How Poetry Helps Me Maintain Mental Wellness
WRITTEN BY SURABHI PANDEY
I don’t remember a time in my life when I was not reading or writing. I grew up in a small district in suburban India. My father is a doctor, and my mother is a teacher. Their jobs are not just work but lifestyle choices that involve a lot of public service, which I am proud of. However, growing up, I spent a lot of alone time at home. I was 11 years old when my elder brother left for the city to pursue higher studies. I think it was around that time that I started writing poetry, using it as a form of meditation and a way to express myself. It gave me a voice.
From my teen years into adulthood, through work struggles and marriage, poetry has been a steadfast friend throughout my life. Today I live in a country that isn’t my home, and poetry draws me closer to my roots. It’s more than poetry—it helps me heal. Below are some ways that poetry helps me maintain mental wellness.
Poetry helps my mind wander.
Discipline is good and so is taming the mind, but sometimes we need to let our brains breathe. When I’m reading or writing poetry, I let my thoughts flow and connect with what is within. Sometimes when I sit down with my laptop to write, I am surprised with what I end up writing—which thoughts rise up that have been waiting to be shared. Letting my mind wander and writing down my innermost thoughts helps me maintain mental balance in my life and get rid of stress. I do this very often to cleanse my mind of negative thoughts.
It helps me access my retrospective and introspective thoughts.
There are several methods of writing poetry that are actually effective wellness exercises. For me, letter poetry works wonders. Letter poetry is basically taking the idea of letter writing and making it informal and spontaneous by using poetic devices. You address it to someone (sometimes even yourself) and write a poem, spilling out your feelings—grudges, complaints, gratitude—whatever is overwhelming you at that point.
Maintaining relationships with friends, families and loved ones can take an emotional toll, making me feel overwhelmed or anxious. When I need to vent, I sit and write letter poetry. Sometimes I mail them, and sometimes I don’t, but it always helps me find closure and peace.
Another effective poetry-writing exercise that helps me is counter-imaginative poetry. Sometimes when I do not agree with someone on an issue, I try to write a poem from that person’s perspective. This gives me a better picture of the whole scenario and helps me understand the other person’s point of view.
Poetry comes from within.
Poetry comes straight from the heart. It is an action of spontaneous expression, and it helps release clogged thoughts. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed by a bad dream or a bad feeling, and I cannot fall back asleep. I simply grab my phone and type out a few lines in my notepad. I read those lines repeatedly and within minutes, I drift off to sleep again. This helps in on-the-spot release of harbored thoughts, almost like an exhale or a breather for the mind. One of the best things about poetry is that it is an all-inclusive art form, and the scope of creativity is vast.
The act of storytelling is therapeutic.
Many of us struggle with feeling excluded or unheard, but poetry allows me to share my story and feel heard and validated. Listening to the narratives of others through poetry can be equally impactful. Belonging to a community often helps my insecurities and discomfort fade away. Attending recitals, discussions, poetry slams, or following an inspiring poet on Instagram gives me a daily dose of “stay happy.”
I would like to sign off with one of my favorite poems by Alex Elle that has helped me face tough times and make difficult decisions:
There will be moments in life
When showing up for yourself
Will mean leaving behind
The people Who don’t