Repressive Coping Increases Risk of Hypertension and other Diseases

Repressive coping is a strategy of self-protection that involves dismissing or ignoring strong emotions. People who use repression as a means of coping often do so out of self-defense and tend to experience the same negative emotional symptoms as those who struggle with anxiety. In a new study, Marcus Mund, of the Friedrich Schiller University in Germany, sought to determine if repressive coping also led to the development of physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as hypertension, asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer. “If repressive copers repressed unwanted feelings permanently, and if repression of feelings was associated with the mentioned physiological features, it is close at hand to infer that a high proportion of repressors should be affected by pathologically high blood pressure or associated diseases like coronary heart disease (CHD). Indeed, there are numerous studies linking both and showing serologically an increased risk for severe cardiovascular diseases (CVD),” said Mund. “Additionally, repressive coping is assumed to be associated with the development of cancer.” He added, “The same is true for asthma and diabetes, which both can be linked to several immune features.”

Mund and his colleagues analyzed data from over 6,700 clients. They found that those who repressed their feelings were 31% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, CVD, hypertension, asthma or cancer. With respect to cancer, those who used repression coping were 51% more likely to be diagnosed with the illness than those who did not. However, Mund said, “For cancer, the present results imply that repressive coping does not precede the diagnosis, but is rather a consequence of it.” He added, “Concerning CVD, the meta-analysis showed that repressors’ risk of suffering from at least elevated blood pressure is increased by 80% compared to non-repressors.” Mund believes the heightened state of arousal that repressors experience causes an increase in cortisol, which directly affects blood pressure and indirectly affects other somatic symptoms. “The current meta-analysis revealed significant associations between repressive coping, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, especially hypertension,” said Mund. “These results add to the notion of repressive coping as a consequence of cancer as well as to its important role for the issue of hypertension.”

Mund, M., & Mitte, K. (2011, November 14). The Costs of Repression: A Meta-Analysis on the Relation Between Repressive Coping and Somatic Diseases. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026257

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Madeleine

    November 17th, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Oh gosh, hiding your emotions and leaving to deal with later is not a safe or healthy way to live. It is no good for you to constantly try to hide from your emotions. It is much better and wiser too to face those feelings head on and deal with right now. Hiding them only tends to make them even worse.

  • Cheryl

    November 18th, 2011 at 5:19 AM

    Isn’t it weird how for years and years we only thought about the physical things that we were doing and the influence that this had on our health. You know, things like the foods we eat, the exercise that we get, etc. . . Interesting how we now see the other things that come into play with determining how physically healthy that we are. Like whether we worry too much or repress those feelings and don’t worry or deal with things enough. It is all so interrelated and we did not even acknowledge that.

  • Grace

    November 18th, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Who are these people who can hide all of this and shut down?!?
    I am such a wear my emotions on my sleeve kind of gal that it is hard to imagine behaving any differently than that.
    I am sure that my husband wishes I was just a little better at keeping some things beneath the surface but that is just not me.
    Guess I will always be healthy as a horse then right? lol

  • DALE

    November 18th, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    Wow,so feelings and emotions are almost like ‘things’ aren’t they? If you have a negative feeling then spit it out or its going to be toxic to you body! Who would have thought that it could be so direct in its effects!

  • m kennedy

    November 21st, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    I would never be able to dismiss worrying thoughts or ideas in my head, it would just burst! ;)

    But really,I cannot keep things inside of me and pretend like everything is fine–maybe its just my nature but I clearly see how this can be harmful!

  • Mary

    June 27th, 2023 at 5:13 PM

    As a psychology student studying emotion and cognition, I came across a discussion about the repressive coping style. The text argues that while historically it was believed that avoiding threat is detrimental, recent research suggests that a repressive coping style can be beneficial in adapting to stressful situations. They mention the association of vigilance to threat with high levels of anxiety and propose that repressive coping may help maintain a positive self-image by reducing distress and negative affectivity. Studies on bereavement indicate that individuals with a repressive coping style had fewer psychopathological symptoms and better health. However, the text also emphasizes that repressive coping is different from intentionally avoiding negative affect. From reading your study, I am unsure about how repressive coping was defined and whether it is seen as an automatic or consciously used coping style.

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