On Mother’s Day, we salute the busy women in our lives. Too often, they’re maxed out and stressed.
“Moms who work full time – and their kids have four different activities – they take care of everybody else and then they’re last. They overlook their own needs,” said Dr. Tammy Bialek-Lehrer, of Inner Balance Chiropractic.
She and her fellow chiropractor, Alison Cummings, have led workshops on combating stress. They make the point that everyone, not just mothers, should work to combat the wear and tear we subject our minds and bodies to on a daily basis.
“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.” Bialek-Lehrer explained that stress comes from three basic sources: your environment, your body and your emotions. Off the cuff, she recited an impressive list of examples.
“Obnoxious noise, weather, fluorescent lights at work, time pressures, performance standards, your body’s stresses, poor posture, sitting at your desk too long, poor nutrients, poor sleep, lack of exercise, emotional stress, relationships – personal and professional – they creep up on us,” she said. ‘We all have stressors from all these categories. It’s important to address stressors in our life, to address that and come up with a game plan to handle it.”
Exercise is one option, and there are lots of other strategies, too. Paying attention to your senses is a good place to start. Here is a list of ways to keep stress at bay. Most are inexpensive. Many don’t cost a cent. Some take only five minutes.
Let the road to relaxation begin.
• The classics: All classical music is not relaxing but a lot of it will bring on feelings of calm and peace. (See accompanying story.) A Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert at Kleinhans Music Hall can be an escape because it challenges you to unplug your phone, clear your mind and focus. Watch for Friday morning “Coffee Concerts,” which offer a special respite from the busy week. Chamber music concerts – small groups like quartets and trios – transport you to an earlier and quieter time. Choral concerts by such groups as Harmonia and Vocalis can uplift and relax you.
• Tune out and tune in: Turn off your phone and computer, unless you want to punch up a relaxation app. The “Calm” app can help you meditate, sleep and relax. Rosary apps guide you through prayer. Sound effect apps duplicate the soothing sounds of nature. A search on YouTube can turn up free videos of hours and hours of waves, seagulls, forest birds, whatever your heart desires.
• Tibetan singing bowls: These sound like soft bells and wind chimes. Get a recording and you can feel as if you are in Bali. There is a nine-hour clip on YouTube that won’t cost you a cent.
• Silence can be golden: Quietude is rare in our increasingly noisy society but you can often find it at church. We suggest Our Lady of Victory Basilica. Its great heights and soaring arches give you the impression that there is something out there bigger than yourself. Pray, or just be, and luxuriate in the presence of thousands of angels. Don’t come out until you’re ready.
• Peaceful waters: What is it about water that makes it so calming? Explore the many new paths and walkways along the waterfront in downtown Buffalo and in Tonawanda, to name just two options. Walk, watch, and let your mind drift. Other restful water views include Mirror Lake in Forest Lawn; Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park; and the rustling streams of Chestnut Ridge Park.
• Park yourself: Public parks can mean recreation but also repose. Frederick Law Olmsted designed his parks for quiet enjoyment of nature, especially for folks who live in the city. So go and enjoy. Go alone with a book of poetry, or with a friend and a basket of strawberries. Unplug your phone and absorb the beauty around you. Gaze on the flowers surrounding the greenhouse in Martin Luther King Park.
• Color: Grown-up coloring books are a therapeutic tool that has been celebrated in WNY Refresh before. Find some of the best and most challenging at a discount in Marshalls or T.J. Maxx. Challenging coloring books even turn up in Dollar Tree and Dollar General. Enjoy the picture. Take the time to color it beautifully. Use your imagination. More venues are offering painting classes.
• Go grand: See a beautiful movie in a beautiful movie theater. It’s increasingly difficult to find films without violence or an “R” rating, but it can still be done. The North Park in Buffalo and the Aurora in East Aurora can turn a movie into an escapist evening.
• Take a tour: Visit a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Wright believed in letting nature into your life. He designed his homes around restful lines and horizontal planes. Graycliff, Darwin Martin’s estate on Lake Erie, has lovely views of the water, and is near enough so you can hear the waves.
