Repressing anxiety may protect against stress disorders

September 24, 2002

People who cope with a life-threatening situation by ignoring their anxiety or diverting their attention away from it may be doing themselves a favor. Such practices may act as a buffer against stress disorders, according to the results of an Israeli study of heart attack patients.

"The findings of this study suggest that a repressive coping style may promote adjustment to traumatic stress, both in the short and longer term," says lead study author Karni Ginzburg, Ph.D., of the Bob Shapell School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

With colleagues Zahava Solomon, Ph.D., and Avi Bleich, M.D., Ginzburg studied more than 100 patients who were hospitalized for a heart attack and were experiencing the related stress. "The damage to the heart, with its symbolic meaning as the essence of the human being, may shatter the patient's sense of wholeness and safety," says Ginzburg.

During their hospitalization, the study participants took a diagnostic test for acute stress disorder. Symptoms of this disorder, which can occur immediately after a traumatic event, include significant distress, trauma flashbacks, difficulty carrying out everyday tasks, insomnia, irritability and poor concentration. Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed when such symptoms occur more than a month after the traumatic event. The researchers visited the patients seven months after their hospitalization to test for PTSD.

The researchers also gave study participants a test to determine if their coping style was repressive, in which the individual avoids anxious thoughts about a trauma, despite any anxiety they're experiencing on a physiological level. "Previous studies indicated that repressors, who report low levels of anxiety, actually manifest high levels, as indicated by various physical and behavioral measures, such as muscle tone, heart rate, blood pressure and facial expressions," says Ginzburg.

The repressive study participants had lower rates of acute stress disorders than the highly anxious study participants did, but higher rates than the low-anxiety study participants did. Regarding PTSD, the repressors had the lowest rates, and those repressors who did develop PTSD had less severe cases, the researchers found. The study results are published in the September/October issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

The effectiveness of the repressive coping style in dealing with trauma may be bolstered by traits often associated with this style.

"Prior studies report that repressors tend to perceive themselves as competent, self-controlled and having adequate coping skills," says Ginzburg. Such individuals have also been found to have a more positive self-image and to be "more inclined to unrealistic optimism," according to the study.

Some say the repressive coping style is an inauthentic way to shield oneself from the fullness of an experience, even a trauma, while others say repression can be a good problem-solving tool in a stressful circumstance.

"In these cases, the repressor is able to approach the trauma-induced emotions and cognitions gradually, in small doses, and without being overwhelmed by them, and also to maintain his or her hope and courage," Ginzburg says.
-end-
This research was supported by the Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Health and by the Sarah Peleg Research Foundation.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.
Interviews: Contact Karni Ginzburg, Ph.D., at karnig@post.tau.ac.il, or +972-3-6405917.
Psychosomatic Medicine: Contact Victoria White at (352) 376-1611, ext. 5300, or visit www.psychosomaticmedicine.org.

Center for Advancing Health

Related Heart Attack Articles from Brightsurf:

Top Science Tip Sheet on heart failure, heart muscle cells, heart attack and atrial fibrillation results
Newly discovered pathway may have potential for treating heart failure - New research model helps predict heart muscle cells' impact on heart function after injury - New mass spectrometry approach generates libraries of glycans in human heart tissue - Understanding heart damage after heart attack and treatment may provide clues for prevention - Understanding atrial fibrillation's effects on heart cells may help find treatments - New research may lead to therapy for heart failure caused by ICI cancer medication

Molecular imaging identifies link between heart and kidney inflammation after heart attack
Whole body positron emission tomography (PET) has, for the first time, illustrated the existence of inter-organ communication between the heart and kidneys via the immune system following acute myocardial infarction.

Muscle protein abundant in the heart plays key role in blood clotting during heart attack
A prevalent heart protein known as cardiac myosin, which is released into the body when a person suffers a heart attack, can cause blood to thicken or clot--worsening damage to heart tissue, a new study shows.

New target identified for repairing the heart after heart attack
An immune cell is shown for the first time to be involved in creating the scar that repairs the heart after damage.

Heart cells respond to heart attack and increase the chance of survival
The heart of humans and mice does not completely recover after a heart attack.

A simple method to improve heart-attack repair using stem cell-derived heart muscle cells
The heart cannot regenerate muscle after a heart attack, and this can lead to lethal heart failure.

Mount Sinai discovers placental stem cells that can regenerate heart after heart attack
Study identifies new stem cell type that can significantly improve cardiac function.

Fixing a broken heart: Exploring new ways to heal damage after a heart attack
The days immediately following a heart attack are critical for survivors' longevity and long-term healing of tissue.

Heart patch could limit muscle damage in heart attack aftermath
Guided by computer simulations, an international team of researchers has developed an adhesive patch that can provide support for damaged heart tissue, potentially reducing the stretching of heart muscle that's common after a heart attack.

How the heart sends an SOS signal to bone marrow cells after a heart attack
Exosomes are key to the SOS signal that the heart muscle sends out after a heart attack.

Read More: Heart Attack News and Heart Attack Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.