Chronic Stress is Deadly

Cumulative stress, as in cumulative trauma, can be deadly. It turns out that stress of all kinds, particularly the life stress that comes from the pressures of poverty, eventually results in chronic disease.

Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, says that chronic stress not only causes illness, it can kill you. Increased levels of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” not only interferes with learning and memory function, it increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease. Aldwin’s research will be published in the journal Experimental Gerontology.

For most people in American culture today, stress is the norm. For the affluent and striving middle class, it’s doing more and more to maintain a desired standard of living. For many, stress is a motivator, and addictive. But for those facing constant threat to their lives and property, struggling with transportation, child care, food, and otherwise trying to keep the family together is one stressful day after another. That is one reason for the increase prevalence of chronic disease among low income populations.

NPR’s listeners will find it as a cautionary tale. However, for those who need to endure it to survive every day, it’s a fatal social determinant. Check out the radio interview: