What happens to your immune system and overall health when you write about painful emotions and traumatic events? That was the question researchers from the University of Auckland, in Auckland, New Zealand, wanted to have answered when they gathered thirty-seven men with HIV infection and asked them to write about their painful past.
The scientists were particularly interested in a specific immune cell in the body, known as CD4 cell. CD4 is the commanding general of the immune system. It organizes and directs the system’s attack against any threat to the body. In men with HIV, CD4 cells typically decline in number, especially as the illness advances.
The researches asked the men to write for thirty minutes a day, for four days in a row. The researchers measured the CD4 counts and the HIV load before and after the writing sessions. They also measured them again at three months and again at six months.
The study, published in the medical journal, Psychosomatic Medicine (March-April, 2004), reported that the emotional writing significantly increased CD4 levels, and decreased HIV viral load. Moreover, the researchers found that the results of the emotional writing held over time. The CD4 cell counts remained elevated at three months and at six months.
Interestingly, when the researchers compared these results with the effects on the immune system from non-emotional writing — that is to say, writing about things that had no emotional content – they found that the non-emotional writing had no affect on the immune system, or on the HIV virus.
Other studies have supported these findings, including a report published in the journal Health Psychology (July 2006), which showed that even emotional writing via e-mail is associated with improved immune response. That study not only showed improved immune response, but also other health parameters reported by the study participants.
The bottom line. Write a lot, and put as many of your intense emotions on the page. Shout in writing, curse if you feel like it, cry through your pen – but get those emotions out. The power of your immune system, and your overall health, can be dramatically improved, just by speaking your truth. Your pen can be mighty medicine. Your truth can set you free.