In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, many individuals experience physiological reactivity in response to reminders of the traumatic event that typically lessens over time. However, an overreliance on avoidant coping strategies may interfere with the natural recovery process, particularly for those who are highly reactive to trauma reminders. In the current investigation, we examined avoidant coping as a moderator of the association between heart rate reactivity to a trauma monologue measured shortly after a traumatic event and severity of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms measured several months later. Fifty-five female survivors of assault completed PTSD diagnostic interviews and a self-report coping measure and participated in a trauma monologue procedure that included continuous heart rate measurement. These procedures were completed within 1 month of the assault and again 3 months postassault. After we controlled for the effect of initial symptom levels, the interaction of heart rate reactivity to the trauma monologue and avoidant coping measured at Time 1 was associated with PTSD symptom severity at Time 2. Individuals who are relatively highly reliant on avoidant coping strategies and relatively highly reactive to trauma reminders may be at greatest risk of maintaining or potentially increasing their PTSD symptoms within the first few months following the trauma. These findings may help inform early intervention efforts for survivors of traumatic events.
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