May is Mental Health Month and before it’s officially over, I wanted to hop on and contribute a few tips to my fellow photographers. My husband suffers from depression and has since before we ever met. It has, however, become worse over the past few years as our responsibilities have increased as well as the lack of sleep that comes with having three children aged 4 and under. It’s become more and more difficult to find time for self-care despite how important it is. In the last year, since having our youngest and third child, I’ve decided to take on the challenge of bringing more balance and self-care into our family’s routine, not just for my husband and the extra time he needs in this area, but for all of us.
Photographers face their own unique set of mental health challenges because they tend to spend the majority of their time alone in front of a computer editing photos and updating their social media accounts to get their work out there. While this may seem like a dream job to many, anyone who has had this kind of job for a few years will testify to how daunting the day-to-day life can be. And if you’re anything like me it can be tough to make time for self-care when you love your job and find it hard to step away.
To help those of you who, like me, struggle with this, I wanted to share some free resources and tips that have become vital to my own mental health check in.
Tip #1: Pencil in creative shoots.
Whether you have a complicated concept you’ve always wanted to execute, a meaningful series you’ve been wanting to share with the world, or even something as simple as getting outside and reconnecting with nature with a few landscape shots – try to schedule in at least one creative shoot a month just for you. You’ll come back to your desk feeling creatively charged which actually benefits your clients in the long run as well. Plus, you won’t have to be in any rush to edit these images which is refreshing in a world of constant editing deadlines.
Tip #2: Find time for a daily meditation practice.
You might think taking 10-20 minutes out of your day to sit and do nothing to be still with your breath seems useless and won’t help, but meditation has been proven to help with depression, stress, and a whole list of other health issues.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed at certain points in the day, stepping away for a few minutes of meditation can help push the reset button on your brain and bring you back to your work with better focus.
If you feel weird meditating or overwhelmed at the idea of getting started, there are some great apps out there to help walk you through it. My current favorite is Headspace, and I’m always open to trying others. If you have one you love, tell me about it in the comments.
Tip #3: Mute notifications on your phone
Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have been known to limit and even forbid their children from having access to cell phones, TVs, etc. The fact that both of these men rarely let their kids use the very products they helped to create is pretty telling. Screen time is addicting and can have a negative effect on your mental health and your daily focus.
I personally mute all notifications from my phone except the app I have to remind me to drink more water. It’s distracting to see a notification every time you get an email or a comment on your latest Instagram post. If you don’t yet have your notifications muted, I recommend trying it for just a week. You might notice yourself feeling more focused and getting more work done in the same amount of time – which gives you more time to get out and do mentally healthy tasks like Tip #1 or spending time with family and friends.
Tip #4: Set limits on your screen time
Most photographers trying to get ahead in business are consistently present on social media, answering emails using their phone, and the list goes on. Setting time limits on your phone can be a great way to gain insight into how much time you actually spend looking at it in a single day, and kick you right out of it. Many new phones have screen time trackers now which can be such a life saver. I set mine to limit all apps except for a select few starting at 9 PM and going until 6 AM.
If you feel like social media specifically is starting to have a negative effect on your mental health, consider taking a social media break altogether. If you’re in the position to do so, another option is to hire someone to help you manage it.
If neither option will work for your situation, you can also do a few things to make social media a little more distant. You can unfollow accounts that make you feel down. You know the ones – you look at their feeds and without scrolling you already find yourself comparing your entire life to their perfectly curated one. Unfollow or mute them, and make sure you’re following accounts that make you feel positive and inspired. You could also mute keywords or hashtags that make you feel upset and control your comments by blocking certain words or phrases.
Tip #5: Put it on P
The ‘P’ mode on your camera’s settings stands for Programmed Automatic and when your camera is set to P, it basically means the camera will do all the thinking for you. Professional photographers typically don’t shoot in P mode but in Manual which gives the photographer the control of their camera’s settings.
I’m going to be real with anyone reading this. Sometimes in life there comes a time when you need to put it on P – metaphorically speaking that is. My father passed away at the end of last year and a few weeks later, I had a baby. Obviously, I was so overwhelmed with life and all the changes. It was at that specific time that I had no qualms with putting life on the P setting and asking for others to do the thinking for me. I hired someone to help keep our house up, I found a great attorney to help with my father’s estate, I asked people to bring me meals, and so on. It’s OK to ask for help when you need it. Even sitting down for a long talk with someone can help. Put your life on P and don’t be ashamed about it.
Tip #6: Stop comparing
I know, I know – this is so much easier said than done. Photographers and creatives, in general, seem to have a hard time not comparing themselves to others in their industry. For that reason, I’ve actually unfollowed other local photographers in my area. It’s not that I don’t like any of them as people; many of them are wonderful human beings. But when I first started, I would find myself feeling hurt when someone we both knew would hire them over me. Feeling unworthy in that way limited my creativity, and I knew it had to stop. Now, I try to get inspiration for my current work from other art mediums or from photographers with a portfolio focus different from my genre.
Just remember, even if it seems like your competitors are super successful from an outsider’s point-of-view, that may not actually be the case.
Tip #7: Schedule in some self-care habits
I love my work so much that some days, I get out of bed, use the restroom, and go sit at my desk and start working. I quickly realized how out-of-touch I was with myself and the world around me by just living to work. I needed to slow it down and start feeling like a regular person again. A morning routine was the answer. I incorporated one where I had to pray, meditate, brush my teeth, wash my face, put on a little makeup, drink a full glass of water and then get to work. This routine forced me to slow down a bit and include tasks that helped me to take care of myself first.
If this sounds like you, try developing daily habits that force you to take time out for yourself. Start with the habit of waking up and drinking a full glass of water. All of us could use more hydration so this is a quick and easy habit to incorporate. Once you’ve got that one mastered, add in something else. Maybe you turn boring Mondays into Mask Mondays and do a face mask at the end of each one. Or Fridays could be a day you take a long, de-stressing bath. Or incorporate another daily habit like a morning walk.
Whatever it is, your mental health, body, and work life will thank you later. You’d be surprised at how much more effective of a worker you become when you put your job second in priority to your mental health, trust me.
If you or someone you know needs help…
Contact the National Suicide prevention lifeline at 800.273.TALK (8255)
Contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741
Mental health can be tough for photographers who work at home. We don’t have any colleagues checking on us or anyone to interact with. It’s lonely and sometimes super dark, but I hope the above tips help you if you’re feeling like you’re in a bad place. I also wanted to add, if you’re ever feeling like you just need someone to talk to, get in touch with me! My contact info is all over this website, and I don’t mind having a new texting buddy.