So Now Stress Is In Your Genes?

That's right.  Some of us are more susceptible to it than others, thanks to our forebears, according to a new study, as noted by

"New research shows that chronic stress changes gene activity in immune cells before they reach the bloodstream. With these changes, the cells are primed to fight an infection or trauma that doesn’t actually exist, leading to an overabundance of the inflammation that is linked to many health problems," the Web site reports.

What does this mean?  We're not talking about occasional stress -- stuck in a traffic jam, the copier won't work, your son stuck his tongue out at you as you were driving away from school.  No, this is repetitive stress, says.

Repeated stress that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, "commonly known as the fight-or-flight response," stimulates the production of new blood cells. "While this response is important for survival, prolonged activation over an extended period of time can have negative effects on health," relates.

Chronic stress changes "the activation, or expression, of genes in immune cells before they are released from the bone marrow." Genes that lead to inflammation are turned on at higher-than-normal levels, while the activation of genes that might suppress inflammation is diminished. Inflammation has been shown to cause cancer, for one thing.

Though these tests were done on animals, humans living in poor socioeconomic conditions had "similarly primed immune cells," because of the chronic stress they were under, the study showed.

"“There is a stress-induced alteration in the bone marrow in both our mouse model and in chronically stressed humans that selects for a cell that’s going to be pro-inflammatory," quotes John Sheridan, professor of oral biology in the College of Dentistry and associate director of Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, and co-lead author of the study. “So what this suggests is that if you’re working for a really bad boss over a long period of time, that experience may play out at the level of gene expression in your immune system.”

In other words, chronic stress can deplete our immune system and make it incapable of protecting us from things like, well, cancer.

There's not much you can do about a bad boss (and I've had many!) other than to try to de-stress when you're not at work.  Take up yoga, or meditation, or the new thing, "mindfulness."  Focus on this moment, this instant, on sitting in your chair at your desk reading this.  See your fingers scroll down the page.  Focus on how that feels, maybe a little feathery?  I've been doing this for years, or trying to, and I find it really helps.

Also, breathe.  That works, every time.


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