Stress & Coping
A simple intellectual curiosity in grad school led David Creswell to a Buddhist monastery just outside of Bordeaux, France.
He had learned that pain and suffering can be transformed through mindfulness meditation — an ancient practice of paying attention to your present-moment experience in a non-judgmental way.
By immersing himself in the practice, he was able to reinforce this truth in his own mind.
That experience sparked a new curiosity in him — exactly how does this kind of meditation help?
"Stress hormones in our bodies come from signals in the brain," said the Carnegie Mellon University assistant professor.
"By studying how mindfulness meditation affects the brain, we can discover how the brain can help us cope with stress and improve the quality of our experience."
Creswell's research at CMU focuses on how the mind and brain influence our physical health and performance.
Much of his work examines basic questions about stress and coping, and in understanding how these factors can be modulated through stress reduction interventions.
Take for example, a patient with HIV/AIDS.
"You would think that the fear of dying would be the primary stressor for a patient suffering from AIDS," Creswell said.
"But what we found in our studies was the factors that were truly causing them the most stress were things like being poor, depending on others for financial support, or feeling bad about asking someone to take them to their doctor's appointment."
Through the use of mindfulness meditation, the HIV/AIDS patients in Creswell's study were actually able to reverse their illness. (Learn more about Creswell's research.)
Creswell and his team are currently conducting a study with a group of stressed unemployed adults in Pittsburgh.
"We believe that mindfulness meditation training may have beneficial effects on the structure and function of the brain. We are just beginning to understand how we can train our brains to help us more effectively respond to stressors we face, such as being unemployed," Creswell said.
Creswell's work is part of the broader Brain, Mind and Learning initiative at CMU.
The university has been a leader in the areas of brain science, psychology, and learning research for many decades.