• Pamper yourself: A salon treatment doesn’t have to be costly or elaborate. A simple shampoo can function as a scalp massage, making you feel indulged. Supercuts has something called the Tea Tree Experience, involving a tingly, ice-cool mint shampoo. Afterward, a stylist will give you a warm towel filled with the same fragrance for your face. Prices vary by location, but it’s only a couple of bucks.
• Float your cares away: Splurge on a new therapy in town, sensory deprivation tanks (also called isolation tanks or, more attractively, flotation therapy). It’s a new concept making its way here from the West Coast. You strip down to the altogether and, for an hour or two, float in pitch darkness in water so salty you can’t sink. Joe Fambo is an owner of Flo, a new floatation spa in Allentown. “I grew up in a household doing yoga and meditation since I was 4,” he said. “I found myself in a high-stress job and needed to relax and go back to meditation. It was hard for me to do. Then I heard about this. I wanted to try it.” He swears by it, and others do too.
• Pet a pet: The research is out on dogs. Therapy dogs have been spotted at the airport to give stressed-out passengers a moment of warm and fuzzy feelings. Cats, too, can be very loving. Imagine holding a warm, furry, purring cat. Life’s problems melt away.
• Warm yourself: The ancient world appreciated the relaxation potential of hot springs, and so can you. Settle into a hot tub or Jacuzzi and feel your muscles relax. Consider your own bathroom. Japanese soaking tubs and other deep tubs are becoming more and more popular. But if you live in an old house, you might already have a soaking tub. Most claw-foot tubs qualify, and so do some deep built-in models from the early 1900s. Light a few candles, turn on some music, and sink in.
• Breathe deeply: Be alert to aromas as you go through your day. Buffalo has beautiful fragrances. The aroma of roasted coffee from McCullagh coffee. The cool sweet aroma of a candy shop. Most famously, the sugary smell of the Cheerios that floats over the downtown waterfront, courtesy of the General Mills plant.
• Surround yourself: The scent of flowers grows this time of year, but is never far if you take a few minutes to seek it out. The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens offer a world of aromas, and the greenhouses can bathe you in tropical warmth on a dreary day. You also can stop, literally, to smell the roses in the Rose Garden in Delaware Park.
• Hit the zoo: A variety of exotic aromas await in the Rainforest Exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo, and the tropical flora and fauna give you a feeling of being away from it all.
• Add fragrance: Splurge on professional aromatherapy, even if you want to try it at home. Relaxing scents include bergamot, neroli, chamomile, petitgrain, frankincense, rose geranium, sandalwood, ylang ylang and lavender. Our source: “Aromatherapy for Dummies.” Why complicate things?
• Eat quietly: Quiet restaurants may be few and far between but those where you can, unplug, kick back and enjoy a pleasant view include the new William K’s on the Buffalo waterfront. The harbor view beckons, and so far the owners have kept it quiet. Another prospect is the clean, serene restaurant at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. (Actually the entire gallery, so white and bright, is soothing.) In Niagara Falls, the Sky View Lounge at the top of the Giacomo offers a quiet, relaxing ambiance and a world-class view.
• Drink right: Herbal tea can be delicious and soothing. Chamomile is calming. The word is Greek for “ground apple,” because it has an apple-like aroma. North Africans historically valued it, and so did the Romans. The Germans have a saying, “alles zutraut,” meaning “it fixes everything.” All these people can’t be wrong. Other relaxing herbs to look for on the tea label: hops, valerian – even the mint and lemon balm that might be growing wild in your yard. Celestial Seasonings has a licorice-tinged brew called “Tension Tamer.”
• Kitchen help: Stress relief can be as close as your kitchen. Cooking is good for calm and mental health. Following a recipe occupies and exercises your mind. “Cooking is meditation with the promise of a good meal afterward,” is how Psychology Today put it in an article last year. The magazine suggested that you take time to admire and enjoy the look, feel and taste of ingredients, and pointed out that culinary therapy is being increasingly used at mental health clinics.
Inside: Six classic musical stylings that can bring you peace
Your thoughts: How do you relieve stress? Email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will run them in a future edition of WNY Refresh