Is Stress Hereditary?

I write this brief note because there has been research into hereditary stress and because it is a common question asked by stressed parents who are worried (double the stress again) that they will pass this on to their children.

The answer is more than a simple yes or no.

It is yes, no and partly….

I’ll deal with these in order.

Yes

In my experience, the greatest single way that children learn as they grow is through role modelling. They also learn immense amounts through experience and feedback from their environment but role modelling is huge and powerful.

Role modelling does not automatically mean that if you act a certain way, children will do the same. They are also decision makers and depending upon how your role modelling impacts them they will choose broadly whether to go with you or not. A lot of it, however, is subconscious, modelling of behaviour.

I have met people who consciously will not behave the way their parents have but who still subconsciously imitate them in subtle ways.

Children also recognise, consciously or subconsciously, inauthentic behaviour. This means that “do as I say not as I do” does not work and parents attempting to role model without authentic commitment to the behaviour they are modelling will see results in their children they did not want to see.

 

So while it is not something that is genetically passed down, as far as we currently know, we can pass on our own dysfunctional ways we deal with and sustain stress in our lives.

 

My message, therefore is, develop healthy strategies in your life to recognise and deal with stress and you will be creating a lasting legacy for your children by setting an amazing authentic example. This does not mean you will be perfect. It means you will authentically recognise and deal with emotional challenges as they come along.

Note: none of us are perfect and that includes the author

No

As far as science tells us at the moment if I have an unhealthy relationship with stress this is not genetic. I will not pass that in my genes down to my children. This is a behavioural issue. It is something that I have learnt through my experience and something I consciously or unconsciously pass on through my behaviour but it is not genetic.

Partly

This is interesting. Some time ago research showed

(Ki-Hyeon Seong, Dong Li, Hideyuki Shimizu, Ryoichi Nakamura, Shunsuke Ishii. Inheritance of Stress-Induced, ATF-2-Dependent Epigenetic Change. Cell, 2011; 145 (7): 1049-1061 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.05.029 )

that sperm could be impacted by stress and that the way genes can express themselves can be affected by stress although DNA itself is not altered by stress.

More recent research has shown that these effects can be reversed

(Hadj S. Aoued, Soma Sannigrahi, Nandini Doshi, Filomene G. Morrison, Hannah Linsenbaum, Sarah Hunter, Hasse Walum, Justin Baman, Bing Yao, Peng Jin, Kerry J. Ressler, Brian G. Dias. Reversing behavioral, neuroanatomical, and germline influences of intergenerational stress. Biological Psychiatry, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.07.028 ).

 

Again, stress itself, or a propensity to be stressed is not inherited but being stressed can have health impacts down the generations passed down through sperm.

Our responsibility, therefore, again, becomes one of developing a healthy relationship with stress.

Summary

You cannot pass stress itself down the generations but the healthy or otherwise role modelling you produce will have an impact down the generations. It’s your choice

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