Penning your emotions could help healing

Doctoral candidate Hayley Robinson and Associate Professor Elizabeth Broadbent, Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences have published research that suggests writing emotionally about past stressful events helps with wound recovery.

Head and torso portrait of Elizabeth Broadbent and Hayley Robinson.
Associate Professor Elizabeth Broadbent and PhD Candidate, Hayley Robinson.

Could writing about your most stressful and traumatic memories help you heal quicker? The latest research suggests so.

Have a surgery coming up? Then you may want to break out the diary.

New University of Auckland-led research has suggested writing emotionally about past stressful events in the lead-up to a wound can help you recover faster.

The study, published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, was led by doctoral candidate Hayley Robinson and Associate Professor Elizabeth Broadbent, working alongside Professor Kavita Vedhara of the University of Nottingham and Counties Manukau dermatologist Dr Paul Jarrett.

Recruiting 122 Auckland participants, the aim of the study was to explore whether expressive writing could speed wound healing when done either before or after biopsy surgery.

Each person was allocated to one of four groups; expressive writing pre-or post biopsy, or neutral writing pre-or post biopsy.

Expressive groups were asked to write about their “deepest thoughts and feelings about a traumatic, upsetting experience" in their life.

The subject was ideally not something participants had talked about with anyone else in detail, and all groups were asked to write for a three-day period either before or after receiving a 4mm punch biopsy in their inner upper arm.

Results were substantially different between the groups.

More than half of those who had written expressively before the biopsy healed in 10 days, compared to only 27 percent who did the same afterward.

For those that undertook neutral writing, 15 percent from the 'before' group healed in 10 days and 23 percent from the 'after' group.

“It’s quite powerful, it’s quite emotional when you do it and it’s kinda like ‘oh, ok, now I’ve got all of this off my chest’ and you feel better after you’ve finished it and worked through all these things.”

Robinson said that while there had been research done into the effects of expressive writing and the psychological benefits there was little research on how it might influence wound healing and whether it mattered if it was done before or after.

When people wrote about something stressful or traumatic it brought up emotions that made them feel down or distressed.

But working through these issues usually meant people bounced back soon after and it was likely this emotional change assisted the healing process.

She said it had been found that stress caused a physiological change in the body that slowed healing, so doing something that reduced it was beneficial.

“It’s quite powerful, it’s quite emotional when you do it and it’s kinda like ‘oh, ok, now I’ve got all of this off my chest’ and you feel better after you’ve finished it and worked through all these things.”

Prudence Lennox, vice-president of the New Zealand Wound Care Society, said the research highlighted the potential links between psychological interventions and clinical outcomes.

“We’re very supportive of research into wound healing, and this research is promising based on healthy volunteers with small acute wounds.

“Further testing on clinical populations wit surgical or chronic wounds is required alongside proper treatment of underlying health issues."

 

Associate Professor Elizabeth Broadbent and Hayley Robinson are from the School of Medicine at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

Used with permission from NewsroomPenning your emotions could help healing published on Tuesday 16 May 2017.