The Social Component of Stress and Illness
After establishing the importance of the mind-body connection, our increase in stress, and our decrease in connection, Gabor looks at these phenomena through the lens of social issues.
Gabor points out that we have collective societal stress, not individual stress, because there are interconnected societal issues that cause stress for groups of people in similar ways. Health data supports this idea. Gabor uses Puerto Rican kids in Chicago as an example of this. In Chicago, Puerto Rican kids have higher rates of asthma than other ethnic groups, and they also have higher rates of stress than other ethnic groups. Gabor posits that this can be seen as a reflection of a societal issue: Puerto Ricans are at a disadvantage due to the societal discrimination they face.
The same conclusions can be drawn from the example of African Americans and their higher rates of asthma. Certain groups have higher rates of certain illnesses, and chronic stress directly increases our risk for illnesses. This reinforces what sociologists have known for years: Society is putting undue stress on certain ethnic and social groups through systemic oppression.
Take women as another example. Multiple sclerosis, as Gabor mentioned earlier in the lesson, is now affecting women far more often than men because stress levels have increased more for women than for men, on the whole. This reflects the higher likelihood of women to be stress absorbers and caretakers, while often needing to be wage earners as well (again, this is a relatively recent development in human history).
Key takeaway: Chronic stress is a social problem.
Case Study: Breast Cancer
One study found that women who were stressed were not at higher-than-average risk for a lump being cancerous. Women who were emotionally isolated were also not at higher risk for cancer. But women who were both stressed and emotionally isolated were at 9 times greater risk for cancer than the average.
Key takeaway: You can mitigate the effects of stress by emotionally connecting with others.