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Psychobiology of Stress and Wellbeing

It is well known that our mood, diet, sleep, personality traits, and social interactions affect how we feel and impact on our wellbeing. So too can whether we drink alcohol, smoke, or take recreational drugs. This group applies novel methodologies to measure the impact of these processes.

Using state-of-the-art laboratories and real-world assessment techniques, research is produced that can be translated into bespoke interventions to benefit those in healthy, clinical and occupational populations. 

Projects and Partnerships  

Caregiver Stress Programme 

This internationally renowned programme of work is using innovative psychobiological assessment techniques to monitor indices of health and wellbeing, including the measurement of stress hormones and cardiovascular and immune functioning to explore the stress of caregiving. These assessments are used to identify the causes and consequences of stress in informal caregivers and careworkers and to measure the efficacy of bespoke stress-reducing interventions. The programme has received research funding, funded PhD students, and is producing peer-reviewed publications in leading journals in the field. The group is also involved in consultancy activities and training for carers and other stakeholders. 

Activities in the programme have included:  

Training delivered (four courses per year) as part of the Atlass Programme run by Studio III Training Systems & Psychological Services and accredited by Birmingham City University 

Training delivered to Centre for Special Paedagogiske Bornetilbud, Aarhus Denmark 

Consultancy provided to Studio III and AT-Autism 

Keynotes based on this research have included:  

SIKON Conference, Denmark 2020 

14th Annual Conference Autism – a hands on approach: ‘Psychophysical effects of caring’ 2017 

Research Autism, 2016 

International Wellbeing Conference, 2015 

Reducing the Impact of Stress on Everyday Functioning in Older Adults  

This is a unique collaboration drawing together expertise from psychobiology and stress measurement, nutrition, and ageing. The programme assesses elderly adults and carers and uses a range of innovative indices to assess everyday functioning, that is, activities identified by the population as important to their health and wellbeing. For example, measures of mobility, cognition, socialisation psychological, and physical health. The programme investigates potential stress buffering factors and the role of nutrition and nutritional supplementation as mediators of health and wellbeing. The programme has received £75k of industry funding (Vitabiotics) and university funding for a PhD studentship. 

‘Write to Wellbeing’ – Therapeutic Writing  

‘Write to Wellbeing’ is a programme of applied research based upon expressive / therapeutic writing. Developed by Dr Michael Smith and Professor Mark Wetherell, the programme involves research on the feasibility and efficacy of expressive writing in a range of populations and assesses a variety of outcomes related to health, wellbeing, and performance. This evidence is then applied in a range of settings. Write to Wellbeing teaches expressive writing techniques and aims to demonstrate why these techniques work. We identify which techniques are most appropriate based on individual characteristics and needs and apply these techniques based upon scientific evidence.  

The researchers have previously delivered this programme in schools (to both groups of pupils and teachers), to caregivers, with patient groups (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), to university staff, and at community workshops. The programme would be suitable for delivery within companies and organisations as part of a wider staff wellbeing initiative. 

Assessing stress in Applied Settings  

Members of the group measure psychobiological markers of stress in a range of clinical (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, IBS, chronic fatigue), occupational (e.g., medical professionals, firefighters, frontline care staff, prison officers, police force, emergency aircrew), sports (e.g., elite rowers, rugby and football teams), vulnerable (e.g., parent carers and careworkers of individuals with behaviours that challenge), and healthy populations.  

Professor Wetherell has recently received funding (Bial Foundation) to assess the psychobiological impact of Pre-Hospital Emergency Care training run by the Great North Air Ambulance Service. 

Research from the group was featured in a BBCRadio 4 documentary series assessing health and wellbeing in the music industry. Read related news article.

Group members

Research at Northumbria

Research at Northumbria

Research is the life blood of a University and at Northumbria University we pride ourselves on research that makes a difference; research that has application and affects people's lives.

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Research Staff Profiles

Our students learn from the best – inspirational academic staff with a genuine passion for their subject, whose teaching is shaped by world-leading and internationally excellent research.

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