What To Say About Stress

Well, it’s certainly the cause of my sparse posting lately. Sometimes, when your calendar/planner begins to look like mine does (below), it’s just not a good idea to spent two hours on a thoughtful blog post.

Radiolab produced an early episode on Stress (listen to the podcast here). In it, they discuss the evolutionary rationale for stress, which is basically: stress is the body’s biological response to being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger.

And that response ain’t minor: your body shuts down all non-necessary functions including ovulation, digestion (this is why you get a dry mouth when you get nervous, because you’ve stopped producing saliva for digestion), even growth itself.

Except– we don’t really have to escape saber-toothed tigers anymore. Instead, we have Important Deadlines and College Loans and Computer Viruses. Even before adulthood, we have to face Mean Bullies and Peer Pressure and First Kisses. The problem is that our body perceives First Kisses as the stress-equivalent to Sabre-Tooth Tigers. Which it’s not, unless you had a really bad first kiss experience.

But while a tiger is only a temporary threat (whether you escape or get eaten is only a matter of a few hours), deadlines and paying bills are perpetual, and this means your body is put into a stressful state far more often than it should be. This is why we end up today with stress diseases, which range from anxiety attacks, alcoholism, and high blood pressure, to heart disease and ulcers.

Based on this, you might think that the most stressed-out people are high-powered CEO’s, stock brokers, or politicians. But again and again, studies show that the population most affected by stress is poor people.
Frankly, the problems that come with being poor are closer to a sabre-tooth tiger: paying rent and putting food on the table are issues of survival. But the real reason why poor people are more prone to stress and stress diseases is that they can’t buy the therapy, massages, medications or vacations that CEO’s can.

And we wonder why all homeless people seem to be crazy. The relationship between homelessness and mental disorders is like trying to figure out the chicken or the egg.

Being poor will stress you out, but…

…so will being Black: it turns out that there’s a significant racial disparity in stress and stress-related diseases. Before you object, this isn’t just poor Black people who are stressed out. Wealthy, successful Black people are also far more affected by stress diseases than wealthy, successful White people.

In fact, there’s a significant gap in the overall health of Black and White Americans, not just in stress diseases. There’s this academic term called allostatic load, which refers to the way that social and psychological stressors build up over time and take a physical toll on the body. In the United States, this means people of color (of all economic classes) are more prone to disease and injury, and are less healthy overall than white people. Which is, I think, pretty good evidence that racism and racial discrimination is still alive and well in America.

Kinda stresses you out just to think about it, huh?

Thinking about this sort of thing did stress me out for a long time. But now, I welcome a stress that involves real thought about a real problem. Most deadlines and loans are sort of egotistical stressors: they’re issues of a privileged life, not of survival. And it’s always good stress therapy to step outside of yourself.

Coming Soon

My First Aurora Fountain Pen
Women at Work
How might Rural Design Differ from Urban Design?
A Gutsy Criticism of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
And, as always, More Watercolors

* N.B. Unfortunately, I can’t link to any of my sources because they’re in academic databases, but most of the data comes from academic and industry journals such as American Journal of Public Health and others.

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