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Annual Conference - Stress and resilience

11th-13th May 2018, Warwick University
Online booking has now closed, please contact secretary@oups.org.uk for availability.

Every year OUPS holds an applied psychology conference, inviting top psychologists to talk on a specific area of psychology to give delegates the opportunity to hear experts in the field present up to date research on a specific area of psychology and to provide a forum for informed discussion.

Our Annual Conference in 2018, for OU students and anyone with an interest in the subject, will be on ‘Stress and resilience’. This will be presented to be of interest to both academics and lay persons.


We are developing two strands in our Stress and Resilience Conference.
The first relates to biology, evolution and health. Our three confirmed speakers in this area are:
  • Professor Frederick Toates (Open University) will gives the biological background to stress, talking on “Lessons to be learned from the study of brain, motivation and behaviour”.

    Stress will be examined as the state that exists when a set of normal adaptive processes of brain and behaviour are stretched beyond their adaptive range for protracted periods of time. So, in order to understand stress, we need to examine how these processes normally work in their adaptive mode. This involves looking at a number of key neurotransmitters, brain regions and hormones. The hierarchical nature of the organization of the brain is central to understanding stress. The talk will apply these ideas to a range of stress-related phenomena: stereotypies, obsessions, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and addiction, as well as mindfulness, social buffering, coping and resilience.
  • Dr Gillian Ragsdale (Ronin Institute) will take an evolutionary perspective; talking on transgenerational transmission of stress via epigenetic processes.

    In the last few decades we have started to understand how stress during early life can influence the stress response across the lifetime. Now it seems that this influence can be passed on to the next generation – and beyond. It’s a depressing and stressful thought and begs the question – why? Why does this happen? Understanding the problem that gene-environment regulation of stress has adapted to solve can help us understand how to manage the causes and consequences of stress - not just in individuals, today, but worldwide across generations to come.
  • Professor Angela Clow (University of Westminster, London): 'Links between aging, cortisol secretion and cognitive function'

    In addition to promoting sleep at night and wakefulness in the day the circadian pacemaker (suprachiasmatic nucleus: SCN) fine-tunes a range of functions that control how we perform across the day, including cognitive function. A crucial mediator of these effects is cortisol: changing levels across and between days synchronise and regulate processes that are not directly linked to the central pacemaker. A healthy pattern of cortisol secretion provides an important biological 'pacemaker' matched to daily needs. Secretion of cortisol is regulated by dual pathways: the SCN and the stress neuroendocrine system. Consequently chronic stress and older age are characterized by flattened circadian patterns of cortisol secretion, which are linked to poorer cognitive function. The talk will highlight how the daily dynamics of cortisol secretion lessen with increasing age and how this impacts on control of brain and cognitive function. Crucially, the talk will review evidence that patterns of cortisol secretion (in particular the cortisol awakening response) can be influenced by external cues and behaviour (e.g. light at awakening, exercise, sleep routines) making it a potential target for intervention to limit decline in cognitive function in old age.
Our other stream is more work/occupation oriented. Our agreed speakers here are:
  • Professor Andrew Oswald (Warwick University): ‘Modern Research on Happiness and Mental Well-being’

    By drawing on data on hundreds of thousands of randomly sampled individuals, the speaker will describe some of the latest research on the determinants of human happiness and mental wellbeing. He will cover questions like: Do humans suffer a midlife 'crisis'? Does economic growth make people happier? How important are 'green' environmental factors like clean air? How are people affected by their diet? His answers on these will be: yes, no, very, greatly. The talk will be fairly non-technical and designed to be relevant to researchers from many disciplines.
  • Dr Jim White (Director of Stress Control Ltd): 'Stress control: getting beneath the tip of the iceberg'?

    Even with the significant expansion of mental health care, at least in England, we are scarcely able to reach beneath the tip of the iceberg. Mental health services continue to see people with well-established mental health problems and cannot, yet, do much early-intervention or preventative work. This talk will describe this population-level approach for adults and look at how the class works, what the research says and will also look at the ways it has developed into other areas such as online, higher education and prisons. We will look at how Stress Control is being adapted to help school pupils and those sitting on long waiting lists for CAMHS.
  • Professor Stephen Palmer (Middlesex University, London): ‘How to reduce stress, enhance resilience and wellbeing’.

    We all know what stress, resilience and wellbeing are about, don’t we? Or do we? These terms are often used in day-to-day conversations with our colleagues, family and friends especially the ‘stress’ word which may be shared with complete strangers on overcrowded trains too. However, researchers have a variety of differing definitions or descriptions for them. This paper will focus on these three closely-related areas and then consider interventions that can reduce stress, enhance resilience and wellbeing based on cognitive behavioural, positive psychology and ecopsychology research. There will be an opportunity for delegates to reflect upon their own stress inducing thinking (SITs)/Resilience Undermining Thinking (RUTs) and develop more helpful alternatives that may enhance their wellbeing.
  • Professor Ivan Robertson (Founding director of Robertson Cooper Ltd): ‘Psychological wellbeing at work: causes and consequences?’

