Mellow Out, Buffalo

Or how to be less stressed and survive the holidays

By Jana Eisenberg

In Good Health reported in October that a study by Hey Tutor (using recent data from the U.S. Census, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Gallup) ranked Buffalo as the country’s fifth most stressed medium-sized city.

The article noted factors like economic inequality, poverty, unemployment, housing affordability, mental health conditions, commute times, sleep habits and the share of single-parent households contribute to stressed communities; those factors also make society as a whole stressed.

For communities and individuals, it’s important to know that there are resources and tactics available to help manage stress and feel more emotionally well, even if some of the stressors continue to exist.

The holidays — with pressure to spend money on gifts or entertaining, to be joyous and present a uniformly happy family — are known to be even more stressful for many people. Especially if you or a family member or friend is challenged with mental health issues, or even feeling slightly anxious.

Overall, the biggest message is that you shouldn’t feel you have to figure it all out on your own. Seek help and support from family, friends and community, whether it’s planning a festive potluck holiday dinner with neighbors to take the pressure off, asking for help with childcare, or a ride to work when the car’s in the shop.

Look for other resources. Many community centers offer low-cost or free homework help, youth and senior programs, exercise classes, employment workshops, life skills assistance and more to help individuals feel, if not completely at ease, that they can find support. Sometimes that touch of empathy (and services) can go a long way.

The city of Buffalo offers many programs, including free youth recreation centers and exercise classes.

Senior citizens looking to save money can join the Mayor’s Senior Discount Card Program. Call the Division for Senior Services at 716-851-4141, or visit the city’s website to fill out an application and you’ll receive a card and a booklet with many participating businesses that offer money-saving deals.

There are other types of help to relieve stress.

Crisis Services of Buffalo and Erie County offers a 24-hour hotline — you don’t have to be suicidal or even in crisis to call (716-834-3131); trained volunteers are there to listen and suggest resources if you want them.

It’s common knowledge that exercise, even a little bit, can reduce stress overall. Walking a few minutes a day, at lunchtime, in the evening, in a nearby park, with your partner or a friend, is a way to literally step away and clear your mind, while moving your body.

Experts also suggest identifying what makes you feel the most stressed, then considering solutions. Have trouble sleeping? Don’t watch TV or look at your computer, phone or other device right before trying to sleep. Do something more soothing, like read a book, write in a journal, sip some herbal or decaf tea, or try a simple breathing exercise as you nod off.

Another way of alleviating whatever you’re worried about or stressing over is to write it down, experts suggest — maybe even try completely changing your perspective: make a list of things for which you are grateful.

Being healthier can reduce stress; try to eat as well as you can. This means: less-processed foods, fewer sugary drinks and desserts, and more, higher fiber whole foods. Simply eliminating sugary beverages like sodas “energy drinks,” and juice, and taking in more water and whole fruit is a great place to start.

It’s not easy to give yourself permission to relax, but it’s important. Especially if you are caring for others—you won’t be as effective if you are always running on high stress. Laugh with a friend (in person if possible). Go to an exercise class, try tai chi or yoga, listen to music for 15 minutes (great for the brain!) or even just give yourself time to enjoy a therapeutic shower or bath. Dance in the kitchen.

Once you start implementing some of these things as habits, even if your stresses haven’t gone away, it might be just a tiny bit easier to handle life, and the stresses it may bring. Even in Buffalo.