The pandemic has taken its toll on all of us, and photographers are no exception. Lack of work and financial insecurity have impacted the quality of life and mental health of many creatives. But what can be just as damaging is being overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do, as well as the lack of work-life balance. According to recent research, up to 25% of photographers struggle with mental health issues.
ImagenAI’s Scott Wyden Kivowitz digs deeper into this important topic. It explores all the ways being a photographer affects your mental health: the amount of work, time spent on business versus family time, difficult clients, and more. And what’s essential – it also explains why and how to ask for help when you need it.
The difference between poor mental health and mental illness
Scott posted an article on ImagenAI reviewing many aspects of mental health in photographers. But first, let’s start with the definition of mental health and mental illness to clear things up. According to the CDC, mental health “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, interact with others, and make healthy choices.
It is very important to note that poor mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. “A person may have poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness,” writes the CDC. “Similarly, someone diagnosed with a mental illness may experience periods of physical, mental and social well-being.”
In his article, Scott cites a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It showed that in 2019, one in ten people suffered from anxiety disorders. In 2020, when the pandemic started, the number increased to one in four.
How Being a Photographer Affects Your Mental Health
Although photography can be a great tool for improving your mental health and enhancing your mindfulness, it can be a double-edged sword. If you do photography for a living, there are several ways it can negatively affect your mental health, and Scott cites a few:
- Burn out from redundant photography jobs.
- Burn out from the composition of photography work.
- The unknown future of incoming jobs in photography.
- They take care of children and run a photography business.
- Many photographers are individual entrepreneurs with no support system in place.
ImagenAI conducted a survey asking photographers what mental health issues they face. Nearly 27% of them suffer from anxiety, and stress is just behind with 25%. Speaking of stress, it can manifest itself in a range of physical symptoms, and long exposure to stress can lead to different mental and physical illnesses.
The list goes on with 13.4% of photographers reporting sleep problems and 6.4% suffering from depression and panic attacks. 4.8% of people report feeling lonely and 2.1% have anger and OCD issues.
The team behind ImagenAI also studied how long photography takes in photographers’ lives compared to photo editing. I’m not surprised with the results, I must admit. “We estimated based on our records that photographers spend approximately one and a half hours manually editing photos for every hour of photography,” the article reads. In other words, if you spend 8 hours shooting, that means another 12 hours of manual photo editing.
Needless to say, filming and editing only takes a lot of your family, friends, and most importantly, yourself. And if you own a photography business, you also need to invest your time in other aspects such as selecting photos, communicating with clients, creating contracts, social media, advertising and much more.
What you can do to improve your mental health
I know this all sounds pretty dark so far. I myself have a very difficult time maintaining a work-life balance and I know how much of an impact it has had on my mental health. Well, among other things. But there are things you can do to create a healthier balance, as well as improve your mental health. Scott lists a few, and I’ll add some of my own suggestions below:
- Talk about your feelings with someone, like a friend, family member, or professional. Ventilation can do magic for your mind. If you feel any pressure or issues, please share. We invite you to share in the ImagenAI community.
- Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem, help you focus better, reduce stress, sleep better, and just feel better overall. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, allowing the body to supply all the nutrients needed for optimal brain activity.
- Your brain needs healthy nutrients to function well. Like exercise, healthy foods can help you feel good. If you’ve ever felt worse after consuming too much sugar, you’ve felt the effect of food and your brain.
- Alcohol can play a big role in how we feel. It is a depressant that can seriously affect our short and long term thoughts, feelings, and actions.
- Changing scenes or scenery can instantly affect your sanity. Think about what most of the world has been through during the pandemic. Many people have moved from working in offices to their homes. Some people work in the same room where they sleep or cook. This in itself can make you feel lonely or depressed. Picking up your laptop and working in a coffee shop, coworking space, or even in the park for an hour can dramatically change your mental state.
- Take a break from time to time. During this break, try not to think about the work you have to do, but also don’t watch the news because that could also keep you in a difficult mental state. Like changing scenes, taking a 30-60 minute break can help clear your mind.
- Along the same lines takes a vacation or vacation. Spend a week in your favorite place. If you live in a cold environment, consider a warm place. If you love the outdoors, consider an area with stunning mountain scenery. Nature can do wonders for the brain.
I agree with everything Scott noted as important, and have tried everything myself. I would like to add that physical activity does not have to be full-fledged intensive training in the gym. It can be a walk, ride a bike, swim, dance, or whatever makes you feel good. I learned this the hard way, so I urge you to be kind to yourself: find the activity you enjoy and that’s your physical activity for the day.
Also, I know it’s easier said than done, but you may need to change some of your habits in order to improve your mental health and work-life balance in the long term. Although I’m not usually into so-called “self-help books”, I’ve read two that actually helped me (and even amused me). One is Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it will help you adopt healthy habits step by step. The other is The subtle art of not giving a damn by Mark Manson and it will help you… Well, don’t worry about a lot of things you really shouldn’t care about. 🙂
Finally, I must expand on the first point – don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Friends and family help, but they can only do so to a certain extent. If you think a simple rant is no longer enough, be sure to consult a mental health professional. I don’t say it like that, it comes from my own experience and from the bottom of my heart.
Where to find help
Last but not least, Scott shares some places where you can find professional help if you have mental health issues. “Some countries and even individual cities have their resources available,” Scott writes. “Although we could share some of them, it would be impossible to find them all. So please do some research for your area to find help near you.
Other areas to find help are non-profit organizations that focus solely on photographers and their businesses. The associations in the list below are shared with their locations but are not always limited to their countries.
In this article, you’ll find more sources of mental health help, whether you’re a photographer or not. And be sure to visit ImagenAI’s website for Scott’s excellent article on photographers’ mental health.