The pandemic has taken its toll on all of us, and photographers aren’t an exception. The lack of work and financial insecurity have impacted life quality mental health of many creatives out there. But what can be equally damaging is being overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, as well as the lack of work-life balance. According to recent research, as much as 25% of photographers struggle with mental health issues.
Scott Wyden Kivowitz of ImagenAI has gone deeper into this important topic. He explores all the ways that being a photographer affects your mental health: the amount of work, business vs. family time, difficult clients, and more. And what’s essential – he also discusses why and how to seek help when you need it.
The difference between poor mental health and mental illness
Scott published an article on ImagenAI going through many aspects of mental health in photographers. But first, let’s start with the definition of mental health and mental illness to make things clearer. According to 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, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
It’s very important to note that poor mental health and mental illness aren’t the same. “A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness,” CDC writes. “Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can 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 had anxiety disorders. In 2020, when the pandemic began, the number jumped to one in four people.
How being a photographer affects your mental health
While photography can be a great tool to aid your mental health and improve mindfulness, it can be a double-edged sword. If you do photography for a living, there are some ways in which it can negatively affect your mental health, and Scott cites a few:
- Burn out from redundant photography jobs.
- Burn out from compounding photography jobs.
- The unknown future of incoming photography jobs.
- They are caring for children and running a photography business.
- Many photographers are solo entrepreneurs without a support system in place.
ImagenAI conducted a poll asking photographers what mental health issues they face. Nearly 27% of them experience anxiety, and stress is right behind with 25%. Speaking of stress, it can manifest as 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 issues, and 6.4% go on depression and panic attacks. 4.8% of people say that they feel lonely, and 2.1% experience anger issues and OCD.
The team behind ImagenAI also researched how much time photography takes up in photographers’ lives versus photo editing. I’m not surprised by the results, I must admit. “We estimated based on our records, photographers spend about one and half hours manually photo editing for every one hour of photography”, the article reads. In other words, if you spend 8 hours photographing, it means another 12 hours of manually editing photos.
Needless to say, shooting and editing only takes a lot of your time from family, friends, and most importantly – yourself. And if you own photography business, you also need to invest your time in other aspects like culling photos, communicating with clients, creating contracts, social media, advertising, and much more.
What you can do to improve your mental health
I know that all of this so far sounds pretty gloomy. I myself struggle immensely to maintain a work-life balance and I know how big of a toll it took on my mental health. Well, among other things. But there are things you can do to create a healthier balance, as well as to improve your mental health. Scott lists some of them, and I’ll add some of my own suggestions below:
- Talk about your feelings with someone, like a friend, family member, or professional. Venting can work magic for your mind. If you are feeling pressure or trouble, please share. We welcome you to share in The ImagenAI Community.
- Regular exercise can increase your self-esteem, help you concentrate better, reduce stress, sleep better, and simply feel better overall. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, allowing the body to deliver all the nutrients required for optimal brain activity.
- Your brain needs healthy nutrients to function well. Like exercise, healthy foods can keep you feeling great. If you have ever felt worse after consuming too much sugar, you have experienced the effect of food and your brain.
- Alcohol can play a heavy role in how we feel. It is a depressant, which can severely affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions short term and long term.
- Changing your scene or setting can instantly affect your mental health. Think about what most of the world has gone through during the pandemic. Many people have gone from working in offices to their homes. Some people work in the same room they sleep in or cook food in. That in itself can make you feel lonely or depressed. Taking your laptop and working at a coffee shop, coworking space, or even the park for an hour can dramatically change your mental state.
- Take a break from time to time. For that break, try not to think about the work you have to do, but also do not watch the news as that could also keep you in a challenging mental state. Like changing scenes, taking a 30-60 minute break can help you clear your mind.
- Along the same lines is taking a vacation or holiday. Spend a week in your favorite place. If you live in a cold environment, consider a warm location. If you enjoy the outdoors, consider an area with stunning mountain landscapes. Nature can do wonders for the brain.
I agree with everything Scott noted as important, and I’ve tried all of it myself. I’d like to add that physical activity doesn’t have to be a full-blown heavy workout at the gym. It can be a walk, riding your bicycle, swimming, dancing, or anything that feels good for you. I learned it the hard way, so I urge you to be kind to yourself: find the activity you genuinely 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 for a long-term improvement in your mental health and work-life balance. While I’m generally not into the so-called “self-help books,” I did read two that actually helped me (and even amused me). One is Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it will help you build healthy habits step by step. The other is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and it will help you… Well, not give a f*** about many things that you really shouldn’t give a f*** about. :)
Finally, I have to expand on the first point – don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Friends and family do help, but they can only do so up to a certain extent. If you feel that a simple rant doesn’t cut it any longer, make sure to visit a mental health professional. I’m not saying it just like that, it comes from my own experience and from the bottom of my heart.
Where to find help
Last but definitely not least, Scott shares some places where you can find professional help if you’re dealing with mental health issues. “Some countries and even individual cities have their available resources,” Scott writes. “While we can share some, it would be impossible to find them all. So please do some research for your region to find help near you.”
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)
- Psychology Today
- Peer Collection
- NYC Well (New York City)
- Samarian (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland)
- Mind (England, Wales)
Other areas to find assistance is non-profit organizations with a pure focus on photographers and their businesses. The associations in the list below are shared with their locations but are not always limited to their countries.
- Professional Photographers of America (USA)
- The Association of Photographers (UK)
- Redeye, the Photography Network (UK)
- Association of Wedding Photographers of India (India)
In this article, you will find more sources for mental health help, whether you’re a photographer or not. And make sure to visit ImagenAI’s website for Scott’s great article on photographer’s mental health.