As a corporate wellness facilitator and Yoga teacher, so much of my existence centres around stress reduction modalities, and understanding the effects of stress on the emotional, physiological, and chemical level. I’ve recently come across some pioneering and truly revolutionary research that suggests the effect of stress on black and marginalised communities, has a far more sinister effect that we ever thought.
This research needs sharing, amplifying, funding, and further development. It could hold the key to unlocking some profoundly important questions, such as why are Black women (in Britain) FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY to die in childbirth1¹? Or why are black people in the UK THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to get type 2 diabetes²??
As far as chronic stress generally, there is a host of research that shows the serious detrimental effect it can have on our bodies at the cellular level. Stress hormones have the effect of damaging our DNA (physically shortened telomeres)³ which some research points towards being a cause of early death. It can also increase the level of triglyceride fats in the bloodstream⁴ (triggered by stress hormones, not just diet) promoting diabetes. Stress also increases your white blood cell count and inflammation⁵. In short, stress buggers up your immune system and overall physical health.
The new research that is beginning to place importance on racism and medical outcomes, is by the remarkable Airline Geronimus, whose research⁶ has been developed over the past 30 years or so. She says "The accumulated effects of environmental inequality are compounded by the physiological ramifications of an atmosphere of bias and discrimination, which have been documented to lead to higher rates of poor health outcomes for black Americans." She has termed this phenomenon ‘Weathering’; the constant resilience that black people need to call upon day-to-day, and the wearing down and toll it takes on their bodily systems, at the cellular level. Essentially racisms causes chronic stress/trauma, (as Black Minds Matter UK say “Ancestral trauma is trauma that is passed down to each generation and then re-enacted”)which leads to a tangibly weakened immune response.
This effect is explained beautifully in Kai Wright’s ‘The United States Of Anxiety’ Podcast⁷ on which Arline describes how stereotypes of black communities’ lifestyle choices being the cause of their poor health outcomes are detrimental and inaccurate. They even discuss how her research has lead to an immigrant being released from a detention centre. Although this immigrant wasn’t technically in the Covid high risk category age, their body is biologically older and more at risk due to chronic stress; putting them at high enough risk to be released. A beautiful, and revolutionary precedent that will hopefully be followed.
I started Kin as a way to encourage people’s commitment to their Yoga practice; by creating mats that help physically with the practice, but also speak to all the senses, helping to create beautiful home sanctuaries for people to practice their wellness, in whatever form, every day. It’s always been apparent to me however that ‘wellness’ isn’t as democratized as many of us are lead to believe; the single POC mother living on the breadline doesn’t have access to regular Yoga classes. She doesn’t have the time, money, or inclination to attend studios that give off an ‘elitist’, predominantly white and often intimidating vibe.
I encourage everyone in the wellness and mental health arena to take a look at how we can provide wellness for the underprivileged, the marginalized, and the people who actually need it. WELLNESS SHOULDN’T JUST BE FOR THE WELL. Stress reduction for BIPOC and marginalized communities, it now seems, is so important; it can actually save lives.
Please check out all my references for this article below, and If you wish to donate to Black Minds Matter UK, you can do so via this Go Fund Me page.