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In addition to clinical work, my research investigates the mind-body connection, self-compassion, and psychological resilience factors that may increase well-being and help people cope with stress (such as the stress of chronic illness or menopause). I have published over 20 academic articles on these topics. While you might notice a medical focus below, the findings are relevant to how we cope with all types of stressors and difficulties in life - not just physical illness. Below is a sample of some of my research. If you would like to learn more, don't hesitate to get in touch, or visit my Google Scholar page.
Is Self-Compassion associated with a Good Night's Sleep? A Meta-analysis We combined data from nearly 2,000 people from around the world to explore if self-compassion is associated with a better night's sleep. Interestingly, we found that those people who are high on self-compassion also tend to report a better night's sleep. Therefore, being kind to yourself may be a helpful strategy linked to better sleep. On the other hand, being self-critical might be counter productive to good sleep.
Teaching Positive emotions via Telehealth? Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial In this study, we explored the added value of teaching patients with Type II diabetes how to cultivate positive emotions (eg gratitude, optimism, self-appreciation) via telehealth, versus motivational interviewing via telehealth alone, as treatments to increase physical activity. We found that those patients who received training in positive psychology increased their physical activity (measured objectively) more than those who did not. They also exprienced more positive emotions at the end of the course such as happiness, inspiration and interest. This study indicates that positive psychology can be taught via telehealth, and that it may be effective in increasing happiness. Moreover, by feeling good, you may be more likely to take care of your physical health. My colleagues and I also published findings from a related RCT in a second paper in the journal General Hospital Psychology.
The Effects of Positive Psychology Training on Medical Patient Anxiety Experiencing a medical illness can be anxiety provoking. This new meta-analysis indicates that interventions designed to cultivate positive emotional states (such as gratitude, meaning in life and emotional well-being) might also serve to reduce anxiety in medical patients. This shows that a positive psychology approach might be a beneficial adjunct treatment to consider in medical settings, to facilitate patient well-being and perhaps simultaneously reduce anxiety.
A Self-Compassion Group Intervention for Patients Living with Chronic Medical Illness In this study, we developed and tested a four week self-compassion-based intervention delivered to patients in outpatient treatment for a chronic illness (such as heart disease or persistent pain). We found patients enjoyed participating in the self-compassion training course, where they learned meditation skills and ways to apply self-compassion to daily life. Participants also experienced significant reductions in depressive symptoms as well as trends towards improved well-being. While preliminary, our findings indicate that a larger randomized controlled trial is warranted to expand on our early results.
Positive Psychological Experiences in Stem Cell Transplant Survivors: A stem cell transplantation can offer hope for cure for some patients with advanced blood or bone marrow cancer, but the procedure is associated with severe side effects - and recipients must face their mortality. Most psychology research in the area has focused on psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD but less research has explored positive emotional resources post transplant. This longitudinal study interviewed 25 transplant recipients at Boston's Dana Faber Cancer Center to better understand positive emotional experiences post transplant. In qualitative analysis, we found patients regularly experienced gratitude, optimism and hope despite the obvious challenges that a life threatening medical illness presents. This research is an example that positivity can be found in the very midst of challenging life experiences.
Self-Compassionate Aging: This article brings together all of the scientific evidence published to date in the field of self-compassionate aging. Together with my colleagues at Harvard Medical School and The University of Melbourne, I present information showing that self-compassion is related to well-being, and may help you adjust to health symptoms and chronic illness in later life. This research was covered by Mindful Magazine, which is distributed in print around the world and based in San Francisco.
Heart Rate Variability and Depression: A growing body of research shows that depression is not just in your brain. Depression is intimately linked with your body, physical health, and especially heart-health. This research that I conducted in 2018 synthesizes the research linking depression in later life to heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is an index of heart-health regulated by the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. In a follow-up study, I am now exploring if meditation practice may improve HRV, via its potential calming effects on the nervous system.
Self-Compassion and the Menopause: Menopause can have a very big impact on well-being at midlife. This research found self-compassion is a helpful skill that can help midlife women maintain well-being, despite troublesome hot flushes.
Positive Well-being during the Menopause Transition: Our healthcare system focuses so much on negative symptoms, with less emphasis on positive qualities such as happiness and well-being. To help restore the balance, this article investigates evidence about women's levels of happiness and meaning in life across the menopause transition. The good news is that we found no evidence of declining happiness/meaning in life during the menopausal years.
Self-Compassion, Attitudes to Aging and Well-being at Midlife: In our youth obsessed culture it can be hard to feel good about aging, but research shows that feeling good about aging has important benefits for physical and mental health (e.g. a positive attitude to aging is associated with longevity!). In this study, we build a model exploring how self-compassion may help shape a more positive attitude to aging, which in turn enriches our health.
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