With COVID-19 cases surging around the world and a race for life-saving vaccines at the top of most people’s minds, focusing on happiness during the pandemic might seem petty. But it’s actually more important now than ever, said Laurie Santos, PhD, keynote speaker at the Nov. 11 Center for Women’s Health Research Annual Community Event.
This year hosted via livestream due to pandemic restrictions, the annual signature community outreach program for the Center for Women’s Health Research attracted about 1,100 viewers from six countries.
“We are all going through so much, not the least of which is facing the incredibly difficult time that is COVID-19,” said Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University.
Judy Regensteiner, PhD
‘It still makes sense to focus on happiness’
“So many of our routines have changed. We are working in different ways than we had been before, and many of us are facing uncertainty and fear and a lot of emotions that seem incredibly negative,” said Santos, whose talk centered on eight evidence-based strategies to improve well-being.
Research suggests that during stressful times, happiness can significantly boost physical and mental health, she said. “Happiness isn’t just something that feels good. It is something that may be causally relevant to a lot of the other outcomes we want to see at this time. Even though things are really tough right now, it still makes sense to focus on happiness,” Santos said.
This year’s event raised over $450,000 that will be used for research and education programs in women’s health and sex differences.
Center’s mission: ‘More important now than ever’
“Scientific research is more important now than ever,” said Judy Regensteiner, PhD, director of the Center for Women’s Health Research. “And women’s health and sex differences research are relevant both with regards to COVID-19 and for all healthcare.”
The event also showcased the latest recipients of the Junior Faculty Research Development Awards from the Center for Women’s Health Research.
“Seed grants are an integral part of the center’s mission,” said Jane Reusch, MD, associate director at the Center for Women’s Health Research. “Every year, we award these grants in a highly competitive process where MD and PhD scientists submit grant applications,” Reusch said. The $25,000 grants allow researchers to gather preliminary data for use in subsequent larger grants.
Jane Reusch, MD
Sex differences underscore research need
Vijay Ramakrishnan, MD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, highlighted the successes of the Junior Faculty Research Development Awards. Ramakrishnan focused his talk on the disparities between women and men in his research on chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS).
CRS can severely impact quality of life, with symptoms such as headache, sleep dysfunction and depression. Ramakrishnan noted that women have more negative side effects from CRS than men. The condition causes $12.8 billion in lost productivity every year and demonstrates the importance of understanding the connection between physical and mental health, he said.
“When we looked at women versus men, we noticed two key observations. One, women presented with symptoms at an earlier age,” Ramakrishnan said. “Second, women had a worse symptom score than men despite having a relatively comparable amount of disease.”
Continued focus on sex differences in research remains crucial for women’s health, Regensteiner said. “We are looking forward to the time when we can be in person, and I am confident with the advances underway in science that we will be able to gather again,” she said.
Click here to view the full event recording.
Guest Contributor: Devin Lynn is communications specialist at the Center for Women's Health Research.