It’s now written on everything from T-shirts to tea towels – but ‘keep calm and carry on’ can actually be good advice.
Research has shown that ignoring nagging worries and fears actually makes them less powerful.
Researchers recruited 120 people in 16 countries and asked each of them to list the fears about the future that had repeatedly gotten them into trouble over the past six months.
Examples include losing their job, a family member becoming ill or their children going missing.
Then, half of the group was shown a single word representing each fear and instructed to banish the negative thought from their minds.
Research shows that ignoring nagging worries and fears actually makes them less powerful (stock image)
After doing the 20-minute exercise with twelve of their fears, people on average felt less anxious about these worries.
When they were asked about the fears three months later, they were still less worried about them than before the survey – and had fewer symptoms of depression overall.
Many people think that burying negative feelings will make them come back stronger.
But in fact, immediately after blocking out their fears, people noticed that they remembered less of them than the worries they had not suppressed.
The suppressed fears also tended to be less vivid than their other concerns.
Professor Michael Anderson, who led the research at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘These results suggest there is something to the very British idea of ??a stiff upper lip.
“This is a testament to the validity of trying to keep calm and carry on.
‘It seems that actively suppressing our worries and fears can be helpful, and that this will make them less vivid, harder to remember and less frightening.’
The researchers are working on an app to train people how to block out their fears, which is expected to be available in about 18 months.
But in the meantime, Professor Anderson said: ‘People can write a single word representing each of their fears on separate cue cards and stare at each word for about four seconds while blocking out the thought.
“The main thing is to suppress the thought, but without thinking about anything else.
‘Our previous research suggests that this may cause the right prefrontal cortex to block other parts of the brain, reducing anxiety.’
Half of the volunteers in the study were asked to suppress neutral thoughts about the future, such as an upcoming optician appointment.
This produced a group that could be compared to those who suppressed fears and worries.
Researchers wanted to rule out the idea that ignoring negative thoughts could worsen people’s mental health.
Indeed, that didn’t seem to be the case, and people who blocked negative thoughts had fewer depressive symptoms three months after the study than at the start.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, tested people’s memory of their fears after using the blocking technique.
This was largely done by checking whether they remembered a key detail of their fear, such as calling their child’s friends to try to find them if they were missing.
People remembered fewer of their fears at this level of detail after blocking them in their minds, compared to fears they had not blocked.
However, three months later this was no longer the case.
Professor Anderson said: ‘We are told to dig out and process all our negative feelings, but in fact it often seems more helpful to block them out.’