New research from the University of Amsterdam finds a link between stress at work and the inability to express feelings. The inability to express feelings, or alexithymia, is a primary risk factor for various psychiatric disorders. Conversely, secondary alexithymia is believed to be an inadequate coping reaction to a stressful situation.

The study investigated the level and type of alexithymia associated with occupational stress. On 2 occasions, 69 patients with work-related stress and 62 healthy participants completed self-report questionnaires to measure alexithymia, burnout complaints, and general distress complaints.

Alexithymia was significantly elevated among patients. In the patient group, absolute stability of two alexithymia dimensions (identifying feelings, describing feelings) and relative stability of one alexithymia dimension (identifying feelings) was lower than in the healthy group.

Cross-sectional group differences became small and nonsignificant after adjustment for distress complaints. Among patients, change in alexithymia was moderately associated with symptom recovery.

The researchers concluded that an increased difficulty to express feeling among patients with occupational stress can indicate the presence of secondary alexithymia.

The study is published in the September issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Source: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics