Over one year ago I left the office and began remote life under a worldwide pandemic. Initially, our team thought that we would be back in a couple weeks once this “Covid-19” situation had blown over… if only we had known then! I definitely wouldn’t have left my spare set of apartment keys in my locked desk drawer.So, here we are a year later, still working from home. In the UK, it was one year spent living under some form of lockdown, adjusting to a new way of life, and seeing an increased prevalence in mental health struggles across the country as a result.
As someone who has experienced the impacts of a mental health crisis first and second hand, I can speak to how incredibly tough in many ways it is to cope with and recover from. It’s not something that is outwardly obvious to others accompanied by a straight-forward treatment plan. The issues vary widely from person to person in both nature and severity. What helps someone might be disastrous for another, making it hard to treat and manage.
Yet, there are a few activities that do show to help across the board. In fact, you have likely heard about a lot of them already. They’ve come from the news, government recommendations, community organizations, and perhaps friends/family. Talk to someone, get outside in nature, exercise, create something, socialize safely/legally, journaling, etc. Sound familiar? Well, there is actually one activity that wraps all of these into one wonderful package.
Photography is my therapy. Especially the experience with Fujifilm cameras. It gets me out, motivates me to move my body, helps me be in the present moment, allows me to create things and feel accomplished, helps me connect with others, and lastly, it has now become a journal of the past year that I can reflect on. All these things can improve our mental health if we can get to the point of doing them. Motivation can be a struggle and sometimes we have to be on autopilot just to get through the day. Nothing is perfect all the time and there will be ups and downs, but using photography as a tool in our mental health coping kit can help see us through these hard times.
Getting out of those four walls
Nature is the best medicine. How many times have we heard this? It’s because it’s so very true! Vitamin D, which comes from the sun, is essential to our body’s proper functioning, including keeping our mood stable/positive. Getting vitamin D and fresh air can break up the feelings that are worsened from being inside too long. This can include but certainly not limited to: isolation, claustrophobia, and despair.
During lockdown, I started photographing wildlife, namely birds. It felt like Steve Martin in the movie, The Big Year. I purchased the Fujifilm 50-230mm lens used and was very impressed! This little lens is a perfect intro into the world of telezoom lenses from Fujifilm. It’s incredibly lightweight, making it easier to want to take on a long walk. Using this on the X-H1 allows for a little more stability as well.
Living in a city, this was helpful to motivate me to find the areas with more nature, and therefore more birds. I found it relieving my stress. All I experienced for a little while was watching birds eat, flirt, and fight. What a joy! I had nothing in my mind but the present moment with a few interesting meditations on the nature of birds.
Practicing being in the present moment is important for anyone struggling with their mental health and photography can help us with this. Thinking about the future can create anxiety, thinking about the past can bring on depression, but truly being in the present moment brings peace and soothes negative emotions. Photography teaches you to observe everything about your surroundings, looking for beauty, interest, colors, shapes, light and shadow. The more you look, the more you see. The more you see, the more peaceful your mind becomes. This is because the more your mind can be completely in the present moment, the more the anxieties or worries slip away.
Move it, move it
Exercise is one of the best things for our bodies and minds. However, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to get exercise on a daily basis, especially if struggling with motivation and mental health. To avoid not doing anything at all, we can start small. Walking is more than good enough to start with. And, you can carry a camera and take photos while you walk!
One of the best things about the Fujifilm mirrorless cameras is their portability and lightness. My XPro-2, or X100V, or even the XH-1 add almost no weight so it’s easy to swing them around my neck when headed out for a walk. Taking these cameras out also motivates me to go longer. The longer the walk, the more things to see, the more things to photograph. With the camera in hand, time and distance slip away without my noticing. Before realizing it, I’ll have walked an hour that felt like twenty minutes.
Celebrating accomplishments & letting go of self-criticism
Oftentimes struggling with mental health can mean a reduced confidence and feelings of inability or inadequacy. Creating something can help us feel accomplished, no matter how small the thing is we have created. Photography is helpful in this because we can start small and build in baby steps. Practicing and working on different techniques and compositions are all small accomplishments in themselves.
The next step is perhaps grouping images together to create a themed project. Projects are more comprehensive and can help with building a greater sense of accomplishment. They might seem overwhelming when considered on the whole, however they are made up of lots of tiny pieces which can be done one at a time. Just remember to celebrate what you have done, rather than pick apart the imperfections if you feel like you see any. As photographers, we can tend to be overly critical of ourselves, but this is something we have to let go of and simply remember that we have accomplished something.
Over lockdown, I started to see this theme emerge in the street photographs I was dragging myself out of the house to make with the X100V. Without realizing it, I found an interest in taking photographs where there was one person made to seem small by their surroundings. I’m continuing to explore this theme but it has helped to build my confidence further in developing a project.
Let’s forget about the debate on whether photography is art or not. It’s generally accepted as a creative expression nowadays. It can help us express what we are feeling, especially if that is hard to put into words. In the action of creating something, we release a bit of stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, fogginess, etc, which is always an enhancement to our lives and mental health. What I absolutely adore about the Fujifilm X line is that it makes me want to create. Whatever magical spell Fujifilm has put on this lineup, it’s wonderful. They get out of the way of creating and actually enhance this with cameras that inspire. I might be under this spell maybe, but when motivation is a struggle to create, it helps to have tools that nudge you along in the right direction.
Let’s get together and feel alright
Humans need social contact to survive. It is incredible the positive impact of connecting with others to balance our mental health and support through tough days. While not always necessary, it does help to have something in common to connect with others. I’ve found photography is spectacular for this. It’s a creative medium that so many people are wonderfully passionate about and very eager to share that with others. Especially Fujifilm users. A few connections I made before the lockdown continued onto zoom video chats throughout this past winter. We even started a zoom photography book club! When I reflect on this, it has been one of the best things that has helped me continue to get through this lockdown 3.0 in the UK , our longest and toughest one yet.
Struggling with mental health can be like riding an endless not-so-merry merry-go-round. However, photography has always been there to help with any mental struggles I’m going through. That might seem like a silly thing to say, but it’s true. Throughout hard times, heart-break, and now our current pandemic situation in the UK, it has always been there as a creative tool for me to cope. It has helped me grow as a person, building my confidence that has spilled over to other areas of life. What amazes me is that it never ceases to lift me from a rotten mood, or ease my stresses and anxieties, or help clarify my thoughts. And it’s cheaper than therapy!