Invisible Touch to wellbeing: Discreet self-management of female student stress

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


One in four students have a mental health problem (YouGov, 2016). Left unchecked, this can impact negatively on their mental wellbeing. Although universities offer support systems, for a myriad of reasons many students choose not to engage with the available resources. Long waiting lists and finite resources mean that the most severely affected are prioritised and the silent majority are left to cope alone. Public spending strategy is focused on coping with crisis, and minimal investment is given to preventative strategies (Davies, 2013). This presents an opportunity to shift towards preventative treatments giving individuals a greater role in actively managing their health. Enabling students to recognise, understand and manage their ‘in-the-moment’ stress could empower them to take control of their own mental health and improve their responses to stressors in daily environments. Research shows that female students react differently to psychological stressors than their male counterparts (Graves et al., 2021). This presentation outlines a new paradigm to support female student wellbeing using e-textiles. Most e-wearables for health focus on physiological needs with functionality and lack design. However without creating a social identity and empathic relationship with wearers (White, 2008) e-wearables fail to become socially acceptable to users. This presentation highlights examples of crafted, wearer-centred, e-textile accessories. These were part of a larger research study, designed to monitor, manage or prevent stress by reading physiological, subconscious stress signals. The working designs intuitively explored affective connections between wearers’ subconscious stress, their environment, and tactile memories. Inconspicuous gestures commonly associated dressing activated e-textile sensors and elicited biofeedback from wearers’ stress levels. These were expressed unobtrusively as micro-light or haptics. Creating e-textile wearables with emotional value connected wearers to their physiological cues of stress. This introduced a new archetype of early self-support, encouraging female university students to take personal responsibility for their mental wellbeing.

Davies, S.C. (2013) Public Mental Health
Priorities: Investing in the Evidence [online]. Chief Medical Officer’s summary. London: Department of Health. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, 11-19.

Graves, B.S., Hall, M.E., Dias-Karch, C., Haischer, M.H. and Apter, C. (2021) Gender differences in perceived stress and coping among college students. PloS one, 16 (8), e0255634.

White, H.C. (2008) Identity and control: How social formations emerge. Princeton university press.

YouGov (2016) 1 in 4 students suffer a mental health problem. [Accessed 15 September 2018].
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 13 May 2022
EventFestival of PhD Research - Belfast School of Art , Belfast
Duration: 13 May 202213 May 2022


ConferenceFestival of PhD Research


  • e-textiles
  • female student stress
  • self-management strategies
  • Affective touch
  • augmented haptics


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