There are countless ways to unwind and de-stress nowadays, with hobbyist gamers, musicians, and chefs all using different extracurricular activities to unplug and unwind from the outside world. However, photography is a creative pursuit that is just as healing for mental health issues, as we’ll discuss in this article.
Depression is a serious mental illness that affects millions of people around the world. It can cause hopelessness and despair and even lead to suicide. While traditional treatments such as therapy and medication can help, some people are turning to photography as a way to cope with depression. Photography has long been used as a form of therapy, and for people with depression, it can be a powerful tool for self-expression. By taking photos of the things that make them feel happy, sad, or angry, people with depression can begin to process their emotions more meaningfully.
The simple act of picking up a camera and snapping a picture has benefits that go far beyond the here and now, with proven benefits for both physical and psychological health. In this article, we’ll be exploring the mental health benefits of photography.
1. Photography combines the technical and creative
First off, we need to recognize that the art of taking photos is as much a creative pursuit as it is a technical one. It requires mastery of composition, lighting, and using knowledge of these elements to capture your creative masterpiece. Once you reach this level of mastery, there’s a certain feeling of satisfaction, and this accomplishment can work wonders for your self-confidence.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a newly minted rookie, there’s always something to learn when it comes to capturing new perspectives as a photographer. As time wears on during your photography journey, the focus becomes less on the technical and more on the creative. While learning technical mastery is a key part of your beginning phase in photography, the creative mind releases a flood of endorphins and boosts self-esteem.
2. Photography is a flow-state activity
A flow-state activity can be defined as a state of mind where the user is solely focused on a single task and blocking out any distractions. This usually involves a heightened state of ‘mindfulness’ and has its roots in the positive psychology community. Flow-state tasks are usually challenging, rewarding, and in-depth.
Approaching your photography as a flow-state activity can be highly beneficial for your mental health as it brings a deep sense of focus, persistence, and most importantly, enjoyment. Being mindful when you’re out shooting forces you to engage your subconscious mind and appreciate the moments playing out in front of you.
Studies show that taking pictures places certain cognitive demands on our brains, which in turn improves our memory and critical reasoning skills. Whether you’re a street photographer hunting down the perfectly timed street capture, or a landscape photographer chasing the perfect sunset, simply practicing your photography can put you into a flow state that is proven to be beneficial for mental health.
3. Photography allows you to document the important moments in your life
Documenting your memories through photography is a great way to build a capsule on which you can look back for years to come. These visual keepsakes allow us to reflect on the past and re-live the emotions we felt in those moments while taking those pictures. The emotional connections between our captures and our memories are a beautiful byproduct of practicing the art of photography.
Through the good times and the bad, looking back on the images that you take on a daily basis can provide a positive outlook and help you process feelings of depression and anxiety which might be weighing you down.
4. Photography gets you moving
The body-mind connection is a key component of mental health, and photography (depending on the genre) is one of the few disciplines that requires you to constantly move to truly progress in your craft. Perhaps with the exception of studio photography, many other genres require you to get out of your comfort zone and use nothing more than your own two feet to find the perfect angle for your shot.
More adventurous photographers might find themselves crouching, climbing, or shuffling to get the perfect composition. There is certainly something to be said for the breed of wildlife and landscape photographers who regularly escape the city to explore the great outdoors. However, street photography can be just as beneficial in terms of connecting with your lived environment. The link between the physical and psychological effects of photography on health is well-documented, and photography is the perfect vehicle to get some steps in while honing your creative craft.
5. Photography allows you to connect with a community
Beyond simply going out and shooting on your own, photography allows you to connect with a wider community that shares similar interests and stories to you. Photography communities are a wonderful tool to find fellow photographers whom you can learn from, engage with, and ultimately share your passion with.
While most photographers will readily admit to enjoying solo missions, humans require social stimulation, and tapping into a photography community can be a great way to build friendships that go deeper than just snapping pictures together. Whether it be a photowalk or online commentary, photography groups and communities are great platforms to build friendships with photographers that can last a lifetime.
6. Photography boosts your confidence
Given that we now live in the era of Likes and Shares, photographers can feel a sense of pressure to post regularly on social media simply to maintain a presence, or to receive validation from their followers. This rather fleeting form of happiness shouldn’t be confused with the more assured confidence that comes with practicing photography regularly.
For photographers who rely on social media, it can feel easy to post simply for the sake of posting. This can have the opposite effect of building confidence. You might find that relying on this external validation gives you an inflated sense of self, rather than being honest with your achievements and shortcomings.
True confidence comes from within. However, looking beyond social media validation and getting genuine feedback from a mentor or friend can help build positive life experiences. As you grow in confidence, you will find yourself ready to tackle more situations with your camera in hand.
Simply the act of taking a picture in itself is one that requires a level of bravery, not to mention displaying those pictures for others to see.
Photography is an outlet to boost our self-esteem and guard against the low points that life inevitably throws at us.
7. Most importantly, photography is an act of self-expression
It is very rare that any two perspectives are exactly the same in photography, and many of our personal tastes, biases, and views can be subconsciously reflected through our photography. This makes it the ultimate form of self-expression, and it is this very self-expression that spurs serotonin production and puts us in a good headspace.
There are countless ways that you, as a photographer, can reframe a scene to make it unique using tools available to you. For starters, playing with light and composition can provide your own unique perspective. Then, there are many different techniques that you can use to manipulate your gear and settings to capture a scene to your liking. The things we include and omit are all reflections of the world we wish to create as photographers.
The beautiful thing about photography as a form of self-expression is that there is no prescribed definition of right and wrong. Regularly experimenting with all the factors and using the tools at your disposal is a quick way to hone your craft and improve your sense of self-worth.
The journey of learning photography is hardly ever linear, and looking back on your progress can provide a mental health boost when you need it most.
Taking photos can also help people to look at the world in a different way and to appreciate the beauty in everyday life. In addition to the psychological benefits of photography, it can also be a practical way to help manage depression. Taking photographs can help distract from negative thoughts, and give people something to focus on when they’re feeling overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety or stress. It can also be a great way to express creativity, which can be a great outlet for those who are struggling with depression.
Photography can also be a great way to connect with other people who have similar personal experiences. By sharing their photos, people can find support from others who understand what they’re going through. This can be a great comfort source and help people feel less alone.
Mental health is an important issue that affects many people around the world. While there are many forms of therapy and treatments to help manage mental health and well-being issues, one of the most effective and accessible forms of therapy is photography. Photography can be used as a form of self-expression, allowing people to express their emotions and thoughts in a creative way. It can also be used as a form of mindfulness, helping to bring the mind into the present moment and focus on the beauty of the world around us.
Photography can also be used to document the progress of our mental health journey. Taking photos of our environment, the people we surround ourselves with, and our own experiences can help us recognize patterns and triggers that may affect our mental health.
This can help us make more informed decisions about how to care for ourselves and our mental health. Photography can also help us to develop a positive self-image. Taking self-portraits and our accomplishments can help us to recognize our strengths and capabilities, and increase our self-esteem. Finally, photography can be used to create a sense of connection.
Sharing photos we’ve created in a community can help us feel supported and understood. It can also be used to connect with other people who may be going through similar experiences.
Overall, photography is an effective and accessible form of therapy that can help us to manage our mental health. Whether it is used to express our emotions, document our progress, or build a sense of connection, photography can be a powerful tool to help us heal and recover during a difficult time.
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