Roanoke hospital patients, visitors set burdens on fire to relieve stress

Twice a year, the Burden Boat at Carilion Roanoke Memorial is set ablaze

ROANOKE, Va. – We may think only major stressors, like getting fired, financial difficulties or medical issues, may be the ones that significantly impact our lives, but experts say even small stressors can impact our long-term health if we hold on to how they make us feel.

Holding onto stress increases the risk of cardiovascular issues, anxiety and depression, as well as chronic pain. 

Being able to eliminate that stress along with those risks is the goal of the Burden Boat project at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The project encourages people to say goodbye to whatever burden is weighing on them, whether it’s large or small. As they pass through the lobby of the hospital for work, on their way to visit a family member or friend, or headed to their own appointment, community members are encouraged to write what’s weighing on them on a scrap of paper and place it in the Burden Boat. 

“There are some times when we can’t take action or the circumstances surrounding the stress are out of our control," says Katie Biddle, coordinator for the healing arts program. “That is the case of people coming and out of the hospital environment, so that can take a toll on us emotionally, mentally, and physically and really impact our daily function.”

Twice a year, the boat filled with hundreds and sometimes thousands of burdens is carried down to the healing garden at the hospital and all of those burdens are set on fire. Biddle says it’s a healthy way to part with the things that are weighing on us, having a negative impact on our emotional and physical health. 

While those negative impacts are relatively well-known, she says stress is a normal part of our everyday lives. Stress can also be a positive force in our lives, helping us take action and becoming a motivating factor to make a change when it’s called for.

She says for some of us, that’s not the case. When that stress starts to affect our everyday lives, it’s time to address it. 

“One of the most important things to do is actually acknowledge that we are experiencing the stress,” says Biddle. “In terms of the Burden Boat, it actually takes a lot of courage for people to come in and acknowledge those stresses and choose to release them. Some of us hold onto those and we’re not aware of it, we might hold onto those burdens for years. So the first step is to acknowledge that it’s there.”

It’s a first step that doesn’t necessarily need to be a grand gesture, and can be done from home, in the office, or wherever you feel safe. She says once we address that the stressor is there, the best way to deal with it will be different for each of us. Finding a positive way to address and part with the stress can have major benefits our health, both right away and in the long term.