The situation

According to Kaiser Permanente, low stress levels are vital to a healthy immune system. One overlooked skill that may help medical patients lower stress levels and strengthen their overall health is the ability to lament their illnesses.

For patients with common maladies (arthritis, anxiety), there is a relatively straightforward solution: visit the doctor, receive a prescription drug or recommended treatment plan, and implement it. However, for those who receive long-term care for less responsive forms of chronic illness, the way forward is more complex and requires a unique level of endurance. Sometimes a doctor gives an elimination diagnosis for a condition like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), fibromyalgia, or digestive disorders. This diagnosis encompasses a list of symptoms but doesn’t have all the information needed to identify a root cause. This can cause stress.

According to Kaiser, this kind of stress can build high cortisol levels in the brain and lead to further disease. What patients do not always remember is that health and wellness is a journey, and reducing their own stress levels and expectations are paramount for their health.

Why lamenting matters

To lament is to mourn or give expression to some inner sorrow. The long-term endurance required of patients with chronic illness often produces high levels of stress that can cause stomach ulcers, sleep deprivation, and other diseases. Because of this, grief requires cathartic release.

One patient who found renewed purpose after lamenting his illness was Russ Ramsey, an open-heart surgery patient, author, and speaker. After experiencing post-surgery depression, he published Struck through InterVarsity Press—a chronicle of real-time reactions to undergoing and recovering from surgery. Articulating his honest reflections through writing was healing for Ramsey, and when asked what the hardest emotion was to express, he confessed it was grief.

“Grief is consuming… Something happens, and our whole selves respond,” said Ramsey, a patient of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Because of the adverse effects stress can cause the human body, there are ways patients can express their grief outwardly, instead of carrying it inside.

“I needed to lament… I needed to complain to God about my sorrow,” said Ramsey, describing his experience of challenging the foundations of what he believed to be true. This soul-searching led to a strengthened faith and sense of community centered on honest communication about suffering.

How to lament

Here are three ways you can lament, as a way to express and release stress from grief:

  • Document your pain through therapeutic writing (letter form, memoir, poetry)
  • Honestly express yourself to a psychological counselor
  • Find a place of solitude—a park or retreat center—where you can cry, pray, soul-search

Last week, I saw my primary care physician at Kaiser to request a CT scan. Thus far, all my tests had come back normal, and the muscular and digestive pain had been diagnosed as IBS. My physician referred me to Kaiser’s wellness classes to learn about pain management and nutrition. As I prepared to leave, my eyes filled with tears, and the doctor’s tone changed as the compassionate look in her eyes recognized my need to lament. The drive home was emotional. But it relieved the pent-up anger and sadness in my body, transitioning me to a place of acceptance and renewed endurance.

Lamenting your loss of health is important to both your immune system and overall health journey. After doing so, you can continue to move forward with great courage and hope.

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Logo   Bailey Gillespie is a writing instructor at William Jessup University and a freelance academic editor. She lives near Sacramento, California and loves connecting with people over health, creativity, and faith. Recently, her writing has appeared on The Rabbit Room, The Deeply, Co., and Simple and Soul. Read more at baileygillespie.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads.