Nav: Home

Chronic fatigue patients more likely to suppress emotions

May 17, 2016

WASHINGTON -- Chronic fatigue syndrome patients report they are more anxious and distressed than people who don't have the condition, and they are also more likely to suppress those emotions. In addition, when under stress, they show greater activation of the biological "fight or flight" mechanism, which may add to their fatigue, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

"We hope that this research will contribute to a greater understanding of the needs of people with chronic fatigue syndrome, some of whom may tend not to communicate their experiences of symptoms or stress to other people," said the study's lead author, Katharine Rimes, PhD, of King's College London. "Others may be unaware of the difficulties experienced by chronic fatigue syndrome patients and therefore not provide appropriate support."

Participants who felt that expressing their emotions was socially unacceptable were more likely to suppress them. This was the case for both chronic fatigue patients and healthy people, according to the study published in the APA journal Health Psychology.

This study of 160 people in the U.K. relied on self and observer reports, as well as physiological responses that were collected before, during or after the participants watched a distressing film clip. Half of the participants had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome while the rest were healthy.

Half of each group were instructed to suppress their emotions and half were told to express their feelings as they wished. Their reactions were filmed and rated by independent observers. Skin conductance was measured because this increases with greater sweating, which is a sign of activation of the body's sympathetic nervous system. This is often known as the biological fight or flight system used to cope with stress.

Regardless of the instruction they received, the chronic fatigue syndrome participants reported higher anxiety and sadness, and their skin responses indicated they were more distressed than the healthy control group, both before and after the film. However, those emotions in the chronic fatigue group were less likely to be picked up by the independent observers.

Greater activation of the fight or flight system was associated with greater increases in fatigue in the people with chronic fatigue syndrome, but not among healthy people. "Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome often tell us that stress worsens their symptoms, but this study demonstrates a possible biological mechanism underlying this effect," said Rimes.

The authors note that this study was conducted with mainly white patients who were attending a special clinic for chronic fatigue syndrome patients and that more research is needed to determine whether elevated emotional suppression would also be found in chronic fatigue patients in more diverse populations.

Since this study was conducted among people who had already been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, this does not indicate a causal link between emotional suppression and the syndrome itself, Rimes added.

"These findings may help us understand why some chronic fatigue syndrome patients don't seek out social support at times of stress," said Rimes. "Patients' families may benefit from information about how to best support patients who tend to hide their emotions."
-end-
Article: "Emotional Suppression in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Experimental Study," Katharine A. Rimes, PhD, Joanna Ashcroft, PsyD, Lauren Bryan, MSc, and Trudie Chalder, PhD, King's College London, Health Psychology, published online May 16, 2016.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/hea-hea0000341.pdf.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 117,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

http://www.apa.org

If you do not want to receive APA news releases, please let us know at public.affairs@apa.org or 202-336-5700.

American Psychological Association

Related Stress Articles:

Captive meerkats at risk of stress
Small groups of meerkats -- such as those commonly seen in zoos and safari parks -- are at greater risk of chronic stress, new research suggests.
Stress may protect -- at least in bacteria
Antibiotics harm bacteria and stress them. Trimethoprim, an antibiotic, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli and induces a stress response.
Some veggies each day keeps the stress blues away
Eating three to four servings of vegetables daily is associated with a lower incidence of psychological stress, new research by University of Sydney scholars reveals.
Prebiotics may help to cope with stress
Probiotics are well known to benefit digestive health, but prebiotics are less well understood.
Building stress-resistant memories
Though it's widely assumed that stress zaps a person's ability to recall memory, it doesn't have that effect when memory is tested immediately after a taxing event, and when subjects have engaged in a highly effective learning technique, a new study reports.
Stress during pregnancy
The environment the unborn child is exposed to inside the womb can have a major effect on her or his development and future health.
New insights into how the brain adapts to stress
New research led by the University of Bristol has found that genes in the brain that play a crucial role in behavioural adaptation to stressful challenges are controlled by epigenetic mechanisms.
Uncertainty can cause more stress than inevitable pain
Knowing that there is a small chance of getting a painful electric shock can lead to significantly more stress than knowing that you will definitely be shocked.
Stress could help activate brown fat
Mild stress stimulates the activity and heat production by brown fat associated with raised cortisol, according to a study published today in Experimental Physiology.
Experiencing major stress makes some older adults better able to handle daily stress
Dealing with a major stressful event appears to make some older adults better able to cope with the ups and downs of day-to-day stress.

Related Stress Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".