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Is stress in my genes? And how to find out

Is stress in my genes? And how to find out

Health Test underway – Barrow, Cumbria

Stress can affect the heart

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Stress is a fundamental aspect of the human experience; it’s a protective mechanism of the body, engaged when we feel any form of threat. Stress forms part of the fight or flight response, a collection of chemicals and hormones are released to prepare the body to face perceived threats. This means we need to be stressed sometimes for optimal functioning, yet prolonged or continuous periods of stress can be harmful.

With the increasing pace of modern-day life seemingly accelerating at an exponential rate, we are struggling to manage our stress levels.  Excessive stress is linked to anxiety and mental health struggles. As we attempt to better understand ways to combat it, we must ask the question of “is stress in our genes?”.

To answer this, we firstly need to understand stress in slightly more detail.

This will help to understand the different types of stress and how a person’s genes may affect their response, which can be utilised to help them manage it.

In simplistic terms there are 3 types of stress.

Acute Stress

Acute stress happens to most people throughout the day, but it’s usually fleeting.

Short-term stress can be seen from a variety of tell-tale signs, such as:

  • Headaches, neck and back pain
  • Heart burn, digestion problems, constipation
  • Increased anger, depression and anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, problems relaxing/sleeping


Episodic acute stress

Episodic acute stress is when an individual continually has episodes of acute stress. People who have busy working or family lives, or cannot quite get the work life balance, will fall into the category easily.

Episodic acute stress can be seen from a variety of tell-tale signs, such as:

  • Muscle tension, tension in shoulders, headaches and migraines.
  • Higher risk of colds and flu, as your immune system will be affected.
  • Increased risk of anxiety, depression and a negative effect on mental fatigue.


Chronic stress

Chronic stress is the most serious, as a pronounced stress response over an extended time period will damage both physical and mental health significantly. As stress levels rise, the body will release the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for a whole variety of metabolic functions, such as helping to regulate your thyroid hormone.

The thyroid regulates nearly every major metabolic function in the body, and as such, a poor functioning thyroid can have a detrimental effect on nearly every area of health. Multiple examples of poor thyroid function include weight gain, reduced metabolic rate, fatigue, feeling depressed or moody, dry hair and skin, and many more.

So, how do genetics play into this?

Genes can actually predispose a person to a variety of stress outcomes.

Stress and Pressure

Pressure is the perception of external factors that affect life. Many people often conclude that they are stressed due to the pressures placed upon them by finances, friends or family, perceived duty, work and a multitude of other factors. How one responds to the situation may differ due to their gene variations and so translating this result will lead to a superior understanding of oneself.

Stress and Memory

Acute stress may cause a sudden loss of recall, which unfortunately could come at a time when they need it the most (think deadlines, meetings, tests, etc.). Chronic stress might also lead to an inability to form new memories, which – again – if you are revising, practicing for an event, or meeting new people, could be highly detrimental.

Our genes play a role in this response and understanding this may help you put into place certain measures to reduce their stress levels.

Stress leading to physical Symptoms

Stress can cause a magnitude of physical symptoms.

Acute stress can cause tremors, muscle twitches, sweating, flushing, increased heart rate, skin itching, headaches and more. Chronic stress can cause increased blood pressure, muscle aches and can lead to a limitless number of diseases such as diabetes, obesity and migraines.

Genetic variants are linked to how we may respond to stress from a physical perspective.

Stress and the Heart

One major part of stress is the effect it has on the heart. Stress can affect the heart in both a chronic and acute sense, with certain genetic variants being linked to how the heart may be affected by stress.

What this means?

By generating an understanding of how a person is predetermined to react to stress, it can provide key insights and be used to develop stress management techniques tailored to their genetic makeup. This way, the effects of excessive stress can be mitigated more effectively with huge benefit to the individual’s overall health and quality of life.


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