By Scott Scanlon // refresh Editor
When the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists in 2001 not far from Lauren Belfer’s New York City home, the celebrated author happened to be back in her hometown of Buffalo.
As she tried to make sense of what had happened, she found some comfort in the pews at Trinity Episcopal Church on Delaware Avenue, whose stained glass windows were part of the inspiration for her novel “City of Light.”
The Rev. Cam Miller understood why she was there. The Trinity rector said he sometimes finds himself in the pews at the back of his church when he wants to collect his thoughts.
“I almost never get to sit in the back,” he said with a smile.
Thankfully, not all of our unease is grounded in the kind of tragedy that brought Belfer into Trinity church, but the lesson of her visits remain: All of us need places we can go to peel away our stress and recharge our mental batteries.
“Stress is like the wind. We might not always know where it’s coming from but we know it’s there, and the fact that it’s there means we have to do something about it,” said Linda Rumbold, a licensed clinical social worker at Jewish Family Services.
“If people don’t learn how to reduce their own stress and what works for them, then they put themselves at great risk,” Rumbold said. “People think of heart attack and stroke and chronic illnesses, but something as little as your ability to heal from a cold or a cut on your finger is impaired by the amount of stress that you experience. That’s why it’s important people learn about stress reduction.”
Think of your life as four parts of a pie: your physical self, your thoughts, your feelings and your spirituality.
“You can’t have something happen to one section of the pie without it affecting all sections of the pie,” which makes it important to pay attention to all four parts, Rumbold said.
All four can be nurtured by the kind of solace that abounds in Western New York.
For many of us, it is the recliner in the living room. The patio where we can watch the birds slice through the spring and summer air. The hiking and bike paths where time and distance can move as quickly, or slowly, as we please.
Farther afield, it’s parts of Goat Island, where the brush and trees muffle the roar of the nearby Niagara River rapids. Or outside Chestnut Ridge casino, where the sweep of the region spills out before our very eyes. Or along the shores, or in the midst, of two Great Lakes.
“Stillness and quiet offer you the opportunity to catch up with yourself,” Miller said.
At Trinity, you can gaze at the windows in solitude on weekdays from pews that have been touched by the hands of people coming to pray at the church since 1869.
“When you go in and you sit down, and you realize that people have been coming here for 150 years and the wood hasn’t been changed much,” Miller said, “you have a sense of time. That’s what happens when you’re by the ocean or a canyon. … Hopefully, it’s like looking up at the stars, like feeling the things that you contend with are quite a bit smaller than the rest of the universe.”
Rumbold said it’s important several times a day to take time to de-stress – and use the time wisely.
It shouldn’t be seen as work.
“You’re trying to achieve that peaceful feeling,” she said. “You don’t say, ‘I’m going to run three times a week’ but instead, ‘I’m going to run three times a week with the intent to practice good self-care. And when I’m out there running, I’m going to be in the present … which is 100 percent effective in reducing the stress. Because if I’m out there running and I’m thinking about my meeting at 9, the job interview at noon and the kids sick at home, I’m not running for anything except all those things. I’m not running with the intent to reduce my stress.”
Where you find solace is up to you.
Everybody has stress. But Rumbold said if you ignore it, “It’s like having a bottle of Coke that you shake up. It’s only going to be a matter of time before the top pops off.”