Whilst lying dozing in my bed at the end of my day listening to the radio (because of the effort of watching television at that time of night ) I was suddenly aware of the mention of Rheumatoid Disease on a BBC programme called “All in The Mind”, so dragged myself into a sitting position to better listen !
What I heard was amazing piece of research done recently with RA patients on the connections between the mind, the brain and the rest of the body which all appear to be linked. It may surprise you to know that Expressive Writing seems to relieve pain and alleviates other symptoms of this chronic condition. Researchers believe that doing this Expressive Writing mitigates conscious and unconscious stresses that suppress the immune function and cause inflammation. This was first discovered in the late 1980’s by Dr.James Pennebaker who revealed striking benefits on writing about trauma.
OK, so how do you and I go about this ? Pennebaker’s study has recently been updated by the University of Nottingham who gave two separate groups some pieces of paper and a pencil. One group with RD and one group with asthma. Each group was then split into 2 halves. One half had to write about a really traumatic happening in their lives for 20 minutes each day over four days. You just had to pour your heart out on either one particular traumatic event or four separate ones, not bothering to stop for punctuation, spelling or grammar. The other group had to write a diary of their day so far. Then all of them were given a 4mm punch biopsy on their upper inner arm under anaesthetic and they were left to heal for 10 days.
The results were startling ! The group that did the Expressive Writing did not heal one day faster, not even two — they healed six times faster than the second group !! The same result applied even if the biopsy was given before the expressive writing.
Further amazing results followed in that it didn’t matter if you wrote with a keyboard or spoke into a recorder and they found that it boosted thinking ability, improved working memory, reduced tension, pain and fatigue, enhanced sleep quality and mood quality and had a positive influence on the immune system function ! The group who just wrote a daily diary had no improvements at all.
Participants were checked at ten days, one month and four months. The asthma patients definitely responded faster than the ones with RD, but the effects on them all were really noticeable at four months .
So it would seem that writing about your darkest memories can have a huge effect on your immune system . It’s said that it’s like releasing a valve on a pressure cooker with all your negative memories and this somehow enhances the immune system.
The downside of this is the researchers are not sure how long the effect lasts, but there is no reason at all why you cannot repeat the experiment without the biopsy. Here is how to do it:
Day One & Two: Your writing should xplore your deepest emotions and thoughts by really letting go about the most traumatic emotions in your real life (and us RD patients have plenty of those to draw on !!). You could link your writing to your future, who you would like to become or who you would like to be and why.
Day 3. You could write about the same trauma from another point of view or how this event changed your life and explore especially such deep issues as make you very vulnerable.
Day 4. Be really honest with yourself and try to say what actions you are taking to wrap up these events or to say how they will benefit you in the future.
THEN THROW THE FOUR PIECES OF PAPER AWAY !! Make sure you only write for 20 minutes over four consecutive days.
The bad news, apart from them not knowing how long he effects last, is that they are not sure how Expressive Writing has these effects on the immune system, but they are saying that they think if repeated it will not be any different to the outcomes above. Also journal writing is NOT the same as Expressive Writing. So if you are going to have surgery, or start a new medication, it might be worth while trying this over four days. Let me know how you get on !
(You can also get a Podcast of this BBC Radio 4 Programme on All in the Mind and by Googling Expressive Writing and RA)
I wonder if writing my Blog has any effect – but it does spur me on just in case !