March 9, 2023
In this episode, Wendy speaks with contemplative health psychologist and stress researcher Elissa Epel. Elissa studies how mindfulness, meditation retreats, and breathing techniques can help buffer stress processes, biological aging, and promote both physical and mental health. This conversation covers many topics, including:
- her early roots of interest in the mind-body connection;
- bringing contemplation into health and stress psychology research;
- two key aspects of stress;
- learning to deal with uncertainty;
- uncertainty in the body;
- acute vs. chronic stress response;
- why we might want to intentionally induce acute stress to boost our health;
- cell aging systems (telomeres);
- contemplative practices as a way to reduce stress;
- how our minds influence our cells;
- the concept of cellular safety;
- rest, retreat, and vacation;
- how contemplative benefits can transfer to the next generation;
- what it means to have a sensitive nervous system;
- and the importance of focusing on joy and gratitude.
Elissa Epel, PhD, is a professor and vice chair of adult psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California San Francisco. She is a contemplative health psychologist—integrating science and contemplative wisdom to promote stress resilience in coping with adversity. She has examined how mindfulness, meditation retreats, and breathing techniques may buffer stress processes, biological aging, and promote psychological and physiological thriving. In 2022, she was named as one of the top 1% of researchers globally based on publication impact.
Elissa is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, past President of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, and past co-chair of the Mind & Life Institute Steering Council. She co-chaired three Mind & Life Summer Research Institutes—on interconnectivity (2018), mental habits (2019), and climate (2021). She enjoys leading retreats with colleagues, and has taught at Esalen, Big Sur, Upaya, Blue Spirit, Costa Rica, and Davos. Elissa is co-author of the New York Times best-seller The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Longer, and has just published The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease. During the pandemic, Elissa developed a website of mental health resources and well-being webinars for psychological first aid for healthcare providers nationally, and is co-leading a study examining predictors of long term COVID antibody maintenance. She also co-leads an NIH network on stress and on emotional well-being.
- Book: The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease (2022)
- Book: The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Longer (2018)
- Mind & Life Inspiring Minds: From Climate Distress to Climate Action (2022)
- Paper: Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes, Translational Psychiatry, 2016
- Paper: Stress and telomere shortening: Insights from cellular mechanisms, Ageing Research Reviews, 2022.
- Mission Joy film
- Join the citizen science project on joy: BIG JOY