Relieving Stress via Poetry

Published by Anne 8 months ago on Fri, Nov 19, 2021 2:11 PM

Stress. You know the drill. In college, there is no shortage of stressors. There’s not enough time, or there’s too much homework, or you’re anxious, or you’re overthinking things. Maybe you’re not even stressed; you’re just unmotivated or homesick. Whatever the case, when those moments come up, I have a little trick that always seems to help: writing a poem. 

For the benefit of anyone who loves poetry as much as I do, or who just needs to try something crazy, challenging, and wonderfully fun, here is a step-by-step guide to handling stress via poetry. 

 Fun fact: This is a certified form of stress-relief… and praise! The Psalms are all about people putting their worries into verse, thereby working through them and bringing them to God. More often than not, the psalmists start off by complaining or mourning, and then finish by remembering God’s promises and who He is (check out Psalm 77; it’s my favorite)

1. Find a pen and a notebook. It’s more fun if you can write in messy handwriting and cross things out. This is a good way to take emotions out on paper. Alternatively, you can try less permanent methods, like typing out your poem, or using a pencil and eraser. (Like I said, it’s not as fun, but you do you.) 

Example: I like finding scrap paper with ragged edges or writing in my sketchbook. Whenever I go back through old notebooks, I find little pieces of paper with poems scribbled all over them, and I can see all my emotions like a disastrous - but not unappealing - work of art. 

2. Start writing. Poetry is all about putting feelings to words. If you like things like metaphors and word images, use them (word pictures are my favorite). But if you don’t care for metaphors, or maybe they just don’t seem very useful, you can write a poem without them.  

 This isn’t as hard as it may seem, but if you’re having trouble, look at it like this: You are merely ranting to your paper. Nobody else ever has to read it, but paper is a pretty good listener.  

Example: Once, I wrote a poem about the poems we were reading in my Spanish class. They were written by abstract contemporary poets, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would care to write a poem that doesn’t rhyme. I do now - I write a lot of free style myself, actually - but past me was confused, to say the least. I just started rambling about it on the side of my Spanish notebook and my rambles did indeed turn into complicated word pictures.  

Tip: Stuck trying to find words that actually describe your stress? is a handy tool! 

3. Make it rhyme. No, not all poetry has to rhyme, and your poem doesn’t have to be good by any means. But it’s the effort that goes into rhyme and/or meter that makes poetry worth your time, especially when you have a lot of thoughts going on in your head. When you have to make your emotions “fit” into a rhyme scheme, you gain some distance and some perspective on them. 

Example: In a poem I wrote about poems that don’t have rhyme (no, there’s no irony there at all), I put my complaints to words. But in order to do that, I had to separate myself from the complaints/feelings themselves and focus instead on whether the words I was using were rhyming. This is what allowed me to work through the feelings, gain perspective, and feel less frustrated. 

Tip: Can’t think of any rhymes? Sometimes I cheat and use It’s a marvelous way to learn vocabulary  :) 

4. Establish a rhythm. Poems have rhythm, like a drum beating with the words. The more it sounds like a song in your head, the better the poem will turn out. If you’re not musical and you’re totally stuck on this, here are three different ideas:  

(1) Think of a song you like, get the tune stuck in your head, and put your own words to it. Write them on the page the way they sound in your head. 

(2) Write one line, count the syllables, and try to make every other line in your poem have the same amount of syllables.  

(3) Look up a specific kind of poem, like a haiku or a diamond poem, and write your poem in this form. It may be trickier to simply ramble if you do this, but it may also be satisfying to make everything fit. 

Tip: You can choose rhyme OR rhythm if it’s proving to be a struggle to do both. Also, if writing a poem is hard, that’s good. This is a healthy mental workout! Don’t be afraid to cross out words (or whole lines) and try something different. 

5. Stop writing. Easy step, right? The nice thing about poems is that they don’t have to be very long or very short or, actually, follow any real rules at all, although there are many, many kinds of poems with different sets of rules which you can follow if that sounds fun, too! Stop at one stanza, stop at two, stop at ten; it doesn’t matter.

6. Give it a title. I like to make my titles point to the deep, hidden, overly-complicated truth of my poem. But you can also give it the obvious and logical title, like “Math” if your poem is about the woes of math, or you can use the first or last line of the poem. 

7. Type it up. Or, just make your poem look pretty in some way, especially if you took my advice, wrote it in pen, and scribbled lots of things out. Type it or rewrite it.  

I mean, if you don’t care whether your poem looks nice because nobody else is ever intended to read it, then don’t bother to rewrite it. On the other hand, you just wrote a poem and that deserves some celebration… so you might as well dress it up a little! 

That’s all, folks! Hopefully that was a fun little stress-relieving challenge  :)