Since the pandemic, many people have experienced peaks in depression and anxiety. Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health awareness, screened more than 800,000 people for anxiety and depression from January to September 2020. People are suffering from depression and depression more than ever before. anxiety: especially young people. Our culture has been forced to redefine what we consider “normal”. For this reason, people are turning to new coping mechanisms to help ease pain, and believe it or not, poetry is one of them.
Now I know what you are thinking: how can poetry help people feel better at times like these? No doubt, it’s common knowledge that reading fiction can increase empathy, but what’s so special about poetry – how can it make people feel less alone? Well, over the past few decades, scientific studies have proven that poetry has a beneficial impact on pain management, stress management, and improving personal well-being. Dating back to the 19th century, poetry has been used for healing purposes. Numerous studies have proven that poetry can even help people cope with unexpected or stressful situations: like a global pandemic.
Let’s dive a little deeper and take a look at some specific ways that poetry can help mental health.
Poetry can be a form of comfort. By reading poetry, we can get the escape we crave, transporting ourselves out of our own world and into someone else’s. The repetition and rhyme that is often found in poetry can be calming, and trying to uncover the meaning of a poem can give us a needed break from our inner monologue.
Poetry can also be a shared experience. Poems are often quite vulnerable in nature; as the saying goes, misery loves company. There is something very comforting in knowing that we are not alone, that our pain is shared with someone else. Poetry often reveals that there is universality in the human experience.
Finally, poetry can be a platform for change and advocacy. Many poems creatively tackle subjects that are a bit taboo or not often discussed on other platforms. Depression, anxiety, abuse, poverty: all of these can be found in poetic form, empowering both the poet and the reader.
Despite the positive attributes, poetry can be quite intimidating. Personally, it took me a while to feel comfortable not only reading poetry, but also writing it. Now, poetry is something that I actively enjoy and research regularly. If you’re worried about entering the world of poetry, here are some tips to guide you.
Don’t approach poetry like it’s school. When we learn poetry in academic contexts, we closely study stanzas, form, meter, etc. But if you’re trying to read poetry for fun, obviously the goal isn’t to pass a quiz. So don’t worry about the mechanics, just listen to the words floating off the page.
Likewise, try to read aloud. Again, no pressure: you’re not doing it for a note. But it must be remembered that poetry was in fact an oral tradition before anything else. Reading poetry aloud – savoring every word and every syllable – can make poetry more understandable and, let’s be honest, more fun!
Read poetry from a variety of authors and genres. Expand your horizons by immersing yourself in the poetry of different authors, different eras and different cultures. Don’t settle for classics like Robert Frost and Walt Whitman. Try something new.
Simply put, life is tough: but it’s important to remember that we are not alone. The next time you’re feeling desperate, try delving into the works of a poet. Who knows, you might be inspired to write your own poetry!