Cross-posted from Smirking Chimp
Understanding stress is an important part of learning how to manage your stress.
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A few weeks ago, Congressman Paul Ryan released his latest proposal for tackling America's poverty epidemic.
Unfortunately, the plan does very little to combat poverty in our country, and instead, continues the devastating austerity policies that Ryan himself helped to create.
Thanks to those policies, entire communities across America are underwater and struggling to survive in tough economic times.
One of those communities is Ferguson, Missouri.
While that community continues to protest the police shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, it's also dealing with crippling poverty.
An analysis by Elizabeth Kneebone, an economic scholar with the Brookings Institution, found that unemployment in Ferguson more than doubled between 2000 and 2012.
The analysis also found that more than a quarter of Ferguson households had incomes below the federal poverty line of $23,492 in 2012.
So, not only are the people of Ferguson dealing with the traumatic death of Michael Brown and the resulting violent reactions to that death, they're also dealing with debilitating poverty.
And unfortunately, both of those experiences are likely to stick with the Ferguson community for decades to come, thanks to something called epigenetics.
Epigenetics is a field of science that studies how external forces and stressors, including things like poverty, hunger and violence can cause the human body to change the way certain genes are expressed, which control the way our body reacts to things.
In other words, the science of epigenetics says that life events can alter our DNA.
Some of those changes can be partly beneficial. For instance, if you're in a high-stress environment, your body can "turn on" genes meant to deal with high stress situations. But it could come with the trade-off a shorter lifespan.
The real problem is that once those genes are turned on or off, that new situation becomes part of your personal genome, and can be passed on to future generations, which are forced to deal with the consequences.
For example, a study by researchers at University College London's Institute of Child Health found that, thanks to epigenetics, children whose parents and grandparents were born into poverty can, themselves, carry the scars of that past poverty with them for the rest of their lives. That's because children born to families who've lived generations in poverty inherit genes configured to help them survive that poverty, but as the researchers pointed out, turning those genes on can make those children more susceptible to health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer when they're adults.
And epigenetic changes -- genetic changes caused by the circumstances of life -- have previously been linked to a variety of mental disorders too, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.