I really can’t think of anyone who loves stress. Do you? A little stress is normal in life but it can range from positive, tolerable, or even toxic. When we suffer from toxic stress early in life it can effect how our genes express their programmed ability to manage it.
A new book on the subject of stress, called “Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity – and How to Break the Cycle, by Daniel P. Keating” reveals how and what happens when we are impacted by toxic stress.
The book discusses research on epigenetics which is the study of genetic expression and how it is altered by environmental events. Our genes are designed, by our DNA, to cope with certain levels of stress. Positive and tolerable stress can be managed by our stress programs. Toxic stress, experienced early in life, effects if our genetic programs actually get turned on or off.
Our bodies are designed to amp up or power down in reaction to the type and amount of stress we go through on a daily basis. For example, if we find ourselves facing an angry dog, our immediate reaction is to fight or flee in order to survive. If the dog runs off, we might continue to feel agitated for a short while after the encounter and then we will naturally calm back down. Our nervous system is designed to amp up to deal with the dog and then reset itself so that we can function normally again.
Children who have gone through chronic early life stress may have their normal genetic response to angry dogs or any perceived threat altered. If the genetic expression to stress stays continuously on, we move through life as if the dog is always in front of us. In the book, Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity – and How to Break the Cycle, Daniel P. Keating states the effects of early life stress makes individuals “born to worry.”
Some of the reasons for early life stress can come from internal sources, such as hunger, pain, illness, fatigue, and external sources, such as family conflict, divorce, poverty and natural disasters. Many children suffer from the toxic stress of prenatal substance exposure and parental neglect. This formative time can have prolonged effects on our feelings of safety and our genetic expressions of coping.