$25,000 for anxiety research

Dr Olivia Harrison has won a 2021 L'Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Dr Olivia Harrison has won a 2021 L'Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Continuing her recent awards sweep, University of Otago psychology researcher Dr Olivia Harrison has been awarded a 2021 L’Oreal/Unesco Fellowship for women in science.

It comes hot on the heels of her being named a Rutherford Discovery research fellow late last month.

Both fellowships are for her research into the way we perceive symptoms of anxiety and how they can influence our mental state.

The L’Oreal/Unesco Fellowship recognises the achievements of exceptional early-career female scientists, to highlight the critical importance of ensuring a greater participation of women in science from a young age.

Just 28% of researchers are women, and less than 20% make up the most senior leadership positions.

Dr Harrison was delighted to receive $25,000 as part of the fellowship, to support her ground-breaking studies.

She said anxiety was one of the most prevalent mental health conditions, especially at the moment with the stress caused by the Covid pandemic.

"The research looks at how the symptoms of anxiety — such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and fast breathing — can feed back and possibly start a negative spiral of emotions, creating even more anxiety."

The study found people who had higher levels of anxiety had altered perceptions of their breathing, compared with people with lower anxiety, she said.

"Anxiety is unique to every individual and needs to be treated as such.

"The treatments that work well for some people do not work for everyone.

"Understanding your own personality may help provide insight into how and why we worry, and which strategies might help us best manage both our thoughts and symptoms."

While her research to date has focused on the way the brain processes breathing perceptions, and how this might be changed with greater levels of anxiety, her upcoming studies will look at how treatments such as exercise and anxiety medication may help improve symptom perception.

It was hoped the knowledge would help create innovative and tailored treatment plans for individuals in the future, she said.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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