Suppressing Negative Thoughts To Improve Mental Health – Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket
One of the most challenging things about negative thoughts, particularly when they are linked to anxiety, worry and low self esteem, is how they can start to become more habitual, enduring and seemingly automatic. You can start to find yourself being more and more negative about anything and everything.
If you are used to thinking the worst, catastrophising, dwelling and being self critical, then very soon you can find that you just do it without even always realising. You start to focus on the negative and what could go wrong. You put yourself down and start to feel worse in yourself. Even though you know it;’s unhelpful and makes you feel bad, you may feel out of control of your own thinking and of what goes on inside of your own head.
And the more you focus on the negative thoughts, and the more you invest in them, let them run and invest belief in them, the more you can feel low, bad, down and anxious. And those negative emotions and feelings just drive even more negative thoughts into your mind. Our brain filters things through how we feel and will unhelpfully remind you of previous mistakes and regrets and future worst case scenarios and catastrophies just waiting to happen to you.
Very soon it becomes an ongoing, self supporting cycle of negative thinking and negative feelings. It can impact upon how you feel in yourself and your self esteem. And it can affect relationships, work, study, friendships and other areas of your life. You may dread things and avoid things. And even when you crack on and get on with things you may carry with you a sense of doom and gloom.
Yet precisely because those negative thoughts are going on inside your head means that you can start to learn how to amend, them, challenge them, dispute them, interrupt them and change them. Rather than being controlled by your negative and troublesome thoughts, you can start to take back control over your thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions in ways that will help you feel calmer, happier, stronger and more confident.
I’ve covered many strategies and concepts around how you can challenge anxious thoughts in these previous articles:
And if you are struggling right now with anxiety and all the wanted thoughts and feelings it brings, then there are many hypnosis downloads that can help you with getting back to being more calm, confident and in control: Anxiety Help Hypnosis Downloads. And if you want to develop your ability to turn negative thoughts into more positive ones then this hypnosis download is for you: Positive Mindset Hypnosis Download
Negative Thoughts and Negative Thinking
Generally us humans think a thought, or something pops into our awareness, and we then just run with it. We start to add on what it means and what will happen next. Particularly with anxious and negative thoughts we can start to move further and further away from the present and how things are right now and so then soon find ourselves feeling worried, stressed and low about things in our imagination and focus. We often forget that a lot of our thoughts are not based on fact or an accurate account of reality. We get lost in our thinking, opinions and perceptions of how things are and how things will turn out.
And so often we have an assumption that if we think something then it must be right. We can treat our thoughts as if they are accurate and set in stone. In many (perhaps even most) cases), our thoughts are more likely to be our interpretation of things, informed by our own experiences and biases, or even just plain misguided. Our brains and our thinking are not infallible by any stretch of imagination. We can lose sight of what is factual, logical and accurate and what is just made up in our heads, especially if those thoughts are influencing negative feelings such as anxiety, worry and stress.
One of the things I’ve long advocated with my clients who want to deal with negative or anxious thoughts is the benefit of distraction and diversion. If you aren’t thinking the problematic thought then it stops running and running inside your mind and loses all of its momentum and emotion through lack of time, attention and focus inside your mind. If you are busy thinking something more balanced, positive, constructive and beneficial then you feel better, start to find your thoughts moving forward more positively and you learn how to be in control of your own thoughts. You can stop giving the negative so much air time in your thinking and in your life.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of your issues, such as anxiety, worry and lowness, are immediately solved yet it does start to give you a way to interrupt and lessen that pattern. It creates some psychological space for more and more positive change.
There are those who worry about suppressing negative thoughts as they think that doing so will lead to negative issues coming out or resurfacing in some other fashion. They think that you always have to discover the root cause of an issue in order to resolve it. However, interrupting the habit, pattern and repetition of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours usually means that whatever led to it, which may have been innocuous, forgotten or a series of smaller things, becomes redundant. Sometimes a pattern of negative thinking endures long after the event that started it has long expired.
When you start feeling better in yourself from now onwards you lose interest in why you used to do the things you are no longer doing. And there is no evidence that suppressing something leads to some internal pressure build up that explodes in some other way. When you stop thinking negative thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts, you are not simply thinking something else. You aren’t covering up the issue or failing to address it. And you aren’t setting yourself up for some sort of other issue to replace the one you have changed.
Suppressing Negative Thoughts For Your Mental Health
You don’t even have to just take my word for it that suppressing negative thoughts can be beneficial for your mental health. We now have some research and evidence that lends support to this strategy.
As Mamat and Anderson (2023) write in their study, suppressing thoughts has historically been seen as unhelpful because of the old Freudian idea that suppressed content persists and resurfaces indirectly in other ways. There has also been a notion that even if suppression works temporarily, those thoughts rebound with increased frequency and emotional intensity that increases your levels of distress and then you end up feeling even worse than you did before.
The researchers challenged this view and trained one hundred and twenty people to suppress their distressing thoughts about negative, feared future events that worried them.
With regard to the suppression element of the research, participants listed feared future events of concern to them and had a cue word to remind them of that thing (they also looked at neutral and positive events too). Participants were confronted with the cue and told to recognise the feared event referred to and then to suppress retrieval of any thoughts or images about it.
They found that suppression of the negative thoughts did not lead to any rebound increases in fears and instead suppression reduced memory for the suppressed fears and rendered them less vivid and anxiety provoking. Participants reported less anxiety, negative affect and depression. Those with higher levels of anxiety at the outset gained the largest and most durable mental health benefits.
In essence, by suppressing their worries and fearful thoughts, people were able to reduce the distress associated with the feared scenarios and events. This essentially undermined those worries from driving worrying, rumination, and other forms of repetitive thinking that amplify anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress. In addition, the increased perception of control over their thoughts improved people’s well-being and they were able to continue to apply this strategy to new fears and other negative thoughts. There was no evidence that suppressing distressing thoughts increased the risk of any sort of rebound effect.
Contrary to historical views, this evidence demonstrates that suppressing negative thoughts can help you to reduce anxiety and to improve your mental health and well-being. Even when faced with cue reminders of a distressing thing, you can seek to interrupt the progression of the thought. You can break that cycle of negative thinking and feeling and those repetitive thoughts that kept it going and that allowed it to persist.
This research suggests that deliberately suppressing thoughts can become another useful strategy in how you orchestrate, direct and engage with the thoughts you are thinking. As you practice it, reduce the time and focus on unwanted things and take control over your thinking, you can start to once again feel calmer, happier and more confident in yourself and into your life.
To your health and happiness,
Award Winning Anxiety Hypnotherapist in Ely & Newmarket
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Reference: Mamat, Z. and Anderson, M.C., 2023. Improving mental health by training the suppression of unwanted thoughts. Science Advances, 9(38), p.eadh5292.