One of the things that has really come home for me lately is that grief can make you sick. I know I’ve read of studies that show grieving is stressful and stress impacts our immune system, which, of course, makes us more susceptible to illness. Proverbs 17:22b But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
There are studies that show that sick patients who watched funny movies and videos compared to a control group that watched only serious types of things heal much more quickly. This is shown in the first half of the same verse. Pro 17:22a A joyful heart is good medicine.
So, we know laughter and joy can be healing and we know grief and sadness can help make us sick.
And let’s not forget the power of prayer. They did studies where groups of people were praying for particular patients. none of the patients or the doctors knew which patients were being prayed for and which were not. The patients were selected on the similarities of their conditions and their likelihood to heal. They tried to make it so that all things were as even as possible other than that one single aspect of whether they were prayed for or not. Those who were paid for healed more quickly then those who were not. You can’t call it a placebo effect because nobody knew who was being prayed for except for the people who set it up. Not the patients. Not the doctors. Not the nurses. Not the families of the patients. Not even those praying since the patients were designated by numbers for privacy.
So our health can be impacted by joy, by sadness, by stress, by prayer.
It’s the sadness part of this that prompted this post. I recently became sick. It’s not very often I get sick anymore. I have had to rebuild my body after some very, very stressful years that affected my adrenal system. But I really recovered a lot from that and then all of a sudden got sick. But what happened when I got sick? What was going on in my life at that time? I think it’s important to note that.
Right before I got sick I was going through a week or two of extremely high stress. One issue had to do with a job I knew I could do well and wanted, but which would have impacted another aspect of my life which I also wanted. So, I was trying to find a way to make the two worlds come together and I had to let the job prospect go. While that was stressful and did make me sad, there was a much greater struggle going on… one that brought me to tears more than once, especially when combined with the job struggle.
I was wrestling with a misunderstanding between me and the leaders of a group I really love. My husband and I had been long-distance members of the group for several years and had even considered the possibility of moving down there to be closer to them. The details are not important. What is important is that there was a huge misunderstanding that I was unable to clear up and even my husband becoming involved didn’t clear it up. So, during that time of trying to clear it up I had many times of tears. It was extremely stressful and I got sick. And then, while I was sick, we were, in so many words, told to leave. This was a huge loss and really had me in a lot of grief.
Making the decision to accept things as they are and move on was not easy, but it was necessary. I have regained my pre-sickness health status. But I’ve also noticed something. We can make the decision to move on, but that does not mean grief doesn’t rear its head. Just as in the loss of a loved one, there are things that happen that remind us of the person, or in this case the group, and of the loss. This triggers more grief and understandably so.
I’ve noticed that, when I start to grieve again, I start to feel unwell again. Grief takes its toll on the body. But stuffing what we feel also takes its toll. That, too, has been studied and proven. So, sometimes we’re in a “caught between” kind of situation. Whether we grieve or we stuff the grief, we are under stress.
So, what should we do? I believe, for myself, it is better to acknowledge the grief, cry and let it out and then move on. I think the key is to not allow myself to be stuck in ongoing grief. My body can handle a certain amount of stress, including the stress of grief. What I can’t handle is deep ongoing grief. So, while I may have to revisit it again and again, I don’t have to live in it.
I think it’s also important to point out that diet and lifestyle are also important. If I’m not eating properly and I’m not getting enough rest, that will also tank my immune system and make me susceptible to illness. Plus, if you add a grief on top of that, I’m even more vulnerable to getting sick. I made the mistake of staying up very late the other night to finish a project. That wasn’t too smart since I could have just finished it the next day. Sure enough, during that next day when I was overtired, I saw some things that reminded me again of the loss I have experienced with that group. I could feel the grief affecting my physical body.
If I get nothing else out of this, I am learning that I have to be really diligent about taking care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally and, especially, spiritually. For me, a huge key to handling grief is to accept that God knows what He’s doing. There are things that were revealed through this experience that causes me to think it’s a good thing that we’re no longer part of this group. It also opens up other doors for us that we might not have considered otherwise. Those doors are looking pretty exciting.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens that God does not either cause or allow. What He causes and what He allows He uses for good. Even when we are acting outside of His desire and will for us, He will still use it to teach us, to grow us, to show us something important. So, will I learn the lesson? Will I allow myself to be shaped and molded by His hand? Will I learn to rest in Him, trusting that what I want to hold onto so tightly is something He doesn’t want me to have? Will I trust He has something different for us and maybe even better? Those are all key questions for me to ponder.