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How Photography Can Improve Mental Health

A number of years ago, I lost someone dear to me to suicide. Two years after that, I lost my dad very suddenly to leukemia. As a result of both events, I was diagnosed with PTSD a year later and fell into a period of severe depression.

I still deal with depression even now – I don’t know if it will truly go away for me. I’m definitely better than I was 15 years ago when it first started. One way to address anxiety and depression is the concept of mindfulness – the ability to be fully present in the moment, and not let our “automatic” responses (anxiety, panic, etc.) take over.

Mindfulness can be practised in a number of ways – the most obvious form is meditation. It sounds easy, but is actually quite difficult and I never really got the hang of it. The closest I come to some kind of meditation is when I work out. For me, focusing on my breath as I lift weights allows me to be in the moment.

Sadly, I haven’t worked out in months – it just hasn’t fit into my schedule. But it has occurred to me that photography is a form of meditation. At the very least, it’s a way to for me to focus on what I’m doing at that moment. This connection isn’t anything new – many people do regard photography (or almost any other hobby) as a way to cultivate good mental health.

As the linked article says, going out to make photographs involves mental discipline. As a street photographer, I’m definitely in the present moment when I’m shooting, looking for interesting shots around my environment and focusing my attention on what I’m doing. And of course, the physical benefits of going on a walk and getting fresh air are an added bonus.

Capturing very precise moments is incredibly satisfying in street photography. In the featured image at the top of this post, I had planned the shot in my mind several days before. I had taken a similar shot of people from the waist up on a crowded train, but thought it might be more interesting to show how impersonal my daily commute can be if I showed people without their faces. I tried to get this at many subway stations, but had to find just the right one where it was crowded enough to execute my idea. (All images in this post taken with Fujifilm X100F.)

One of the best things about street photography is that I can do it any time. I don’t necessarily have to plan to bring extra equipment with me, or even plan to wait for a particular time of day to shoot. If I feel restless, going out to shoot can help me channel my energy.

Depression is hard thing to manage. But in recent years, I’m encouraged that more and more people are talking/writing about their experiences. Our crazy 24/7 world where hardly a moment goes by when we’re not connected in some way to technology, and allowing stress to take over us, it’s not surprising that it’s taking a toll on our mental health.

So if photography as a hobby is a healthy thing for mental well-being, then it’s an even more worthwhile pursuit.

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9 Comments

  1. I quite agree with you about the mindfulness aspect of photography. You just have to be more aware of your surroundings, if you want to take an interesting photo. More so with street photography, a specialization I enjoy as much as you do. Take care and have lots of fun with your camera!

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  2. Thanks, Marga! Same to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good post and shots, again. And sorry for long replies;)

    It seems that we have some a lot of things things in common, beside photography. For me photography definitely is about mental healthcare. Well that’s what all my creativity cravings are about. I used to paint a lot before I went back to photography. And in the centre of it all is this mindfulness thing. But photography is more healthy in general (according to me).

    I would be a hypocrite if I said that I suffer from depression today. I don’t (not what I’m aware of anyway). But I have a bunch of old ghosts from my youth walking around in the background. I was really deep down in the darkness. So I definitely know what it means. I don’t think a severe touch is something that will never disappear completely.

    I have never succeeded in meditating. My soul is to restless and I only feel uncomfortable. I definitely think workout is another way to find the same state of mind. I found my way through hard and playful training insted – action meditation. But nowadays I also struggle with my time training as much as I would like. I’m slowly on my way back there. Without forcing it into my life. Mindfulness first, always – as far as possible. And the practicing of less is more.

    Take care and have a good life / Smike

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  4. Thanks, Smike. I’m sure there are many other folks who find photography as a form of therapy for whatever ails them. Whatever works, right? 🙂

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  5. So true! I also believe that it changes things in the brain when you walk around searching for interesting or nice things. I also use meditation, and it works for me just laying there. I tried an app called “calm” that was very helpful. And now I have learnt to come back to the breath when stress or other emotions takes control. You always have the breath with you, so always an anchor point to return to 😊 very nice post! And I just realized we follow each other on IG as well! 😊

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  6. Thanks. And I was going to reply to your post about social media… I feel the same way about this silly pressure to return likes otherwise they unfollow you. I’m not sure whether Instagram is helpful in that regard. I just want to share my photos and also seek inspiration from others who do similar work with no desire to have thousands of followers I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The more followers i got the more I could see, people are mostly there for them self. And I got caught up in that as well. It’s almost like an addiction, and I got sick of it. I appreciate a lot of people I met through social media. But all the other stuff is just a mirage and waste of time.

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  8. Interesting post. I’ve been trying mindfulness again recently via headspace.com but am struggling with it. I find that things like going for a walk, reading a good book, or writing something are better methods for dealing with depression and anxiety – anything which requires full concentration and absorption. Photography fits nicely into that category…

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  9. Yes, I agree. I think it’s a matter of finding something that works for us. I found yoga completely boring, for example. But a cardio and weight workout allowed me to focus on my breath for an extended period of time. Same result! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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