    This session will provide a review of the research evidence concerning the factors that influence psychological well-being at work. The presentation will identify the main consequences of poor psychological well-being for health, illness and performance – and the protective benefit of enhanced well-being. A brief review of interventions that can be used to protect and improve psychological well-being in the workplace will also be given.
  • Dr Gini Harrison (The Open University): 'Turn on, tune in, (don’t) stress out; Managing stress and anxiety in a digital age'

    Mobile phone ownership is at saturation point. In the UK Ofcom (2017) figures show that 94% of all adults own a mobile phone; and 76% own a smartphone. This means that the vast majority of us are constantly connected to the online world. While there are a lot of obvious advantages to having the digital world at our fingertips, there is no doubt that being constantly available and contactable is blurring work-life boundaries, and having a significant impact on our mental health, bringing with it unprecedented levels of stress. Furthermore, the constant barrage of notifications and social media checking behaviours mean that we are in a constant state of distraction, affecting our attention, our memory and our anxiety levels. This talk will explore the relationship between digital technology use and our mental health, but will also look at the how we can harness mobile technology to tackle stress and anxiety. The ubiquitous nature of smart phones makes them an ideal medium for the delivery of large-scale public health interventions. Indeed, the last decade has seen a significant number of evidence-based mobile and internet-based therapy programs being developed for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, stress, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders and eating disorders. We will explore some of the available eHealth programs that currently exist for stress and anxiety, and investigate their clinical efficacy in light of some recent research studies. Future directions for virtually managing wellbeing will also be discussed. 

The workshop below will be presented during the Saturday evening session:
  • Jim Handley CPsychol, Occupational Psychologist: 'Resilience and coping: Developing a personal action plan for the challenges of OU study'

    This session will be an interactive workshop on stress, resilience and coping (using examples from students’ experiences). We have discovered a great deal about these topics, but often don’t quite know how to put this knowledge into practice. We need to develop our own ‘toolkit’ of skills and strategies that we can use to reduce or remove sources of stress, adapt our responses to minimise their adverse effects and repair the impact of not coping effectively enough. In the context of the particular challenges of Open University study, we will discuss the nature of stress, coping and resilience and use applied psychology to develop a personal action plan with the best chances of being effective to address our unique personal circumstances and contribute to our sustainable thriving in studying and in life.

    You can contribute your own experiences to the workshop by completing a short survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/TRHMYDW

The conference will be introduced by Jim Handley.  As a HCPC registered Occupational Psychologist, Jim uses psychology to solve real world problems. His work focuses on psychological well-being, resilience and behaviour change. He was senior school tutor and set up the BSc Applied Psychology at the University of South Wales where he developed a system for helping students deal with the stresses of university life. He has designed and delivered stress management and resilience training for postgraduates and personal effectiveness programmes for doctoral and post-doctoral researchers as well as many organisations outside Higher Education. He has a reputation for giving useful and entertaining presentations. This session will discuss stress, resilience and well-being, present data from Open University psychology students’ experiences and provide some skills and strategies for flourishing and thriving under pressure.


 The timetable for this event is available here 2018 Conference Timetable.


What to expect

The lectures are conducted in management conference seminar rooms within the University campus, and you will have been provided with a timetable of talks and lecture notes before you arrive.

You can choose how you spend your time. If you book the residential package then you will have a very comfortable ensuite room in management conference facilities complete with bedding, towels, a hairdryer, coffee-making facilities and desk. Wifi is also included. The training centre has a small exercise room within the building and you also have complimentary access to the  gym and pool on campus, so if you do want to relax then there is the option to do so.

The cost is inclusive of all meals, including Friday night and Saturday night dinner. There are no extra costs involved (except for drinks at the bar!). As well as your room and all meals this includes refreshments at break times, extensive handouts which are only available to attendees, revision of key course material, advice on revision techniques and assessments, welcome drink on Friday night. Non-residential places are available for a reduction, and the same breakfast, lunch, dinner and all tea/coffee/snack breaks during the day are still included.

The welcome drinks and psychology book stall are both excellent places to meet other students. All students and staff wear name badges, so it is easy to find somebody to help if you have any questions. You can enjoy your meals with a group of students in the comfortable dining room. The food is fresh, healthy buffet style catering, and there is something to entice everyone.

Finally, whilst most students leave exhausted from the learning and socialising, they comment that it is such a worthwhile weekend, and we see many of them each year as they progress their studies!


The weekend takes place at Scarman House, The University of Warwick. Both accommodation and lectures are located in the same building unless you have been informed otherwise.

Warwick is an award winning conference venue with excellent facilities. Access to the sports facilities, including the swimming pool, are included in the price. The university's central location with excellent transport links makes it easily accessible from all over the UK and Europe. There is ample free car parking.


Click here for information on accessibility, parking and other related facilities.

Travel and directions

Click here for satnav postcodes and directions to the University of Warwick.

For campus maps go to Warwick Campus Maps.


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