I’ve been in Edinburgh all weekend for the Edinburgh WordCamp, which was hands-down the best WordCamp all year so far. It rained all weekend but that didn’t make the city any less beautiful and nor did it dampen the spirits of all the attendees. The venue was right beneath the castle and it was inspiring to look up each day and see an imposing castle perched on a craggy cliff-face looming above us. The grey sky added to the atmosphere.
I gave a talk about writing as therapy and my journey into blogging. I started my blog in April 2011 after struggling to deal with anxiety following the Christchurch earthquakes. Writing about my feelings and emotions was therapeutic for me and helped me feel better.
In preparing my talk I wondered whether there was any evidence that writing really does have benefits. It turns out there is. In 1986 an American psychologist, James Pennebaker, published a paper which showed that students who wrote expressively about a traumatic event had fewer physical health problems in subsequent months. Expressive writing really does improve our physical health. It’s thought that when we suppress negative, trauma-related thoughts we compromise our immune function.
There are several similar studies including some which demonstrate benefits in addition to our physical health, like this one which explored expressive writing and job loss. It found that people who had lost their job and wrote about their feelings about losing their job were more likely to be employed again 6 months later.
To get these health benefits from writing the only rule is that it needs to be expressive. Writing about superficial things like what we’re wearing will not have the same benefit. The goal is to not censor yourself. You must really let go and explore your thoughts and feelings. When you explore how you feel it can makes what seems complicated, simple. It doesn’t have to be public and it doesn’t have to be well-written. There are no spelling or grammar rules that need to be followed.
I ended my talk with this Shakespeare quote from Macbeth.
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break
– Macbeth Act IV Scene iii 209
Since I was not volunteering or womanning a booth this time I got to see lots of talks and the standard was very high. I want to give a special shoutout to Bridget Hamilton who runs the Verbal Remedy site and who spoke about using WordPress to create social change. Several of my coworkers also gave terrific talks – Stef, Luminus, Sarah, and Kat. I also learnt a lot from Graham Armfield’s talk about accessibility. There were several others that I also thoroughly enjoyed and they’ll all appear on WordPress TV at some point.
The WordPress Edinburgh team put together a great conference. I’m looking forward to the next one.