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Heartache

 Augustin (Austria) 28 May 2019

(Originally published: 09/2009) In general, stress is nothing bad and belongs to daily life in the guise of the body’s attempt to adapt to different situations in strenuous times. But if relaxation is missing for a longer period of time your health can be negatively impacted. Yet the stereotypical view of stress related burn out which affects the high flying lawyer or banker is not entirely representative of the truth. As Martin Schenk explains, social standing has a more of a direct impact on stress related illness than any other factor. (488 words) - Martin Schenk

Harlem, New York's poorest neighbourhood exhibits death rates as high as in Bangladesh. Yet the main reason for Harlem's high death toll is not the violence, and not the drugs, but heart disease.

In London, 17,000 ministerial staff were recently examined in an attempt to clarify the differences in the mortality rate between ranks of employees concerning heart disease. The study concluded that lower ranks of employees were four times more likely to be affected by heart disease than those in the upper ranks. Blood samples showed a far higher concentration of the stress hormone Cortisol in the lower ranks of ministerial staff than was found in the top ranks.

In general, stress is nothing bad and it belongs to daily life, nothing more than the body's attempt to adapt to a situation in strenuous times. But if relaxation is missing for a longer period of time, it affects your health. Long-lasting stress gets under the skin and can lead to high blood pressure, vascular diseases, risk of infarcts and to a general weakening of the immune system.

The more unequal a society is, the worse the psychosocial resources are. There is less inclusion, which means more often a feeling of being excluded. There is less participation, so more often the feeling of being not able to act. There is less reciprocity, so more often the feeling of not being able to rely on each other. People stricken by poverty more often find themselves in situations where they experience less acceptance, less friendships and less self-efficacy, but much more humiliation, more isolation and more powerlessness.

When you make a lot of effort and burn out yourself, but do not get any positive feedback, then this situation becomes detrimental to your health. The combined occurrence of making high efforts and getting little rewards makes you sick. The irksome daily life on the financial limit does not bring 'rewards' like a better income, appreciation, support or advancement. This bad stress, which emerges in such a 'gratification crisis', affects especially people in the lower ranks, who are poor despite gainful occupation, who work in temporary or precarious low-wage jobs. The consequence: very high numbers of cardiovascular diseases.

After all, not to have money doesn't make you sick. What makes you sick are the everyday situations, which are connected to the social status and to all the emerging comparisons. The threat of one's own prestige, humiliation, stigmatisation, the refusal of appreciation, social disqualification - all this is combined with blocked advancement or forced loss of social status. Higher inequality also means less chances to climb up the social ladder. And also a higher risk to hit rock bottom.

Because of all this, it does matter whether the costs of the financial disaster are shared fairly or one-sided. It does matter whether social conflicts are worked on or covered up with scapegoats. The social gap gets under the skin. And right to the heart.

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