On September 13, 2021, CNN reported on a study published in Circulation, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), linking stress hormones to higher rates of heart problems later in life: “The new study followed 412 multiracial adults between the ages of 48 and 87 with normal blood pressure, measuring urine levels of stress hormones at several points in time between 2005 and 2018. Hormone levels were then compared to any cardiovascular events that may have occurred, such as high blood pressure, heart pain, heart attacks, and bypass surgery… Each time combined levels of all four stress hormones doubled, the risk of developing high blood pressure rose between 21% and 31%. The effect was more pronounced in people under the age of 60, a worrisome finding, according to the researchers.”

This study illustrates a key facet about confronting the realities of health disparities in low-income communities. As we’ve pointed out in our post on the social determinants of health and our post on agency time, impoverished communities are often saddled with sources of stress that wealthier communities don’t have to think about. These stressors can include everything from poorly developed medical infrastructure to low-quality education to environmental hazards like pollution and inadequate housing. Moreover, as the study points out, higher stress levels induce the secretion of specific hormones, an excess of which can lead to health problems later in life. Thus, stress compounds must be considered when investigating how people living in generational poverty struggle to build adequate social capital and resource networks.

The Tyranny of the Moment

The tyranny of the moment refers to how poverty keeps people locked into dealing with acute sources of stress as they appear, as opposed to taking measures to keep them from arising in the future. The urgency of the problems that arise from poverty can lead people into perpetual states of stress, all of which are substantiated in the body in the form of stress hormones. Such hormones are part of the autonomic nervous system, the system in the body that regulates vital functions like temperature, breathing, and heart function. When this system is activated, it floods the body with chemicals that increase these functions for a short time, enabling a person to deal with whatever stresses are at hand. Poverty entails extended periods of autonomic activity. When this happens, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are entirely wrapped up in the present, confounding their ability to plan for things associated with a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, such as owning a home, having an extended career plan, and saving money. But failing to plan for these things isn’t a failure of will or virtue. Instead, it’s an understandable reaction to a high-stress environment. The autonomic system is helpful as a mechanism for survival. Still, the neurochemical cloudiness that results from it can have the effect of pushing people into feedback loops of short-term thinking and long-term health problems like those described in the AHA study.

As such, service providers must think critically about creating institutions and tools to curb these environmental stressors. AI platforms like C3S are helpful because they allow for the cultivation of easily accessible resource networks that clients can draw upon instantaneously. They also reduce stress by cutting out loads of agency time and easing communication between clients and service providers. If you want to know more about how C3S can aid your organization, please fill out a contact form to schedule a demo.