We all need ways of relieving the stress of living with HIV. One of my faves? Every week, about 10 fellow HIVers and I meet at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital Clinic to share our stories in writing. Exploring emotions on paper helps me make sense of them.

A study led by University of Auckland psychologist Keith Petrie, PhD, shows that we may have the write approach. Building on health benefits reported by budding scribes with different diseases, Petrie assigned 37 HIVers to put pen to paper for four 30-minute sessions. Half were told to write objectively about a neutral subject, and half to express buried emotions about HIV or other issues. Not surprisingly, the “emotional” group found the exercise more valuable. The postscript: Over the next six months, these writers’ CD4 counts increased gradually and continuously.

Allan Peterkin, MD, the psychiatrist behind my group, considers Petrie’s study “encouraging and the first showing efficacy for HIVers.” Peterkin has us write with a reader in mind, then read stories aloud to one another. (He’s conducting studies to evaluate the approach.) However, simply confiding your feelings to “Dear Diary” may reduce stress and spell better health.

Try these tips:

Note to self: Keep pens and pads handy so you can scribble when the mood strikes.

Me, myself and I: Write for you and nobody else. Muzzle your inner critic. You can share it or shred it later, but get it out first.

Don’t be afraid of the dark: Sad, mad, bad, scary—let it all hang out. What we resist persists.

Take risks: Writing is an exploration, so go on, dig deep.