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Your DNA Could Actually Make You Predisposed To Distress

“When two vegans get in an argument, is it still called beef?” Ahh yes—what a great dad joke. Let’s start off the week by giving all of the dads and father figures out there a big Father’s Day shoutout. Thank you for all the dad jokes and for getting us to the airport at least five hours before our flight!

Which takes us to today’s topic. Being a parent can be pretty stressful. But are some people more predisposed to stress than others? Let’s dive in. 

Genetics can be such a buzzkill sometimes. 

Whether you like it or not, your DNA plays a huge role in determining what things you are more susceptible to. When it comes to genetic predispositions, stress and anxiety are no exceptions.

Before we talk about the role of genetics, let’s take a step back and actually break down the two types of stress—eustress and distress. 

Eustress is the “good” type of stress that challenges our body and creates the opportunity for positive adaptations. Think of exercise, deliberate cold exposure, sauna, and even fasting as examples of eustress. This is the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” type of stress. You can, of course, still overdo it when it comes to eustress, but generally speaking this is the good type of stress most of us can benefit from on a regular basis.

Then there is distress, which can be referred to as “bad stress.” Think about the stress associated with the constant bombardment of negative news, chronic stress from negative relationships, not liking your job, or gas costing over $5 a gallon. This is the “no bueno” type of stress we should all be trying to avoid.

According to a recent 2022 survey, 84% of Americans report experiencing this type of negative stress weekly, up from 78% in 2021. That’s not good and it highlights the importance of proper stress management in our society today. The same survey also highlights the fact that money remains a top stressor. Sprinkle some historic inflation into that equation and it becomes clear that stress management will only become more important in the near future. 

Which brings us to the role genetics play in how well we can deal with stress. You see, your genes produce proteins that dictate how your body functions. There are tiny differences in your genes, called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) that affect the hormones and enzymes responsible for your psychological responses. When looking at these SNPs, certain genes have been correlated with an elevated response to stressful events. This makes some people more sensitive to stress than others. 

It actually turns out that two main genes are associated with your stress response: COMT and BDNF. COMT is an enzyme which helps break down dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are all key hormones in your fight or flight response to stress. 

BDNF is a protein that improves the functioning of neurons by encouraging growth and protecting against premature cell death. As far as your stress response is concerned, BDNF plays a role in your resilience to stress.

By looking at both COMT and BDNF, it is actually possible to identify whether you have a low or high genetic predisposition for resilience to stress. 

The key takeaway? Your genes can tell you a lot about what your predispositions are but not everyone will readily have access to their genetic profile. Regardless of what your DNA says, stress management is paramount for anyone looking to optimize their health. 

Exercise, breath-work, journaling, developing deep social connections, and meditation are all important things to consider when looking to better manage your stress. 

What do you think?

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