The influence of emotion regulation on the association between depression and heart rate variability in cardiac patients

Author: Francesca Mura, Elisabetta Patron1, Simone Messerotti Benvenuti, Claudio Gentili, Andrea Ponchia2, Daniela Palomba
1 Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, Padua, Italy.
2 Unit of Cardiac Rehabilitation, ULSS 6 Euganea, Padua, Italy.
Conference/Journal: Psychosom Med
Date published: 2022 Apr 12
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001077. , Word Count: 240

Poor vagally-mediated heart rate variability (vmHRV) is a mechanism linking depression to coronary heart disease (CHD). Reduced vmHRV is also considered an index of emotion dysregulation - the frequent use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies, one of the most important being expressive suppression - which is a key component of depression. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the moderating role of expressive suppression in the relation between depression and vmHRV in patients with CHD.

The sample included 235 patients with CHD (mean age = 61.6 years (SD = 9.8); 12% women) admitted to cardiac rehabilitation after a cardiac intervention. The Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) was administered to assess depressive symptoms. Emotion regulation strategies based on either expressive suppression or cognitive reappraisal were assessed through the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ). Resting electrocardiographic recordings were collected for five minutes to compute HRV indices.

Expressive suppression moderated the relation between depressive symptoms and vmHRV (b = -0.03; p = .012). Patients with lower expressive suppression scores showed no association between depressive symptoms and vmHRV (b = -0.00, p = .94), whereas those with higher expressive suppression scores showed a significant negative association between depressive symptoms and vmHRV (b = -0.05, p = .015).

The use of expressive suppression is likely to potentiate the relation between depressive symptoms and poor vmHRV, which could increase the cardiac risk in these patients. Targeting emotion regulation skills in cardiac rehabilitation programs may be useful for reducing the impact of depression in cardiac patients.

PMID: 35412515 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001077

keywords: vagus