This is a strange and stressful time for all of us. As we get used to a “new normal” it’s good to have some tools we can use to cope with our current situation. As a photographer and social worker, I’m going to share some self-care strategies for photographers and creatives.
During difficult times, the first thing we need to do is turn to our trusted self-care strategies. Remember, this is not the first stressful period in our lives. We have all lived through other difficult times and have developed tools that we know can help us cope. Now is the time to remember what has helped us get through to the other side of those other stressful moments, and use those tools again.
In my day job, I’m a social worker in a pediatric re-adaptation center in Montreal, Canada, where I work with the parents of children with developmental delays and disabilities. Many of these parents have been stressed since their children were born, and part of my job is helping them find strategies to adapt and build resilience. I’m also a photographer. Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have been doing a day-in-the-life project with my family as a way to cope with the situation. I’m going to share some strategies you can use at home.
Before we get into the self-care strategies, please remember that lowering your expectations is essential. Nothing is working as it should right now, and so we are not either. That said, here are some ways photographers can take care of themselves during this stressful time:
1. Stay connected to family, friends and peers.
In times like this, we need to stay connected to the people we normally connect with on a regular basis — family, friends and peers — using the tools we have at hand. Photography can be a great way to do this.
To connect with family and friends, I started a blog where I share photos and text of our daily lives during the Coronavirus pandemic. These aren’t all portfolio-worthy images, and that’s OK. My goal with this project is to document this strange time, and to share and connect with family and friends through photos. You could also send your loved ones some photo prints or an album to connect with them.
You can stay connected with your photographer peers online, either through Facebook groups, like the Click Magazine group, Instagram or photography forums like Clickin Moms. These are all great places to find support and inspiration.
Of course, keeping up connections with the people in our homes is even more essential than usual. And, since social distancing doesn’t apply, we can hug each other as much as we want.
2. Allow yourself to express negative emotions.
When we feel overwhelmed with a situation, having one or two people that we can talk to is very helpful. It’s important to make sure these people will help calm us down and ground us, not spiral with us into even more anxiety. Crying is also a great way to let go of stress and anxiety.
On the other hand, laughing is also very powerful. It can be a great help to find ways to laugh, either alone or with family members.
3. Choose your sources of information wisely.
Choosing and reducing information as much as we can is essential in emergency times. There is so much information coming at us right now, and lots of speculative or false news, too. Choosing the right sources, mostly official ones, will help reduce anxiety.
It also helps to choose just one moment a day (or less) to look at the news so you’re not constantly disrupted.
4. Focus on things you can control.
We can’t control the virus, or government decisions, or what our neighbors are doing. But we can control the information coming into our homes. And, we can control the amount of screen time we are allowing ourself and our kids, the food we eat and the time we go to bed. Focusing on what we can control gives us a sense of power in a situation where we don’t have much.
5. Go outside and get moving.
Moving and staying in contact with nature are great self-care strategies to reduce stress and anxiety. This may not be so easy to do right now, depending on where you live and local guidelines for social distancing. If you can still safely go out for walks in your neighborhood, lucky for you! But if going out isn’t possible for you, there are lots of resources online to help get moving indoors. My favorite indoor exercise is putting on some music and having a dance party in our living room. While you’re at it, why not put the camera on a timer or remote and document this time?
You can stay connected to nature by taking in some sun and fresh air from your backyard, balcony or even a window. Or, try gardening (inside or outside) or even taking photos of the first signs of spring. For kids, playing with sensory textures (water, sand or food) is a great way to connect.
If you have to go out for grocery shopping or to work in essentials services, that can bring another level of stress and anxiety. Taking photos of your surroundings — empty streets and closed businesses (even from car windows) — could feel therapeutic. Of course, following the guidelines of your region is important.
6. Use your photography as a therapeutic outlet.
Photography can be a great self-care strategy because the creative process can help you focus on the present and forget everything going on around you. A busy mind is less likely to spiral into anxious thoughts.
Any genre of photography — macro, still life, documentary or fine art, for example — can be therapeutic. But, if you don’t feel like shooting right now, try some creative edits. Really, any activity that helps keep your mind totally focused for two to 10 minutes or more, a few times a day, is great. My favorite form of photo therapy is to document one moment from as many different angles and creative techniques as possible.
Another way to use your photography for healing is to photograph the important events taking place right now. Chances are that you are experiencing birthdays and other significant life events completely differently than you might have planned. Why not document that as part of a day-in-the-life project? Finding ways to incorporate your grieving into documentary work can be deeply healing.
You can choose to keep these photos for yourself and your inner circle, but sharing on social media can also be therapeutic.
7. Be mindful of the little everyday things.
Photography can help us to be more aware of the present moment, and it’s a great way to document and remember this time as well. When we’re at home with our kids, the days can go both fast and slow at the same time. Looking at our photos at the end of the day will help us remember what we did and what was positive in our day that we might have otherwise forgotten.
And while focusing on documenting the positive aspects of our day will help, it’s important not to be blind to the difficult parts of our day, and to document those aspects as well. It’s OK to let ourselves hurt.
Mindfulness and meditation are also great ways to remember the everyday things.
8. Get help if you need it.
If you’re feeling like it’s just too much — if you’re short tempered, your sleep is disrupted, you’re eating to much or too little, you feel like crying all the time or if you can’t stop thinking of worst-case scenarios — reach out for help. Most regions have help lines to call for professional support.
4 Ways to help your kids cope with stress during the pandemic.
1. Reduce their exposure to information and adult talk.
Even if you think your child is too young to understand, or that they aren’t listening, they feed off of our energy. If we are anxious, they will be too. Try to keep adult talk to a minimum and reduce kids’ exposure to information. It’s also important to adapt the information we do share to our kids’ ages. Toddlers don’t require the same amount of detail as you’d give a teen.
2. Keep your routines.
Daily routines help kids (and adults alike) feel like they have some control over their environment because it lets them know what to expect next. Include activities in your day that help reduce stress, such as contact with nature, free play and sensory activities. If screen time is a lifesaver right now, make sure to keep some sort of control over time and content, as screen time can lead to increased anxiety.
3. Adjust your expectations.
We shouldn’t expect kids to be able to work like they would in school normally, and fighting with them about school work increases our stress level and theirs. You can also expect more negative reactions, like tantrums, whining, backtalk and crying. It’s important to hear their concerns and understand that they are going through stress as well. Offer them your connection.
4. Maintain connections.
Kids need parental connection when they are stressed. It can look different for each child, but finding a way to give them some undivided attention doing an activity they love will help a lot. A family project is a great way to focus everyone’s attention on something positive. Find ways for older kids to maintain some sense of independence and connection with their friends and family outside the home.
How photography can reduce kids’ stress.
Photography can be a great way to help kids cope with this stressful time. A family photography project is a great way to connect, help limit screen time, keep kids entertained and provide a creative outlet. Older kids can take on part of the project by themselves, or even create their own photo project to share with family and friends. Here are some family photo project ideas:
- Documenting your “new normal” or everyday. Include things that are meaningful right now or things that are more difficult to talk about.
- Create an elaborate photo hunt.
- Photograph your kids’ favorite games or activities at this moment in time.
- Set up a portrait session with your kids and their favorite toys.
The idea is to find a photo project that fits your family and your kids’ needs.
Note: All the photos in this article have been taken since the onset of the pandemic (March 13 here in Montreal, Canada). I followed our local government guidelines at all times; the outside photos were taken near our home or on my way to work, where I’m classified as an essential employee.
Photos by Anouk Briere Godbout