Negative thoughts often intrude upon our minds, becoming a relentless source of distress. Attempts to suppress these thoughts typically backfire, making them more persistent. However, various strategies, as explored by thought suppression expert Daniel Wegner, offer alternatives to alleviate unwanted thoughts. Here are some practical techniques to manage and overcome persistent negativity.

In an article for American Psychologist, the expert on thought suppression, Daniel Wegner1 explains some potential methods to get rid of negative thoughts.

Strategies to overcome unwanted negative thoughts

1. Focused distraction:

Concentrate on specific activities, music, or tasks, avoiding aimless mind wandering associated with unhappiness.

2. Avoid stress as a coping mechanism:

Contrary to intuition, stress exacerbates unwanted thoughts, intensifying them instead of offering a distraction.

3. Postpone thoughts:

Designate a worry period, postponing anxious thoughts until this designated time to mitigate persistent distress.

4. Paradoxical therapy:

Confront intrusive thoughts rather than suppressing them, similar to exposure therapy, potentially diminishing their potency.

5. Embrace acceptance:

Accept unwanted thoughts without engaging in mental combat. Adopting acceptance techniques, such as observing thoughts like a parade, can decrease distress levels.

6. Cultivate mindfulness:

Mindfulness meditation promotes non-judgmental awareness, fostering a compassionate attitude towards thoughts and potentially aiding in dismissing negative ones.

7. Self-affirmation:

Reflect on positive traits and beliefs to potentially diminish negativity, enhancing self-control and confidence.

8. Expressive writing:

Writing about emotions and thoughts may have psychological benefits, potentially aiding in dispelling unwanted thoughts.

Caveats and considerations

“These assembled solutions for unwanted thoughts should be taken as hypotheses and possibilities rather than as trusty remedies or recommendations,” cautioned Daniel Wegner.

Sleep’s role in thought management

Insufficient sleep significantly impacts thought suppression. Research reveals that sleep-deprived individuals experience a 50% increase in intrusive thoughts. Sleep plays a pivotal role in blocking unwanted memories, affecting various psychological conditions like PTSD and depression.

Insights from research

Sleep-deprived individuals struggle to prevent intrusive thoughts compared to well-rested counterparts. This finding underscores the importance of adequate sleep in controlling unwanted thoughts and could impact the treatment of psychiatric conditions.

Dr. Scott Cairne, co-author of the study, remarked, “Besides post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, our findings might have implications for our understanding of other disorders linked to sleep disturbances, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.”

Implications for mental health

Understanding effective strategies to manage and overcome unwanted thoughts, coupled with recognizing the role of sleep, offers potential avenues for better mental health management and treatment across various conditions.

Unwanted negative thoughts can significantly impact mental well-being, disrupting daily life and exacerbating mental distress. Exploring strategies to manage these thoughts and recognizing the role of sleep can potentially offer valuable insights for improving mental health outcomes.


  1. Wegner DM. Setting free the bears: escape from thought suppression. Am Psychol. 2011 Nov;66(8):671-80. doi: 10.1037/a0024985. PMID: 22082381.