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Durham University

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Stress, Health and Wellbeing

The relationship between stress and health has been studied widely for decades in fields such as psychiatry, cardiology, human biology, non-human biology, endocrinology and increasingly in epidemiology and genetics. Stress has a biological basis (i.e. can be measured via hormones), which impacts our psychological states in a range of ways (e.g. the fight or flight response), and this is often mediated by our social and physical environments.

While there are methodological limitations to studying stress and health, for example the selection of appropriate biomarkers or how to measure perceived stress, there is sufficient evidence to support the relationship. The last two decades have also seen expanded research interest in health inequalities, and the role of stress as a mediating factor in the link between inequalities and ill health invites further investigation.

Special Interest Group Lead: Dr Emily Henderson, School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health.

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Must Read Publications

Henderson E.J., Ulijaszek S.J. Akhter N, Rubin, G.P. Development of a biopsychosocietal model of obesity: Cultural consensus analysis of general practitioner and mother beliefs. In preparation.

Henderson E.J., Obesity in primary care: A qualitative synthesis of patient and practitioner perspectives on roles and responsibilities. British Journal of General Practice, 2015. 65(633): p. e240-e247.

Henderson EJ, Cairns J, Gadsby E. The use of whole systems approaches to reduce obesity intervention-related stigma. Third Annual Weight Stigma conference, September 2015, University of Reykjavik.

Shutt, K., Heistermann, M., Kasim, A., Todd, A., Kalousova, B., Profosouva, I., Petrzelkova, K., Fuh, T., Dicky, J.-F., Bopalanzognako, J.-B. & Setchell, J.M. (2014). Effects of habituation, research and ecotourism on faecal glucocorticoid metabolites in wild western lowland gorillas: Implications for conservation management. Biological Conservation 172: 72-79.

Setchell, J.M., Smith, T.E., Wickings, E.J. & Knapp, L.A. (2010). Stress, social behaviour, and secondary sexual traits in a male primate. Hormones and Behavior 58(5): 720-728.

Setchell, J.M., Smith, T., Wickings, E.J. & Knapp, L.A. (2008). Factors affecting fecal glucocorticoid levels in semi-free-ranging female mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx). American Journal of Primatology 70(11): 1023-1032.

T. Schrecker, “Beyond ‘Run, Knit and Relax’: Can Health Promotion in Canada Advance the Social Determinants of Health Agenda?” Healthcare Policy 9 (2013), Special Issue: 48-58;

T. Schrecker, “Can health equity survive epidemiology? Standards of proof and social determinants of health,” Preventive Medicine 57 (2013): 741-744;

A. Offer, R. Pechey & S. Ulijaszek, ”Obesity under affluence varies by welfare regimes: The effect of fast food, insecurity, and inequality,” Economics & Human Biology 8 (2010): 297-308;

Arimitsu, K., & Hofmann, S. G. (2015). Cognitions as mediators in the relationship between self-compassion and affect. Personality and Individual Differences, 74, 41–48.

Tod, D., Hardy, J. & Oliver, E.J. (2011). Effects of self-talk: a systematic review. Psychology of Sport and Exercise Psychology 33(5): 666-687.

Ahead of our new book being published (2017), Richard Wilkinson and I wrote a comment piece for the NY Times.

Unicef UK published a thoughtful study on inequality, materialism and wellbeing in families in Sweden, Spain and the UK.

Socioeconomic determinants of health: Stress and the biology of inequality


Health inequalities and the psychosocial environment—two scientific challenges