Publication date: Sep 22, 2023
Anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and depression markedly increased worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. People with these conditions experience distressing intrusive thoughts, yet conventional therapies often urge them to avoid suppressing their thoughts because intrusions might rebound in intensity and frequency, worsening the disorders. In contrast, we hypothesized that training thought suppression would improve mental health. One hundred and twenty adults from 16 countries underwent 3 days of online training to suppress either fearful or neutral thoughts. No paradoxical increases in fears occurred. Instead, suppression reduced memory for suppressed fears and rendered them less vivid and anxiety provoking. After training, participants reported less anxiety, negative affect, and depression with the latter benefit persisting at 3 months. Participants high in trait anxiety and pandemic-related posttraumatic stress gained the largest and most durable mental health benefits. These findings challenge century-old wisdom that suppressing thoughts is maladaptive, offering an accessible approach to improving mental health.
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