Current PhD Students
Faculty Mentor: Beth Pyatak PhD, OTR/L, CDCES, FAOTA
Research Lab: Lifestyle Redesign for Chronic Conditions (LRCC)
Year of Entry: 2017
My research interest lies in investigating the relationship between stress, activity patterns, and health/well-being outcomes. The psychological definition of stress is the perception that environmental demands exceed one’s ability to cope, accompanied by a negative emotional response. The endocrinological conceptualization of stress does not describe it as a negative emotional state, but just as a perception of demands resulting in an increase in alertness to deal with them. Researchers have theorized that it is not just the unpleasant psychologically stressful events of life like losing a job that can take their toll on health and well-being, but also excessive exposure to more ordinary endocrinologically stressful events like daily work, school, and caregiving tasks. Excessive endocrinological stress has been theorized to lead to greater allostatic load, or wear and tear on the body, that has been associated with poorer executive functioning (manifesting as decreased self-regulation), greater likelihood of long-term health issues such as cardiovascular disease, and greater incidence of mood disorders such as depression.
Questions I am interested in addressing include: “What activities result in endocrinological stress and which promote recovery from it?” and “How can endocrinological stress be assessed through self-report and/or wearable technology?” To help in answering them, for my dissertation I will assist in the collection and analysis of data for an R01 study, Function and Emotion in Everyday Life with Type 1 Diabetes (FEEL-T1D). In the FEEL project, 200 adults with t1d are asked to complete 14 days of intensive longitudinal data collection, including continuous blood glucose monitoring (CGM) and electronic momentary assessment (EMA) surveys administered through smartphones. The focus of my dissertation analysis will be on investigating the relationship between a theorized proxy measure of endocrinological stress (task load), activity engagement, daily well-being variables, and daily blood glucose.
Master of Science (MS)
in Occupational Therapy
2015 | California State University, Dominguez Hills
Bachelor of Science (BS)
2012 | University of California, Los Angeles
Hernandez, R., Vidmar, A., & Pyatak, E. A. (2020). Lifestyle balance, restful and strenuous occupations, and physiological activation. Journal of Occupational Science. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/14427591.2020.1732229 Show abstract
A balance between stressful and restful occupations is an important component of lifestyle balance (LB). We argue that excessive physiological activation from the stress of everyday engagement in occupation, and/or inadequate engagement in restful occupations, can lead to negative health outcomes through accumulation of allostatic load (AL), or physiological wear and tear on the body. This physiological activation manifests as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, resulting in elevations in serum levels of hormones such as cortisol and catecholamines. “Stress,” as the term is used colloquially, is just one possible source of physiological activation. Other possible sources include cognitive challenges and high motivation tasks. The purpose of this paper is twofold: 1) to present an explanatory model for how the LB component of a “pattern of occupations with a balance between stressful and restful engagements” can affect health and 2) to discuss metrics to measure physiological activation from stress/rest and explore how these metrics relate to existing measures of lifestyle and occupational balance. We speculate that these metrics may relate to existing measures of lifestyle and occupational balance in ways that help explain the mechanisms underlying them, with the amount of physiological activation that individuals experience on a daily basis determining their long-term health outcomes. There remains a need to develop innovative lifestyle interventions that support management of stress related physiological activation to promote health and well-being.
Keywords. Occupational science, Life balance, Occupational balance, Restful occupations, Strenuous occupations, Physiological stress, Explanatory mechanisms, Allostatic load
Hernandez, R. (2019, November). Activity focused view of stress, recovery, and allostatic load. Paper presented at the Work, Stress, and Health Conference, Philadelphia, PA.
Hernandez, R. (2018, October). Allostatic load as physiological indicator of occupational imbalance. Paper presented at the Society for the Study of Occupation, Lexington, KY.
Pyatak, E., Hernandez, R., Díaz, J., Carandang, K., Blanchard, J., & Vigen, C. (2018, April). Habit formation in an occupational therapy self-management intervention: The Resilient, Empowered, Active Living (REAL Diabetes) study. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, New Orleans, LA.