It was a Tuesday, and my anxiety was at an all-time high. I was scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, absorbing each post quickly. I saw my friend’s babies, an old colleague’s wedding, someone’s new puppy and a political commentary or two. Somewhere in my endless consumption, I also came across a poem that caught my attention enough for my mechanical thumb to pause.
The words spoke to the root of my anxiety, which was based in a lingering feeling that I wasn’t deserving of the things I wanted most. “Why even try?” my anxiety asked. But this poem offered me another perspective. It hit me hard — as if it was written just for me at that moment. Most of all, it (and the hundreds of comments beneath it) reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
As a writer, I know firsthand the power words can have. Yet, as someone in a relationship with a stage-five clinger that I like to call anxiety, I also know that you often need to hear it from someone else in order for it to connect. So, I look for relief and repose from other writers, creators and poets.
While reports and studies show that Instagram can be harmful to mental health, I’d argue that there are a few silver linings — and that the rise of Instagram poetry is one of them. Poetry, as an art form, can be a connective thread that soothes sadness, adds hope on hard days and reminds us of our humanity.
As Harpreet M. Dayal, an interdisciplinary artist and poet put it, Instagram poetry’s ascension has “created opportunities for writers to build a community and find a place where their words mean something to people.” It’s also a place that means a lot to Dayal.
When Dayal moved from the U.K. to Canada to be with her husband, she used writing on Instagram as a form of therapy to overcome her fears and uncertainty of starting over in a new city (and country).
“I found refuge in words,” Dayal told HuffPost. “It was my way of making sense of and dealing with fear, and it became a way to slowly open myself up to change as I stepped into the next phase of my life.”
Dayal isn’t the only one who has turned to Instagram poetry during life’s challenging phases. Josefina Sanders, otherwise known as @loveoffering on Instagram, turned her grief into poetry and shared it on Instagram after suffering her first miscarriage with her husband.
“My battle with mental health was what led me to write poetry,” Sanders said. “It was terrifying being this vulnerable, but I found some of my very best friends over Instagram by opening up about my loss, mental health and healing journey.”
Jon Lupin, who goes by @The_PoetryBandit, said posting his work and interacting with others who are going through the same thing saved his life. Lupin, who was one of the original “instapoets” along with Tyler Knott and Christopher Pointdexter, turned to Instagram in 2014 to help him navigate alcohol misuse.
Lupin, whose father was a musician, started writing songs at the age of 14 to follow in his dad’s footsteps. But then, in Lupin’s late 30s, he struggled with alcoholism, which he said stole much of the joy he had in his past hobbies.
“In 2014 I had finally had enough of drinking and picked up the pen and paper again to help me get through the detox, shame, guilt and stress that quitting a substance can take,” Lupin said. “While I started writing again to save my life, now I share and write so that I can help others and pass on a message of hope.” Today, Lupin is six years sober.
Experts also see the therapeutic effects poetry can have on someone struggling with their mental health. Whitney Goodman, a certified marriage and family therapist in Florida, believes poetry can make you feel less alone, more understood and even inspire you to make a change.
“Writing or poetry allows people to see things through the lens of another person and say things like, ‘Wow I feel that too,’” Goodman said. “Plus, writing is a cathartic and widely used tool in psychotherapy, and seeing other people’s poetry or writing can inspire someone to write their own.”
“I found refuge in words. It was my way of making sense of and dealing with fear, and it became a way to slowly open myself up to change as I stepped into the next phase of my life.”
While many would likely agree on the positive impact poetry can have on mental health, they may question whether Instagram is the right place for it — given what we know about the harm it can cause. From Goodman’s perspective, Instagram (and social media) can be what you make of it.
“Social media can be a great tool for connection,” Goodman said.
Today there are over 1.3 billion people on Instagram. One might argue this makes poetry and helpful content more accessible. Contrary to much of what we tend to see on the platform, the rise of poetry on Instagram has also paved the way for people to step away from filters and curated content and show up authentically where they are.
“I would like to think that instapoetry brings people together and challenges us to be OK with our journey,” said Sanders, who has seen this togetherness firsthand. When she first shared about her miscarriage on Instagram, many people (even strangers) surrounded her with love.
“As I continued opening up and sharing more, I found beauty and healing through intimate connection,” she said. “Now, knowing that I am not alone keeps the fire burning.”
Dayal too uses Instagram poetry as a reminder that she is not alone. “To see myself, my experiences and my trauma in someone else’s words serves as an awakening for my healing, self-reflection and self-discovery,” she said. And, on the other end, writing and sharing her own work also empowers Dayal by giving her a tool to take charge of her life and tell her story on her terms.
Lupin added that at least once a week someone reaches out to tell him how his poetry helped them with a realization about their drinking habits or their mental health — or that of a loved one.
“I’ve helped so many people over the past seven years I’ve lost count,” Lupin said. Even famed researcher and author Brené Brown is on board; she shared one of Lupin’s posts about vulnerability in the fall of 2020.
There’s no question that Instagram has its flaws and that serious changes need to be made. While that may take time, one change can be made today — and that’s how we interact with the platform. Consider curating the content you want to see by following accounts that flood your feed with positive posts.
At the end of the day, I’d like to believe that spreading poetry on Instagram might be one small way to remind each other that we’re all just humans trying to find our way, to make sense of our changing realities, and to find somewhere we belong.
Ready to curate your feed with more poetry? Here are some poets to follow: