Stress Resilience. As our office contemplates its annual report and gathers themes to present to the university community, this term cycles through my mind. It is a new term for me. I recently discovered it while reading the New York Times Bestseller, “Lasting Happiness In a Changing World, The Book of Joy” by  Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Penguin Random House, 2016) and in particular the chapter entitled Fear, Stress, and Anxiety: I Would Be Very Nervous.

Stress resilience suggests humans tweak how they  react to difficult situations. Rather than respond in an unhealthy or negative manner during difficult times, stress resilience suggests viewing the incident as a “challenge stress . . . that will help us grow.” According to the authors, this is a straight-forward technique, “One simply notices the fight-or-flight stress response in one’s body – the beating heart, the pulsing blood or tingling feeling in our hands and face, the rapid breathing – then remembers these are natural responses to stress and our body is preparing to rise to the challenge. Viewing the stressful incident as a temporary condition  helps us appreciate  it for what it is and no more. The power of the situation is lessened and managed more effectively.

As ombuds, we meet with visitors experiencing stress almost daily and the pandemic has certainly exasperated these situations. Students feel the pressure of learning on-line, isolated away from their friends, and struggling to stay motivated as COVID continues to drag on. Staff members worry about job security, deadlines, and collaborating effectively with colleagues while working from home. Leaders struggle with health protocols, financial consequences of the virus, and supervising remote teams. No one, including myself, wants to minimize what people are dealing with during these difficult times.

According to the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu it is how we choose, or how we are able, to handle the stress that matters. One factor repeated throughout the chapter is the importance of connection to our fellow human and unfortunately, “. . . modern society has prioritized independence to such an extent that we are left on our own to try to manage lives that are increasingly out of control.” Knowing that others are also dealing with the same experiences, feelings, and situations has helped the Archbishop handle his own worry. He states, “…remembering that he was not alone lessened his distress and worries, as he would say a prayer for them.” He adds, “You can think about others who are in similar situations, or perhaps worse situations, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.” It is the deep connection with others that offers relief and perspective, which in turn may reduce stress.

Viewing a challenging experience through the lens of stress resilience, as well as recognizing the importance of connection rather than isolation, may offer a respite of  relief to those who are presently suffering. Anyone desiring more support, is welcome to reach out to the Ombuds Office. We are here to offer assistance and direct you to appropriate resources. Please take care of yourselves!

By: Melissa Connell, Ombuds Office Director, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus