In the video Unnatural Causes: In Sickness and in Wealth there is a lot of information about the effects long term stress has on the body, and the demographic of the population that these high levels of stress tends to influence. I have always understood stress as something that is universal and effects all humans at some point in their lives, with the degree and frequency of the stress varying. However, I never knew the extent consistent and intense stress could do to someone’s physical body. In the documentary we learned about cortisol levels and how having a chronically elevated cortisol level can be detrimental to a person’s physical health. Unfortunately, it is the population of people like minorities who tend to have less access to good health services that are experiencing these negative effects. The documentary explained how continuous high levels of cortisol can inhibit memory, cause areas of the brain to shrink, can influence how the body processes glucose, affects the immune system and the body’s ability to fight something as common as the cold, and is a predictor for heart disease. The extent to which cortisol in excess has was shown in Shively’s monkey study where the cortisol levels of the subordinate monkey mirrors that of the human response to stress. Because subordinate monkeys have less control over their environment, they have to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all time. As a result, they are in a constant state of stress, and their cellular functions declined, and their hearts began to build up plaque that would eventually lead to a heart attack.
After watching this video, I really began to think about stress and how it manifests and looks so different depending on who you are and the environment you are born into. While one person would associate stress with exams in school, another may associate stress with not being able to afford food or pay rent. These two examples, although both valid forms of stress, are much different in their threat to survival. Many factors like race, SES, age, and occupation influence what a person considers to be “normal” stress that they experience in their life. This makes me think of the suicide rate in the United States and how there is a very significant difference in the prevalence of suicide among white people compared to black people. We discussed how this is in part due to black people being exposed to more stressors and adversity in their lifetime compared to white people. Despite the fact that minorities often experience more chronic stress and the negative health effects of high cortisol levels, there is still some small benefit to being exposed to stress. Although stress can be detrimental to physical health, it can be beneficial to gaining perspective and being able to survive/thrive in the face of adversity.