Art therapy has been used for years to help people reduce stress and help with healing. In this article, we’ll explore how you can use photography to help you improve your overall well-being.
Because you’re here reading this, I’ll assume that you already enjoy doing photography. So let’s look at a few specific ways you can use photography to improve your own mental health, emotional state, and reduce stress.
What’s been happening with DPM
First, I want to share with you a little about where I’m at and why I’m writing this. The last few months have been quite stressful for me, as they have for everyone.
On top of the existing world issues, we also had to cancel all of our remaining tours and workshops for 2020 (after March 10th). The income that those would have generated for our business was also gone, so we had to regroup fast.
If you’ve been reading and following me and the site for a while, you’ve probably attended or at least heard of the webinars I’ve been hosting since April. That’s one thing we’ve done, the other was to introduce new private tutoring lessons – which have been a bit hit.
For that, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who continue to read and support me and Digital Photo Mentor. Next, I want to share some of the ways I’ve been using photography to help me with my anxiety and stress.
4 ways you can use photography for better mental health
- Simply for creative expression (no other reason, and without being attached to the outcome or results)
- Encourages you to get out into nature more
- It is something you can do with others (even with distancing in place)
- Use your skills for good (give back to a worthy cause, group, or person)
#1 – Creative expression
Don’t let that phrase scare you away, or think you can’t do it because you aren’t creative. To that I say HOGWASH!
You are a creative being by nature it’s just a muscle that doesn’t get exercised very much after childhood.
So it’s time to stretch that muscle and use it more often. The more you use it, the better it works.
But how do you do that? What does that look like? Here are a few ideas:
- Try a new shooting technique that you haven’t done before such as using a lensball, macro photography with oil and water, capturing light trails at night, etc.
- Experiment with new post-processing techniques or new editing software or a plugin.
- Go and shoot something just for yourself with no agenda or goals, no attachment to the outcome or results. Just shoot with reckless abandon!
- Shoot with your cell phone and play with the images in Snapseed just for fun. Go crazy with the filters and just see where it goes.
#2 – Get into nature more
Even if you don’t usually do landscape or nature photography, now is the perfect time to take a drive into the country and do so. It’s the ultimate social distancing.
Spending time in nature is refreshing at the best of times, and right now it’s even more important. Smell the fresh air, listen to the birds, observe everything around you. Touch a leaf or soft moss, pick and taste the end of season raspberry or cherry. Take it all in and use your camera to capture it.
Or just take your cellphone like I did when I recently attended a weekend horsemanship retreat for women (photos above). I wanted to be fully present in the experience and often when I have my camera that doesn’t happen.
So be willing to put your big camera down sometimes and be more fully in the moment. Then see tip #1 above and process them with Snapseed and use the creativity muscle again.
#3 – Photography with friends (safely)
In these odd times of social distancing, photography is still something you can do in a small group. Meet up with some buddies and go shoot outside or do a hike together.
Something else you can do is have regular Zoom meetings with photography friends. You can each share some of your recent images or just sit and chat while you all process images and discuss ideas, gear, etc.
We did that here on DPM a while ago: Fireside Chat – Virtual Travel Photography where four of us shared images and we traveled “virtually” around the world.
#4 – Use your skills to help others
This is something I’m very passionate about doing. I love to use my photography skills and images to help others.
Over the years I’ve worked with local city charities, a community of people and kids group in Nicaragua, I volunteered my time doing free portraits with Help Portrait, and many other projects.
I also love combining two or more passions like travel and photography. But since travel abroad hasn’t been possible since March this year (2020), I turned to other interests.
Equal rights and equality is something else I’m passionate about and I’ve been doing some self-educating on the issues of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. As such, I decided to not only attend some local events on the topic but also put my skills to use and photograph them as well.
I did so on a voluntary basis at first. I just showed up and took photos and provided them to the organizers at no charge to use as they saw fit. Soon I was asked to be the official photographer at other events and added more help by designing posters and marketing the events.
Doing these events has resulted in a win/win for everyone involved:
- I got to get out of the house and forget out my own issues for a while (helps lower my stress and anxiety).
- The organization and women’s groups I’ve been supporting get photos of their events, at no cost to them which helps them continue the important work they are doing.
- I have met some amazing women whom I’m honored and proud to have as new friends.
- I have learned a lot about the history of Indigenous People in Canada and am inspired to continue my own education and hopefully, I can inspire and encourage others to do the same.
- I get to be useful and feel like I’m making a difference, no matter how small. I love this quote and try to live by it…
By giving back to others and using your skills, you also receive. So how can you use your skills to do so?
Look around your community and see if anyone might be in need of photographs for a cause, charity, or event. Perhaps you can even photograph an elderly neighbor so she can send photos to her family that’s been unable to visit this year.
What other ways can you think of to use your skills for something good?
NOTE: Just a quick note about doing photography for free. I’m not suggesting that you should do everything for free if you are a professional photographer. You still need to make a living. But find a good balance between paid jobs and ones that fill your soul, those that you want to photograph because it’s the right thing to do. You’ll know which those are.
To see more of the photos from the four events I have covered you can CLICK HERE. See how some of my images were used in this media coverage of the Sisters in Spirit Walk here.
Learn more about the significance of the Cree Ribbon Skirts here. Sign up for a free online course with the University of Alberta to learn more about Indigenous People’s histories in Canada, and contemporary issues they still face.
Summary and action plan
This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada so I want to end with something for you to think about and take action on yourself. What is it that you are thankful for in your life right now?
When we spend more time thinking of others and doing for others, often our troubles seem less substantial or minimized. Sometimes when we think we have it bad, helping those who are more vulnerable or in more need gives us the perspective needed to shift into a place of gratitude.
I know that is true for me, does it resonate with you?
There is always going to be someone that is doing better, has more money, the house you want, the vacations, cars, and all the other stuff on your list. But on the flip side if you’re reading this on a computer or smartphone, on the internet, in your own home – you already have more than many others.
So I challenge you to do two things.
- Make a list of all the things you are grateful for in your life right now.
- Find a person, group, or organization that could use your help and put your photography skills (and any others you have) to use doing something for someone else.
If you do those things, I promise you that you’ll automatically gain more than you give.Cheers,