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Stress, Epigenetics and the 4Step Strategy



Even in the spring of 2021 is Covid-19 still a major stress factor in all our lives. Therefore, this newsletter is again about the topic of stress, its influence on our genes and the important knowledge about avoiding or coping with stress in daily life.

My eldest daughter Helena is writing about the topic: "Epigenetics Research: Influence of Stress on Genes" in her pre-scientific work at the Akademic Gymnasium, Salzburg, and came across studies that prove the effects of negative or chronic stress on our epigenetics.[1] In contrast to genetics, which deals with the DNA (genetic material) itself, epigenetics provides an explanation of how environmental factors change the activity state of genes and how these changes can be passed on.[2]  Helena Pree: "Long-lasting stress alters epigenetics, increasing the risk of diseases such as depression. This applies to every phase of life.”[3]

Particularly with the Corona pandemic and the measures to contain it, many people's individually perceived stress levels are rising even more, whether through psychological, mental or physical exhaustion,[4] burden of home office and distance learning, restrictions in business life and private contacts. The under-60 population group is increasingly suffering from symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Moderate to severe depressive symptoms, for example, have increased from 6.4% to 8.8% in Germany.[5]

That was the bad news, but the good news is that we have numerous ways to manage and reduce stress and to prevent or even heal the negative effects of stress on the psyche and body. Already in the Christmas Newsletter 2018
I explained the components of our stress (stressors, personal stress amplifiers, stress response) in more detail, described stress management tips and provided links to a stress test and a breathing exercise (MP3 download):


Another very effective technique that works on all levels of stress is the 4Step Strategy [6] for the “acute case”. This strategy is applicable to any acutely stressful situation that can be triggered by a wide variety of external stressors. Environmental factors, circumstances or events such as a lockdown, a conflict flaring up, additional work or performance pressure can be such stressors.


Based on Figure 1, we can see how an "acute case" normally unfolds, i.e., without conscious countermeasures, and therefore often triggers a stress spiral:



























Using the 4Step Strategy, outlined in Figure 2, a way out of the stress spiral can be found:
























The 4Step Strategy explained in more detail:


ACCEPT: means to accept the situation as it is – as a part of our life, our work, etc.  Sticking your head in the sand is just as unhelpful as resisting it, being angry about it, blaming yourself or others, feeling guilty, and so on…

Acceptance needs:

1. being aware of stress signals early on

2. deciding clearly and consciously in favor of acceptance (and therefore against restisting reality).


STAY COOL: Instead of getting into it, getting upset or even "freaking out," the goal is to get a handle on your own excitement, collect yourself and keep a cool head. Again, it is important to make a conscious decision to cool and calm down and – depending on the situation – to do specific, appropriate exercises which can range from taking a deep breath or mentally counting to 10 to short relaxation and movement exercises.


ANALYSE: Clear and conscious assessment of the situation, which is much easier due to the previous cooldown without the so called "psychological fog" (the boiling up of feelings), which can literally "fog" our brain.


ACT or DISTRACT: Through the previous analysis, we can now assess whether it is better to actively take care of the situation (address things, delegate, reschedule, seek support…) or to distance oneself from the situation and take care of oneself in the form of a positive distraction (new focus, sports, relaxation, reading, humor...)


It is recommended to think through this 4Step Strategy as a mental training, for example for a past stress situation, in order to be better prepared for future situations and to counteract the stress spiral of stress reaction, mental stress amplifiers and automated stress behaviors in time.

A targeted coaching session can be a valuable aid for that.


I gave additional anti-stress tips in the December 2020 newsletter: in the Podcast-Interview with Carsten Meyer (
For an immediate, effective relaxation exercise, I provide instructions for Progressive Muscle Relaxation
(E. Jacobson) to download:


Stay healthy and happy!


[1] ALASAARI, Jukka u.a.: Environmental Stress Affects DNA Methylation of a CpG Rich Promoter Region of Serotonin Transporter Gene in a Nurse Cohort. PloS One 2012. [Zugriff: 29.01.2021]

[2]  [Zugriff: 22.02.2021]

[3] PREE, Helena: Epigenetik-Forschung: Einfluss von Stress auf die Gene. VWA Akad.Gym.Salzburg 2021 [Zugriff: 22.02.2021]

[4] 16: Ying An, Yuan Yang, Aiping Wang, Yue Li, Qing Zhang, Teris Cheung, Gabor S. Ungvari, Ming-Zhao Qin, Feng-Rong An, Yu- TaoXiang: Prevalence of depression and its impact on quality of life among frontline nurses in emergency departments during the Covid-19 outbreak, 2020, Journal of affective Disorder, [Zugriff: 22.02.2021]


[6] aus G. Kaluza: Stressbewältigung, Trainingsmanual zur psychologischen Gesundheitsförderung, 4.Auflage, Springer-Verlag 2018

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