Repressive Coping Linked to Cancer and Other Health Issues

Understanding what leads to physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, asthma, and cancer is imperative for their prevention. There is an abundant amount of research that demonstrates the link between negative mental health and physical illness. One aspect of psychological well-being that can be viewed negatively is the repression of feelings. Keeping distressful feelings and strong emotions inside can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and raise cortisol levels, all factors that can lead to CVD and other diseases. However, no study has focused solely on repression as a risk factor for physical disease. Marcus Mund of the Institute for Psychology at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Germany wanted to fill that void in literature.

Mund analyzed 22 separate studies and reviewed data from more than 6,700 participants. He looked at how repressive coping strategies affected physical health when compared to nonrepressive coping strategies and found that the participants who repressed their feelings were more likely to have hypertension than those who did not. Although Mund looked for studies about repression and diabetes, he found none and therefore focused on asthma, hypertension, CVD, and cancer. With respect to asthma, the evidence indicated that the repressors had a slightly higher risk than the nonrepressors, but Mund believes the lack of existing research on asthma and repression needs to be addressed. When he looked at cancer, Mund determined that repressors were more likely to have cancer than nonrepressors, but that the repressive coping was shown to be linked to cancer only after the diagnosis and did not predict the onset of cancer.

The findings of this study answer and ask several questions. First, because only clinically ill participants were studied, would the results be the same if healthy controls were included and the results were longitudinal? Second, people with asthma who used repressive coping may do so because they are instructed to monitor their breathing and heart rate in order to reduce the chance of having an attack. But does this influence the finding that there was only a slight increase in the repressors’ risks for asthma? Mund believes the findings presented here shed some light on the relationship between repression and illness, but more work needs to be done. “In sum, the results imply a significantly increased risk for repressors to suffer from one of the investigated diseases, especially cancer and elevated blood pressure or even hypertension,” he said.

Mund, Marcus, and Kristen Mitte. The costs of repression: A meta-analysis on the relation between repressive coping and somatic diseases. Health Psychology 31.5 (2012): 640-49. Print.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • jo

    October 2nd, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    I guess you could say that I have always been arepressive coper and this is not something that I would recommend for anyone! I have always had a hard time facing up to the things going on in my life, and even when they have been small and insignificant things I have always been that person who acts as if I can ignore this so it will go away. I know, I am smarter than that in reality and I understand that this isn’t the way life in general works, But that’s always been my go to way for dealing with pressure, but I can seriously understand that if I was facing a terminal illness, this wouldn’t be any good for me to repress my feelings. The default of mine would cause me to only want to run away and hide, and I am sure that this kind of reflex could have some pretty serious consequences over my health.

  • Samantha

    October 2nd, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Any time that we choose to repress our feelings this is going to have negative implications on our health.

    Our bodies heal themselves best when we can find a way to maintain more of a positive mindset. Our stress levels will decrease, anxiety will decrease, and overall we are going to feel better about our lives.

    Feeling more positive and facing our reality is a little more empowering than simply trying to wish it away. There is nothing good to be gained by repression, and I know that sometimes it feels best to bury ourselves under the covers, but that just isn’t the healthy way to live.

  • SPence

    October 3rd, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Hopefully we can begin to approach health care as so much more than just treating the symptoms on the surface that we see.
    There seems to be an overall greater need to look at a more holistic approach to health care. Why isn’t someone healing at the pace that we would have initially thought was appropriate? maybe doctors should look beyond the things going on in a physical sense and begin to explore the ways that a mental aspect could be playing a role.
    This of course will demand that we get more providers involved, or at least more ohysicians who are willing to acknowledge that there could be numerous underlying causes fo a slow recovery and that we should explore each of thiose to ensure optimum health and recovery for the patient.

  • Clay

    October 4th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    Just because you repress does not indicate that you will actually get a disease.
    I can see how this would affect how quickly you do or do not heal, not whether you get sick to begin with.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.