Stressful life events, relationship stressors, and cortisol reactivity: The moderating role of suppression

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018 Mar:89:69-77. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.12.026. Epub 2018 Jan 2.


Stressful life events (SLEs) are exceedingly common and have been associated with a range of psychological disorders, perhaps through dysregulation in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The use of certain emotion regulation strategies in response to stress, such as expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal, has additionally been linked to heightened HPA axis reactivity to acute stress. However, it is unclear how emotion regulation may interact with SLEs to affect HPA axis reactivity, particularly concerning relationship stressors (RSs). Using cross-sectional data from 117 men and 85 women aged 18-55 years old (M = 39.9 ± 10.7), we investigated whether trait use of suppression or reappraisal interacted with recent negatively perceived SLEs and relationship stressors to impact HPA axis response to an acute stressor. Separate area under the curve and linear mixed models revealed that trait suppression interacted with SLEs and RSs to predict cortisol response to stress, while reappraisal did not. Findings indicate higher trait expressive suppression may influence the cortisol response to acute stress after exposure to more recent stressful events, particularly when those stressful events include relationship stress.

Keywords: Acute stress; Cortisol; Emotion regulation; HPA axis; Relationship stress; Suppression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotional Adjustment / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology


  • Hydrocortisone