Over the last two and a half months our graduate course, Emotion, Health, and Stress, has examined how humans deal with stressors (acute and chronic). Our readings helped us engage on biological stress responses as well as decisions we personally make to handle stress (e.g., fight or flight). We were able to explore how technology, dieting, diseases, and post-traumatic stress disorder all have important roles when understanding stress and health. Most importantly, we were able to discuss how stress effects humans directly and indirectly, as well as what can be done to properly deal with those stressors. In this post, I will discuss those three topics – intergroup stress, geopolitical stress, and stress management II.
To begin, we’ll review how group differences during intergroup interactions can increase stress and lead to biased decision making within the social health care domain. Sapolsky (2004) emphasizes how people in poverty and members of minority groups may experience greater risks of illnesses (e.g., Latinos with stomach cancer) and may have the most difficult times when trying to receive proper care. For instance, Major et al. (2013) showed that Black patients were less likely to be recommended appropriate treatment compared to White patients and Sapolsky (2004) emphasized how paramedics may be less likely to revive a poorer person on the way to the hospital (compared to a wealthier individual). This becomes a vicious cycle as minority group members (e.g., Black individuals) who have low expectations of procedural justice (being treated fairly) may shorten their telomeres – which is linked to increased risk of stress related illnesses (Lucas et al., 2017). While these attitudes and behaviors from Whites or people in positions of power may be due to implicit racial biases (Major et al., 2013), it may also be due to the fear of being perceived as prejudice which could affect decision making abilities in highly emotional situations. Trawalter et al. (2012) showed that Whites who do not want to be perceived as prejudice (high on external motivation to respond without prejudice), tend to be anxious, avoid contact, and stressed both during interracial contacts and overtime. This is important because if some minority groups (e.g., Blacks) are being perceived as less warm and friendly, and interacting with them increases your stress, then professional decisions may be influenced by your willingness to end the interaction as soon as possible – in order to reduce your own stress – leaving the patient with less than recommended services.
In the event that one group explicitly emphasizes their dislike for another group then thoughts of a realistic threats (e.g., terrorist attacks) may be concerning. Strand et al., 2016 showed that after the 2011 Norway terrorist attack individuals had increased risks of suicides, heart attacks, respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While this study examined the entire population of Norway it is important to note that researchers had relatively low statistical power, no measurement for stress, and hospitalizations/clinical events were relatively low. Generally, individuals have low direct exposure to terrorist attacks or other realistic threats (Strand et al., 2016). However, symbolic threats seem to be frequent during presidential elections. From Obama representing the potential fall of the White hierarchy to Trump representing the rebirth of explicit prejudice. Trawalter et al. (2011) showed that individuals high in social dominance orientation – a personality trait associated to the preference of hierarchy and anti-egalitarianism – had extremely higher cortisol and testosterone levels than individuals low in social dominance orientation. The emergence of a Black president increased stress, negative mood, and triggered a “fight-back” mentality to maintain a White social hierarchy for individuals high in SDO. On the other hand, Majumder et al. (2017) showed that democratic participants reported higher levels of (perceived) stress and anxiety months after the election, especially for women. It is important to note that Majumder et al. (2017) did not control for political views (liberal v conservative), which Trawalter et al. (2011) showed to be a significant variable related to post-election stress and anxiety. Additionally, Majumder et al. (2017) describes increased levels of stress for participants, but actually measures perceived stress.
Nonetheless, this collection of research studies emphasizes how interactions, culturally/economically shifting events, and terrorist’s attacks can all lead to increased stress and its negative health effects. One of the most important tools in reducing stress and anxiety is having an effect stress management. Evers et al., 2006 showed how using a TTM intervention, a national sample of adults were more likely to be actively improving their behaviors and healthy activities over a course of 18 months. However, it is unclear how exactly participants were instructed to complete each phase of the intervention. Other interventions primarily focus on attentional control and awareness of your own attitudes – mindfulness. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has shown that mindfulness based cognitive therapy can decrease depression, anxiety, stress, and fatigue in some physical conditions (Alsubaie et al., 2017). Mindfulness is also used in some meditation and yoga courses. That said, exercising tends to blunt your stress-responses for a few hours, decrease the risk of various metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, and simply make you feel good – by causing a secretion of beta-endorphin (Sapolsky, 2004). In Haaren et al., 2015, researchers showed that individuals participating in a 20-week aerobic running training course had lower negative affect compared to the control group and showed lower emotional stress reactivity compared to their baseline. Overall, the three of the most essential stress management methods are being mindful (awareness), being active (exercise), and willing to receive outside support (therapy).
Overall, it’s important to realize that as America becomes more diverse, people are going to feel uncomfortable at first and that’s okay. These readings have taught me that regardless of who I interact with or what news I hear/watch, I may feel stressed and those stressors can cause or escalate illnesses. The biggest take away is that people have to stride to being mindful (of each other and oneself) and that more resources are needed to provide individuals, especially from low socioeconomic communities, with the knowledge and tools to manage stress effectively.