Like music, art, and movement, writing can be a natural and liberating form of self-expression. Indeed, expressive writing has been used as a form of therapy for decades to process and refine challenging emotions in our lives.
Introduced in the late 1980s by James Pennebaker as a therapeutic practice, he used writing therapy to help participants cope with depression or anxiety, discussing day-to-day challenges or merely venting. This enabled them to better deal with the trauma they were writing about, even if the event was painful. It helped them find resolve, closure and meaning, all of which helped to improve their mental health.
Blogging as a platform for expression and release
Traditionally, expressive writing has taken the form of keeping a journal and writing by hand. Since the explosion of blogging platforms such as WordPress, however, blogging has become immensely popular as a form of expression and release. Not only does it offer a platform to express yourself, but it has the added ability to connect with other people going through a similar experience.
Opening the blog to public comment allows for an added sense of community and empathy. Many bloggers also use these online forums to provide resources for those who are new to the process.
For the detractors that doubt its value, there’s hard evidence that backs up the notion of blogging being as effective, if not more so, than traditional journals or other forms of writing. Dr Alice Flaherty, a neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard University, believes that blogging might trigger a release of dopamine in the brain, not unlike the stimulants produced by running, listening to music, or playing video games.
The potential health benefits are also nothing to be sneezed at. Research has shown that short-term focused writing about emotions can lower blood pressure, enhance immune function, decrease heart rate, and reduce asthma and arthritis symptoms, among others. Also, some people may find the anonymity of blogging supportive too, as they can express themselves more freely without being concerned about others, such as friends and family, knowing their thoughts.
How to start
Once you feel ready to tell and share your story, you can follow these basic writing guidelines to get going:
- Introductory sentence. Your opening sentence should aim to draw your readers in from the outset. You don’t need to shock them; a simple and honest statement will do the trick.
- Events and experiences. Build your story around significant events or experiences about which you’d like to write. Briefly describe your feelings, changes in your life or even tips you’d like to share. Keep it uncomplicated and stay focused, so that it’s easy for readers to follow the narrative.
- Read your blogpost. Once you’re done writing, read through the blogpost to make sure you haven’t repeated yourself. Look at it from a reader’s perspective and ask yourself whether it’ll make sense to them.
- Edit. Make any changes or improvements that you think are needed. This part can be the most difficult of the blogging process, but also the most rewarding. If you trust someone for a second opinion, let them have a look at it too.
- Length. Aim for a word count of between 600 and 1,000 words for maximum exposure.
Free sites such as WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger are all useful platforms on which to publish a blog. If you’re a newbie, you’ll want a platform that’s easy to set up, has a low learning curve and doesn’t require any coding. Do some research on all the popular blogging platforms and decide which one best meets your needs and abilities. WordPress is probably the most user-friendly out there not need any coding knowledge. For example, if you want to add a slideshow to your post, you can simply use a slider plugin for WordPress and the tool does most of the job.
There’s a lot of value in sharing and writing about your experiences and, since blogging and other social media are here to stay, could prove to be an effective and gratifying release valve. So why wait any longer? Start blogging for self-improvement.
Robert Hart works for TopLine Comms.