Overall, I have enjoyed learning about the biopsychosocial model for various health conditions, exploring factors that alter longevity and considering the problem of health disparities. I also benefited from the personal change project and enjoyed working on my research paper.
I appreciate the relevance of the biopsychosocial model to various health conditions, including cancer, heart disease and infectious disease, and notice that cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly effective for changing behaviors and helping individuals cope with hardship. As well, learning about diseases and stressful circumstances in the context of the biopsychosocial model has helped me appreciate the importance of attitudes and beliefs, with self-efficacy and optimism related to thriving, and high stress levels detrimental to health. I find it hopeful that our health is not completely out of our hands! Class speakers also reiterated the biopsychosocial model, as seen in Dr. Olbirsch’s commentary on the need for cultural humility.
I really enjoyed reading The Longevity Project and found its findings surprising and interesting. I particularly liked the chapter about marriage, as it debunked the idea that getting married brings happiness (in reality, happy people are more likely to get married), and I enjoyed learning about the role of religion in longevity, as my family falls on a spectrum of religious observance and I have always wondered about religion’s protective effect. In addition, I found interesting the strong tie between masculinity and shorter life, and think this speaks to the importance of flexible gender rôles and combatting hypermasculinity in society. Finally, the most notable takewaway from The Longevity Project was the importance of strong social ties, with a person’s social network consistently affecting coping with trauma, stress and hardship such as war. This definitely impressed upon me the importance of maintaining social ties and ensuring I have a strong support system.
Another aspect of the course I found interesting is health disparities, as I was ignorant about importance of race, gender and SES on access to care and well-being. Taking this course has made me appreciate the need to ensure all communities have access to fresh food, exercise facilities and healthcare, and impressed upon me the toll of racism and discrimination on the body. Dr. Heather Gardiner’s speech on liver transplants exemplified the existence of health disparities, with minority individuals much less likely to receive transplants. In addition, I found it interesting to learn about “Yentil syndrome”, in which women are not diagnosed with heart disease because men are used as test subjects and women exhibit different symptoms. Working on my research project about Asian-American health disparities also impressed upon me the importance of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention measures to combat health inequity.
A useful course feature was my personal change project. I decided to implement mindfulness in my daily life, and the project allowed me to appreciate the difficult but rewarding nature of behavior change. I started to attend UR Zen, a club I enjoy, and used the app Headspace to develop a daily meditation practice. Implementing mindfulness decreased my stress levels and gave me the tools to combat anxiety and enjoy the present moment more. I now try to meditate several times a week, and continue to use breathing techniques I learned and attend yoga classes. In this way, the personal change project allowed me to experience the challenge of changing a behavior and the rewards of doing so.
Finally, my favorite part of the course was working on a qualitative research paper. I am drawn to the complexity and emergent nature of qualitative research, and I loved interviewing CAPS professionals about the effect of PTSD on physical health. As well, writing the paper was beneficial for me to refamiliarize myself with APA formatting and learn about coding and finding themes in qualitative research.
Overall, this course has been enlightening for me, and I have enjoyed learning about a branch of psychology I was unaware existed. I would definitely enjoy continuing to explore this field, particularly within the context of researching health disparities, and will use applications of the course in my own life, such as reducing stress, thinking optimistically and maximizing social ties.