Staff in the Centre for Positive Psychology and Health are focused on research projects across a variety of areas.
Chronic diseases exert a significant toll not only on our bodies but also on our personal relationships, meaning and purpose in life and on how we interact with the world around us. Many who suffer with chronic disease become worn out, irritable, depressed and angry, and this ‘secondary suffering’ can make the condition worse.
We are interested in understanding secondary suffering and its impact on a person’s psychological and social functioning, as well as its impact on the immune system and the changes that can occur on a genetic level (epigenetics).
Enhancing our understanding of these processes can help develop interventions that mitigate secondary suffering in practical and cost-effective ways. In the past, we have developed programmes coupled with biofeedback technology to reduce burnout and improve the immune systems of patients with chronic obstructive lung disease and we are currently working with patients diagnosed with a debilitating skin disorder called chronic urticaria.
Limiting burnout and promoting resilience to occupational stress
The effects of occupational stress are a global issue with serious consequences for individual and societal health and for the growth of the economy. This is particularly evident in the health sector with up to one-third of doctors across the world experiencing burnout at any given time.
We have developed a cost-effective, practical programme for emergency department staff working in busy Irish hospitals that can reduce burnout, improve sleep and boost their immune systems. We are also currently developing programmes that integrate best practice in behaviour change science, lifestyle medicine and stress management (supported by smartphone and wearable technology) for staff in the corporate and healthcare sectors.
Promoting resilience and growth mind-sets in students
Students across the world face increasing academic demands that can negatively impact their health and wellbeing. In the short-term, this can lead to poor academic achievement, decreased motivation and increased school dropout, while long-term impacts can result in mental health issues (anxiety and depression), sleep disturbances, substance abuse and unemployment.
We have developed programmes for Irish secondary school students that develop resilience to stress using smartphone and wearable technology, in conjunction with tools to develop positive, flexible growth mind-sets for the future.
Art and positive mental health
Creating art is a well-established therapeutic process in mental healthcare. We are interested in examining the therapeutic value of studio art practice by leveraging the positive psychology concept of flow and methods from phenomenology to explore the subjective lived experience of art-making. We explore how members of studio-based art-making groups become absorbed in and engage in creative processes to enhance a feeling of ‘at-homeness’ (reduced alienation and disconnection) and ‘meaningful activity’. Our research lends support to new phenomenological research which suggests that art-making has the potential to support a sense of self.