"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.