I first started writing poetry to express my emotions about a relationship, my tongue tying in knots every time those words were to be said out loud. This was a trend for many years (and still is!), but once I hit college, I began to branch out more, especially after the release of my first book, Her Favorite Color Was Sunshine Yellow. I continued writing poetry because I was in awe of how each word chosen in a short poem can pack in more meaning than an entire story. But I never realized how much more meaning was within each poem I wrote until I began my brainstorming for Poetic Potential.
It finally hit me during early stages of research that poetry was doing wonders for my mental health, especially in peak pandemic times. Add in days spent in isolation, a world of uncertainty, and my own overthinking tendencies, and you would think my mental health would suffer dramatically. But poetry was what kept me afloat and what has benefited me over the past eight years. I may not have realized it until recently, but now that I have, I want to share the wonders with the world.
How Poetry & Mental Health are Connected
Think about a time where something has frustrated you, annoyed you, or angered you to the point where you could scream. How great does it feel to release that from your chest by ranting to someone you trust about your troubles? A metaphorical (or literal) scream can alleviate some of the pressure you feel because you are no longer carrying that burden alone. You are Sisyphus but, with the help of a friend, you are able to push the boulder over the top of the hill and feel that sweet escape.
The same goes for writing. I will speak broadly because many people use journaling as their form of expressive writing (a term coined by Dr. James Pennebaker) but poetry was my tactic on a personal level. Putting a pen to paper is the same type of release as ranting to your friends but better – all because the thoughts are left between you and yourself.
Why is it better to keep some thoughts to yourself? That depends. Sometimes, you don’t feel comfortable sharing troubled thoughts out loud. Other times, you need to figure out exactly what is going on before you speak up. I’ve been there frequently – writing through my emotions and trying to determine what the root cause could be. Poetry has been my outlet to freely and safely work through those thoughts without worrying about judgment from others.
Poetry as an Escape from Loneliness
When I was in an isolation period for the coronavirus, it was a lonely time – no one else but me in a small room, trying to maintain a happy facade while taking classes, working out, and eating in the same place for days. What saved me was a notebook, pen, and writing session when the stress reached a boiling point.
Poetry was my way of forgetting about the mental hardships I was facing. It allowed me to enter a new world, surrounded by a blank slate of paper, where I was able to dictate my own story and work through my own thoughts. Yes, there were many times when I tackled the situation I was facing in a notebook, but it made the whole ordeal seem much less daunting. It made me feel less alone.
Not Only Reading Books in a New World
Reading was always my solace in a chaotic place. I liked being able to curl up in a cozy armchair, block out the noise around me, and lose myself in a new story. But once I began my exploration with poetry, it made more sense to face the problems head-on and work through them rather than ignore them by escaping reality for a while.
Don’t get me wrong – reading to escape the world is a tactic I still use, but you always have to come back up for air and face your struggles eventually. Why not give yourself a head start?
Famous Poems on Mental Health
Many poets struggled with mental health issues. Luckily for us, they led to some beautiful poems, either solely dedicated to the issue or woven in with a subtle theme. Here are some of my favorites:
- Emily Dickinson, “The Soul has Bandaged moments”
- Ada Limón, “The Conditional”
- Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”
Want to Learn More?
To learn more about the mental health benefits of poetry, check out chapter 4 of my new book, Poetic Potential: Sparking Change & Empowerment Through Poetry.
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