Your Genes and Stress at Work


DNA is now understood to hide the secrets of our health and is the key to our own uniqueness, determining everything from our eye colour to the way we react to coffee.  

Taking a mouth swab to establish how stress can affect you at work (or in your life) and tracking your results by taking blood samples appears to be confined to science fiction movies.  

Nevertheless on a warm July day in 2015, fifteen members of a premier advertising agency interrupted their busy schedules and lined up in their office to do just that.

Do you struggle with some semblance of ‘work-life balance’?  Is there a way to learn how to transform your high levels of stress into wellbeing?

The method:

We now know about the well studied effect of mindfulness to help increase focus, develop a better relationship with emotions, and cultivate a capacity for compassion.

The science behind:

What could happen at a cell level, at the level of gene expression, or how can we improve the stress level and wellbeing of anyone after completing a 12-week intervention?

Epigenetics (‘above’ or ‘beyond’ genetics) explores the fact that while the genes we inherit from our parents do not change, how they express themselves in our bodies does, and can be influenced by several environmental factors – including our lifestyle.

At any given moment, a gene may either be active or turned ‘on’ or inactive and turned ‘off’. What we eat, how we move, how much we sleep and how we manage our stress can directly affect this switch, one way or the other.  Herein lies the immense power and potential of lifestyle for our health and wellbeing.

Though we may inherit a genetic predisposition to various chronic diseases – like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, anxiety, depression, auto-immune disorders, among others – we are empowered through the choices we make each day, to keep those from turning into reality.

So what can we do about stress management?

Meet CTRA the stress gene.

The effects of chronic stress and social isolation have been proven to be directly to a set of 53 genes related to inflammation and immunity (called Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity or CTRA). This gene set is expressed in a certain way (with inflammation going up, and immunity going down) when we are stressed and under the ‘fight or flight’ response. A decreased expression of this gene set signifies a healthier outcome for the body in the long run.

Other studies in humans have also shown that interventions such as meditation can both suppress CTRA gene expression profiles, as well as improve levels of interleukin-6, a biomarker of systemic inflammation.

The bottom line and something to explore:

A DNA based wellness programme can improve workforce wellness in a sustainable way. 

Step 1: 

Explore at the average expression of the CTRA gene set for the group, staff or executives of a company. 

Step 2: 

Implement a 12-week corporate wellness programme based on mindfulness and optimise nutrition and lifestyle. 

Step 3:  

Look at the average expression of this set of genes for the group, after completing the 12-weekprogramme.

The anticipated results:

A significant lower expression of inflammatory genes should result, with a greater expression of genes boosting immunity and a more engaged workforce with a sense of ‘flourishing’.

Work Related Stress Costs in the UK Economy is Nearly £6.5bn Each Year!

What Steps Should Businesses and Employees Be Taking?

The astounding cost of work related stress to the economy reached a massive £6.5bn last year, demonstrating how prevalent an issue stress in the workplace has become in the UK.

Last year there were 10.4 million days lost to stress, with the cost of 'sick' days being £618 meaning workplace stress totalled £6,427,200,000. With presenteeism also on the rise, meaning employees coming to work disengaged, tired, unmotivated and too stressed to work, businesses could see these costs rise if they don't take action.

A pro-active company can significantly reduce these costs and reap the benefits of grateful ‘optimised’ staff.

Are you stressed at work?  Would you like your HR department to get in touch to discuss a corporate wellness programme? 

Contact me to contribute towards a happier, healthier workforce and a more health rewarding,inspirational workplace.