How Taylor Swift's Songs Heal Your Mental Health & Inspire Environmental Activism

January 31, 2022

I know, I know. Another article praising the woman who is the music industry, Taylor Swift. And though I could certainly write a lengthy, detailed piece about her latest re-recorded album Red (Taylor’s Version), or the path she has forged for women, her advocacy supporting LGBTQ+ rights, or even how she exposes so much darkness in the music industry, I will not do so (this time). Instead, something I do want to cover is the way her music has affected mental health as well as the health of the planet. It is my personal opinion that anyone can be a Taylor Swift fan and can easily and wholeheartedly connect to her lyrics. Although some may not be able to attach meaning to her words surrounding breakups and relationships, the way Swift sings about nature doesn’t only improve mental health but further encourages the environmentalist fight. Her lyrics have always made us feel things, but now they will reconnect us with what’s important instead of merely our ex partners.

Americans of all ages and musical preferences can acknowledge Swift is one of the most popular, successful, and influential people in music. Her most recent work exemplifies her affiliation with nature and is coincidentally argued by critics as her best work to date in all aspects. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone wrote that Swift’s successful eighth album Folklore released during the summer of 2020 as a collection of quarantine imagination is her “…deepest collection of songs she’s ever come up with.”

For people like me, who are already overly impassioned about combating climate change and other issues affecting our home and its inhabitants, Swift’s writing has reinstated the desire all over again. When Folklore was released in the height of quarantine and the start of a tumultuous college semester, both times in my personal life that were not optimal for spending time outdoors, I was instantly transported into an imaginary utopia. The tracks on this record reference the outdoors and made me feel at home. Taylor Swift’s music has been a mental health band-aid for me throughout the entirety of her career, and since the addition of lyrics that align with my values, it has been even more of an escape. With lyrics like “Please picture me/ In the trees I hit my peak at seven feet/ In the swing/ Over the creek I was too scared to jump in/ But I, I was high in the sky/ With Pennsylvania under me/ Are there still beautiful things?” (from the song Seven in Swift’s eighth studio album Folklore), audiences are transported into a nature-filled childhood memory.

Swift also writes in her newest version of the song “All Too Well” in her critically acclaimed album Red, which she rerecorded in November of last year, “Autumn leaves fallin’ down like pieces into place/ And I can picture it after all these days.” In “Invisible String,” (Folklore) she sings, “Green was the color of the grass/ Where I used to read at Centennial Park/ I used to think I would meet somebody there.” Similarly, “The Lakes” beautifully and eloquently depicts a story of escaping from reality into nature in order to gain more inspiration. Swift sings, “I want auroras and sad prose/ I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet/ ‘Cause I haven’t moved in years/ And I want you right here/ A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground/ With no one around to tweet it/ While I bathe in cliffside pools/ With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief.” These songs are only a few examples of work Swift has produced with lyrics surrounding outdoor scenery and I implore all of you to search for a new favorite song. Its impact may have more value than you think. These are the type of songs I listen to on the car on the way to exams, interviews, and first days to make me feel less nervous. The songs I sing ecstatically out loud while cooking with my sister (and sometimes my dad if it’s “Cardigan”). The songs I cry to with my best friends because they just mean that much to us. Although I am not suggesting that these songs will have the same affect on all fans, it does have favorable effect on our wellness and that of the planet.

Nature can have an extremely powerful impact on mental health. There are a plethora of studies that show why our environment holds so many benefits. One suggests it is in fact a human instinct: “the biophilia hypothesis argues that since our ancestors evolved in wild settings and relied on the environment for survival, we have an innate drive to connect with nature.” The American Psychological Association also claims that “…exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” These studies have been linked to green spaces like forests and and parks, and with blue spaces like oceans and other bodies of water. Additionally, The American Psychological Association claims “… that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.” Also, studies demonstrate that even hearing nature sounds can improve one’s mental health. Ergo, hearing lyrics about nature can also improve one’s mood. Swift is now bringing nature back into our ears and into our hearts.

According to Jeff Opperman of The New York Times, “Ms. Swift uses nature-themed words seven times as frequently as the other pop songs do,” fighting the steady decline of our society’s connection to nature. Opperman continues to explain that “American children now spend an average of only four to seven minutes per day playing outdoors, compared with over seven hours per day in front of a screen. By now, they are far better at identifying corporate logos than native plants or animals; they can tell the difference between an Apple and a Coke, but not a maple from an oak.” When nature is immersed in people at a young age, it leaves a lasting and impressive impact. In a Danish study, researches used data to assess citizen’s exposure to green areas and were able to come to the conclusion that “…children who lived in neighborhoods with more green space had a reduced risk of many psychiatric disorders later in life, including depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and substance use disorder.” Since 1950, words associated with nature in pop culture have diminished, which may be a factor in deterioration of actual nature. With lyrics about nature in steady decline, there is much of a less of a burning passion to save said nature. Lucky for us, Swift has reemerged this type of conversation. She has made her lyrics about nature more accessible than in the past, as she includes urban and suburban versions like such as parks in big cities. This ensures more audience engagement as it is that much more relatable to people in all circumstances.

While including snippets of nature-filled lyrics is not going to cure mental illness, or solve climate change, it is absolutely a step forward in reintroducing important topics back into pop culture. Catchy, powerful, chart-topping song lyrics make great strides in solving global climate crises and providing mental health resources, both issues that potentially thrive with these euphoric topics. In all honesty, at risk of this piece reading as a love letter to Taylor Swift, I am a forever fan for the way she has transformed the music industry, her incomparable songwriting, and her fierce defense of herself and issues that matter to her. The additional benefits people can now obtain from listening to her music is the cherry on top of her already tight hold on my heart. Her work is impressive, intriguing and other artists would be wise to be inspired by the work of Taylor Swift.

Finally, to anyone by the name of Damon Albarn, these lyrics were all written by Taylor Swift herself.

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Photo: Taylor Swift via Instagram

Abbey Serio
Abbey is a recent college graduate based in Southern California who is extremely passionate about sustainability and zero waste. She has been vegan for over 4 years and loves animals. In her free time Abbey can be found hiking, reading, listening to music, experimenting with new vegan recipes, gardening, and spending time with friends and family. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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