Tammy Bialek-Lehrer of Inner Balance Chiropractic in Amherst has led stress reduction workshops with her fellow chiropractor, Alison Cummings.
“Stress triggers a fight-or-flight response,” Bialek-Lehrer said. “It affects every system. Your heart rate increases. Your blood pressure increases. Your blood is directed toward your extremities. Your vision becomes more acute, your hearing more acute. Your body is responding to stress. It’s very useful when running away from a bear,” she laughed. “But when it’s prolonged, the long-term effects can be disastrous to your health. ... You can’t sleep, you have all sorts of issues. You don’t eat right. Chronic stress leads to nerve irritation.”
In short, stress leads to more stress. The object is to break that negative cycle.
One strategy might be as simple as an exercise class.
“It takes your mind off a stressful day for a solid hour,” said Karen Mahoney, winding up a spirited Zumba class in the City of Tonawanda. “It’s one hour when you’re not worried about anything else.”
Mahoney, who also teaches Pilates and yoga at the YMCA and other locations, points out that the benefits of an exercise class are physiological and emotional.
“A lot of people do shallow breathing during the day. When you’re stressed out, your breaths are short, shallower and quicker. Shallow breathing drives the heart rate up.”
One participant in Mahoney’s class is Monique Abraham, the wife of the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and the mother of three children, ages 10, 8 and 6. Abraham, who also works as an art teacher, has not only lost 90 pounds in the last year, but she has learned to rely on Zumba as stress relief.
Mahoney’s classes end with stretching and deep breathing. Other benefits also come into play. The atmosphere is cheery. Following the steps requires concentration. Abraham cites new research that points to the good feelings you get from dancing in a group – a ritual that is practically universal and is as old as time.
Whatever the forces at work, they are working.
“This really helps me,” Abraham said. “Before the class (on a recent day), I was sitting in the chair, going, ‘There’s no way I’m doing Zumba.’ Then I got up and did it. Now I feel very good, charged again.
“This is my time to release and breathe and forget everything going on in the world – kids, politics, family.”
See a list of fitness classes, Page 15