Can internal body awareness help beat stress?

Published: 16 February 2021 at 11:48

Heart or pulse rate monitor

Public can participate in pilot study to test unique online training programme

A new study is looking for participants to investigate whether internal body awareness can help improve mental health and reduce lockdown-related stress.

The research is a partnership between Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and Peterborough-based wellbeing business Thrive and Enjoy Ltd, and members of the public can assist by helping to develop and test a unique online training programme.

Internal body awareness, also known as interoception, is the ability to sense changes from inside your body, such as your heartbeat or feelings of hunger.

The online sessions – which will include exercises for participants to practice new ways of being aware of their body – will cover topics such as how internal sensations arise, distinguishing between thoughts and feelings, reflecting on and re-evaluating the meaning of experiences, and guidance on building healthier habits.

The pilot study will investigate whether the online programme assists people in dealing with stress more effectively and helps to improve their wellbeing.

The research is being carried out by ARU’s Dr Jane Aspell in partnership with health expert Dr Ian Tennant of Thrive and Enjoy Ltd. Recent studies have shown that COVID-19 safety measures, including lockdown, have had a major impact on the UK’s mental health and researchers believe the effects may be profound and long-lasting.

Dr Tennant said:

“Lockdown is a really important measure that has helped to ensure the safety of a lot of people. But being cooped up for so long has been very difficult and affected the mental health of people across the country.

“Body awareness has long been linked with improved mental health. It focuses on understanding what’s going on inside your body, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. This can help to give us more control over how we react when we feel anxious or stressed.”

Dr Aspell, a cognitive neuroscientist at ARU, said:

“I’ve been studying internal body awareness for more than 10 years, but this is the first time I’ve been involved in helping people develop interoceptive awareness through online training, so I’m very excited to see the outcomes from this pilot project.”

The partnership is being funded by COVID-19 Innovation Vouchers offered by ARU to help businesses during these challenging times. Organisations can apply for vouchers worth up to £5,000, which they must match-fund, and these can be used to access academic expertise or innovation support. 

The funding also offers an internship scheme, with ARU graduates taking up eight-week placements to work on business projects. The initiative encourages partnership working between ARU and businesses of all sizes as well as charities, social enterprises and local authorities.

Anyone interested in participating in the pilot study can contact research assistant Paige Leggett by emailing hello@yourinnersense.co.uk  Participants, who will take part remotely, will be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 gift voucher. To find out more about the study, visit www.yourinnersense.co.uk




Coronavirus research and support at ARU

Our COVID-19 research group is exploring the effects of lockdown on mental health, working to develop rapid coronavirus tests, and testing new drug combinations to reduce complications arising from COVID-19.

We know that COVID-19 has affected everyone in different ways, and we're here to support our students and University community. For students, we have a variety of wellbeing workshops and our Counselling and Wellbeing team are available to talk. We've also introduced two new support funds.