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OUPS Annual Conference May 2018: Stress and Resilience

The uncertainties, pressures and stress of 21st century life present real challenges for individuals, families, organizations, governments etc. Challenge and stress may well be the price of a meaningful life, but crossing the line between the two can be a turning point between wellbeing and ill-health.

According to the UK Health and Safety Executive (2016) there were 488,000 cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 (a rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers). 224,000 new cases were reported that year in the UK. Despite public perceptions, and a belief that things are getting worse, the number and rate of cases has been relatively stable for more than a decade.

Nevertheless, these figures account for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.Stress levels are particularly high in sectors such as education, health and social care, public administration and defence. We also know that tight deadlines, excessive responsibility and lack of managerial support contribute to stress, depression and anxiety.

Stress among students also seems to be a significant issue. In a recent YouGov survey, 27% of students reported experiencing stress, anxiety and/or depression and this was more common among female students. Open University students are certainly not immune to stresses of life and study and perhaps face more challenges than those who study in traditional ‘brick’ universities.

There are many misconceptions about stress. (Is it things and people in our environment, generic threat, our responses to these, particular patterns of thought or emotion etc.?) However, it is an area in which psychology can provide a great deal of insight and practical advice. Based on an enormous body of research, psychologists have developed a good understanding of the biopsychosocial nature of stress and its impact on human experience. We also have good insight into the factors that contribute to resilience and how it can be developed and maintained in the face of the inevitable adversities of human life.

This knowledge can provide a valuable perspective on life with practical implications for coping and thriving under pressure. This conference will address issues of stress and resilience and should be of both academic and practical value to a wide variety of people.

There are two strands to our Stress and Resilience Conference; both with very distinguished speakers.

The first relates to biology, evolution and health. We are delighted to have the following speakers who between them will cover a wide spectrum of issues.

  • Professor Angela Clow (University of Westminster, London), who researches at the interface of neuropharmacology, physiology and psychology, was co-presenter with Stephen Palmer (see below) on the BBC 1 Stress Test tv series in 2004. She will look at health implications; talking about how health is affected by stress (for instance how stress impacts upon circadian rhythms and becomes a major route to physical and mental ill-health and decreases in cognitive function).
     
  • Dr Gillian Ragsdale (Ronin Institute), who some of you will have heard speak recently in London at the LOUPS mental health seminar, will take an evolutionary perspective; discussing in particular transgenerational transmission of stress via epigenetic processes.
     
  • Professor Frederick Toates (Open University), our OUPS president and author of ‘Stress: conceptual and biological aspects’, will give the biological background to stress; examining the lessons to be learned from the study of brain, motivation and behaviour.

Our other stream is more work/occupation oriented and we are very lucky to have an extremely influential group of speakers including:

  • Professor Andrew Oswald (Warwick) is credited with helping to create the field now known as the economics of happiness. His work lies mainly at the border between economics and behavioural science, and he will be talking on ‘Modern Research on Happiness and Mental Well-being’.
     
  • Professor Stephen Palmer (Middlesex University, London), an author/editor of over 50 books on stress, is the Founder Director of the Centre for Stress Management and President of the International Stress Management Association (UK). He will be talking on ‘how to reduce stress, enhance resilience and wellbeing’. Stephen is an ex OU student and OUPS member (He recalls attending the OUPS BF Skinner lecture and chatting to him afterwards.) He will be happy to answer questions on how the OU degree helped his career.
     
  • Professor Ivan Robertson (a Founding Director of Robertson Cooper Ltd.) has worked on consulting assignments across all sectors of the economy and across the world. Robertson Cooper partners with businesses to transform cultures and improve employee wellbeing. They have been doing this for almost two decades, building on the expertise of their founders, Sir Cary Cooper and Professor Ivan Robertson, to lead thinking in the psychological well-being space.
     
  • Dr Jim White, an internationally-recognised expert in stress management, will be talking about his intervention called Stress Control, which is the most widely used stress management course in the NHS and HSE (Ireland).

For the Saturday evening session, Occupational Psychologist Jim Handley will run a workshop on stress, resilience and coping in OU students (based on analysis of the challenges faced by OU students). The workshop will focus on developing our own personal resilience action plan.

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