemed journal, Science Advances. The research meticulously examined the effects of suppressing fearful or neutral thoughts on overall mental well-being.  

The global onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an alarming rise in mental health issues, including anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and depression. Historically, individuals grappling with these conditions have been cautioned against suppressing intrusive thoughts. The prevailing belief was that such suppression could amplify these thoughts, making them even more distressing. However, Mamat and Anderson’s research posits a different perspective, suggesting that suppression, when done correctly, can be therapeutic.  

To validate their hypothesis, the researchers enlisted 120 adults from 16 diverse countries. These participants underwent a comprehensive 3-day online training program, where they were systematically trained to suppress either fearful or neutral thoughts. The outcomes were nothing short of remarkable. Contrary to expectations, there was no paradoxical intensification of fears.

In fact, suppression led to a diminished memory recall of the suppressed fears, rendering them less vivid and consequently, less distressing. Post-training evaluations revealed a significant decline in anxiety levels, negative emotions, and depressive symptoms among participants. Impressively, these positive effects were not fleeting; they persisted for a commendable three months post-training.  

The idea of suppressing negative thoughts has its roots in Freudian theories, which suggested that suppressed content could inadvertently manifest in symptoms and dreams. Contemporary theories also echoed similar sentiments, suggesting that even if suppression provided momentary relief, the suppressed content might resurface with heightened emotional intensity. Mamat and Anderson’s study, however, turns these theories on their head, offering a fresh perspective on the potential benefits of suppression.  

Previous neurobiological studies have hinted at the possibility that suppressing intrusive thoughts could be linked to heightened resilience against posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and diminished anxiety related to feared events. Mamat and Anderson’s research offers empirical evidence that reinforces these preliminary findings.

The implications of this study are profound. It paves the way for a paradigm shift in the treatment modalities for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Instead of dissuading individuals from suppressing negative thoughts, therapists might consider integrating suppression training into their therapeutic arsenal, especially for individuals exhibiting high trait anxiety and those battling pandemic-induced posttraumatic stress.  

Moreover, the study underscores the immense potential of digital platforms in delivering mental health interventions. The online format of the training not only ensured wider accessibility but also guaranteed safety, enabling participants from various geographical locations to partake in and benefit from the program.



The act of suppressing negative thoughts, particularly in tumultuous times, may not be the adversary we once believed it to be. With the right guidance and training, it could very well emerge as a potent ally in our collective quest for improved mental health. As societies worldwide confront the mental health repercussions of the pandemic, studies like these offer not just hope but also tangible solutions for a brighter, mentally healthier future. 

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