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Anxiety is a condition that can be utterly debilitating. From intrusive anxious thoughts to overwhelming fear or panic, anxiety can make it difficult to cope with everyday life. Fortunately, studies have demonstrated that it is possible to lessen the effects of anxiety through art therapy. In this article I’ll have a look at some of the ways photography can ease anxiety symptoms.
One of the key ways photography can ease anxiety is through perspective. In photography circles, perspective usually refers to the camera’s point of view. Perspective can also be used to describe the relationship between objects in an image.
However, perspective in everyday language also refers to “a particular way of considering something“. An individual’s perspective is guided by their own experience. Therefore, a person suffering from anxiety may view the world through a prism of distress.
The beauty of photography is that it can change visual experience – which in turn alters personal perspective.
With an eye to the viewfinder, priorities can shift from the internal to the external. Energies are funneled into discovering and negotiating subject matter. A focus on composition and exposure stimulates a perceptible reach beyond mental distress and sustained visual-analysis distracts the mind which can loosen the grip of anxiety, improving perspective.
When anxiety starts to creep in, the first instinct can be to hole-up at home. Some downtime alone can be therapeutic. But anxiety can exacerbate the desire to self-isolate, which, in turn, can amplify anxiety – a vicious cycle.
Sufferers of anxiety and are often advised to get out of the house and exercise. Go for a run, or a walk, get into yoga… something that gets endorphins happening. And for a good reason too: it’s proven that exercise propagates good mental health. But exercising while combating anxiety is easier said than done. That’s where photography comes in.
For many photographers, the potential for a great photographic opportunity is a powerful motivator to actively seek photographic subjects outside the confines of the home, helping to shift the burden of anxiety a little. In addition, placing emphasis on the familiarity of the photographic process expands the comfort zone, making leaving the house a bit less daunting.
The physical nature of photography decreases the tension in anxious muscles and can divert attention away from the experience of anxiety in general. Of course, photography may not be as labor-intensive as a session at the gym (although it could well be, depending on the situation), but the physically and mentally active role of the photographer behind the camera is one of the best ways photography can ease anxiety symptoms.
When Nicéphore Nièpce succeeded in making the earliest surviving camera-made photograph in 1826, he probably didn’t envisage the far-reaching impact his endeavor would have on the human transferal of information.
Nevertheless, as photography evolved, so too did the capacity for people to communicate ideas and experiences through the photographic image.
Because no two experiences are the same, anxiety can be hard to endure and even harder to explain. Many photographers, however, have found ways to channel their experiences within the photographic medium.
For example, the Let’s Talk campaign looks to promote mental health awareness by photographing sitters with their mental health stories written on their faces.
Another website, fragmentary.org curates photographic bodies of work that document the highly personal experience of mental health photographically. By delving into the complexities of anxiety and depression, photographers like Courtney Lowry and John Mannell express creatively what words cannot adequately describe.
Exploring mental health artistically is an impactful way photography can ease anxiety. Self-portraits, abstract renderings, photo-manipulation… photography enables photographers to share experiences, lessening the often lonesome burden of anxiety and perhaps creating new relationships along the way.
Whether you are a seasoned photographer or just starting out, the ways photography can ease anxiety are far-reaching. From altering perspective to influencing motivation and cultivating expression, photography can ride with you through highs of mental health, and support you in the lows.
Have you found that photography helps you to ease the anxiety in your life? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.