Kirstin encourages the mind-body connection
It’s such a tremendous opportunity, and also a humbling challenge, to empower hundreds of thousands of people who want to feel better about their bodies.
“When I went to graduate school in clinical psychology, what I was most interested in was how to work with patients effectively to help them make change—through psychology and health behaviors,” says Kirstin Aschbacher, a Data Scientist at Jawbone. “I wanted to understand how to prevent disease and really focus on the mind-body connection. I wanted to understand how stress and diet affect your health, and vice versa.” With curiosities of that caliber, it was a natural fit when Kirstin joined the Data Science team at Jawbone.
Motivated to help people achieve positive health outcomes, Kirstin attended graduate school to get her PhD in clinical psychology with a specialization in behavioral medicine. In the last year of her graduate work, she participated in a clinical internship at a hospital that received trauma patients from five surrounding states. “I saw some of the worst traumas,” she says, taking a moment to reflect on the past. “I had one patient in particular who really influenced my career trajectory. He suffered from a chronic pain condition after recovering from a terrible accident and was referred to me for behavioral treatment as an alternative to increasing his pain medication.” She goes on to explain, “I helped him track his sleep, activity, mood and medications. At the time, we were just using paper and pencil—no apps. He’d bring in his data and I’d help him understand what it meant.”
Empowered to improve her patient’s quality of life, Kirstin looked for correlations in the data he provided. She noticed that on days he went to bed early, he felt less pain the next morning and his mood was better. “Sometimes he had a hard time falling asleep, so I suggested he try going for a walk outside early in the morning, because getting sunlight in your eyes can help regulate your circadian rhythms so it’s easier to fall asleep at night. I gave him exercises to help calm his mind so he could fall asleep more easily. Over time, he made dramatic improvements; his pain was noticeably decreased—without an increase in pain medication.”
“I realized there was a way to combine my knowledge of psychology, medicine and data science to help people manage their health in new ways,” she explains, and speaks specifically to her patient with chronic pain. “He wasn’t trying to be fit or beautiful—he was trying to live a life worth living,” she explains. “He had a lot of physical limitations and even some brain damage from the accident. It’s important for people to understand he didn’t improve because I gave him advice—he had plenty of advice that hadn’t worked. Change happened because he felt understood, and because I helped him understand himself. He needed to see his data in black and white, and then have a supportive person help him decide what the data meant for him. It took a lot of encouragement for him to realize he was capable of making changes in his behaviors, and these changes really did make him feel better.”
As a result of these meaningful experiences, Kirstin says it was a natural transition into finding a home at Jawbone. “I knew I was really interested in finding this intersection of data, engineering and health in terms of preventative care at a company like Jawbone where there is such a large platform,” she explains. “Smart Coach goes beyond simply giving you the number of steps you’ve taken. It helps understand how your behaviors are interconnected. For example, it can tell you whether you tend to get fewer steps on the days when you’ve slept poorly the night before. After experiencing this, I was inspired to study how sleep influences people’s eating behavior and leverage this knowledge to help the UP community lose weight.”
Kirstin also knows firsthand how impactful the UP® system can be. Kirstin says, “After I had my son, there were some birth complications and I had some recovery to do. It’s easy to tell yourself, ‘I’m a healthy person.’ It’s not until you see your UP data that you realize sometimes I make healthy choices, and sometimes I don’t. I had to get back to a state of feeling like I could run and be energized and eat a very healthy diet. I really wanted to get back into a body I could recognize…” she says with a knowing laugh, ”because your body goes through quite a lot of changes when you’re pregnant.”
When she’s not at work, you’ll find Kirstin gardening, doing yoga or spending time with her biggest supporter—her husband. “The world is a different place when you have someone there who truly believes in you,” she says. She also finds equal inspiration in her son—her biggest passion. “I have to think about the kind of world he’s going to grow up in. I have to think about the kind of role model I’m going to be, it’s important to practice what I preach.” When it comes to her personal and professional life, that means continuing to help people build healthier lifestyles and make meaningful changes.