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Social Stress and Health

Learning Outcomes

After reading this article from the book Worried Sick, listening to the podcast linked below, and completing this reading guide, you will be able to

(1) Describe common ways that researchers study the relationship between stress and health.

(2) Identify social science explanations for the ways in which social stressors influence health as well as the unequal distribution of exposure to stress.

Question 1

Read the introduction and the section "Stress and Physical Health: How do we study it?" (pgs. 47-58). Compare and contrast the three ways that researchers study stress and physical health. What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of each?

Question 2

Read the section "Drowning Our Sorrows: The Role of Health Behaviors" under "Social Science Explanations." Briefly explain how health behaviors link experiencing stress to physical health problems. Include at least one example from the reading.

Question 3

Read the section "Social Class: The Fundamental Cause behind the Stress-Health Link?" The author writes, "One of the most well- established findings in epidemiological studies is the ‘social class gradient' in health" (pg. 65). Briefly describe what the author means by the "social class gradient." How does social class influence exposure to stress?

Question 4

Read the final section, "The Stress-Health Connection: Physiological Pathways." Briefly describe how social stressors "get under the skin" to influence cardiovascular health and immune function.

Question 5

Listen to Episode 46 from the No Jargon Network "Working Yourself to Death" (~30 mins).

According to research by Dr. Horton, how do working conditions harm the health of farmworkers? Provide specific examples. Does Dr. Horton draw on social science or physiological explanations for stress and health?

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