For the last 10 years, your phone has enabled you to do a lot more than talk to someone across the world. Your smartphone is like a small, magical mystery box that helps you do millions of incredible things with simply the touch of your fingers.
Now, I believe your phone can be one of the best tools for helping you manage and overcome depression and anxiety — but possibly not for the reasons you think.
While different phone apps provide a range of useful features, such as support communities and mood trackers, there’s one component of your phone that stands out most in my eyes: the camera.
The camera allows you to tap into the power of perspective, introspection, and self-authoring. You might be surprised at how a tool so simple and universal — something that most of us use every day — can have such a profound impact on your wellness.
I’ve found there are nine key ways your phone’s camera can help with managing and overcoming depression. Let’s take a moment to explore them.
1. A shift in perspective and a sense of control
When you find yourself dealing with depression, your perspective becomes heavily influenced by negative thoughts. In my experience, it can feel like your mindset is spiraling downward, and becoming darker and darker over time.
Depression often goes hand in hand with feelings of inertia that make it tough to change. The pull toward doing nothing seems to happen unconsciously, so you’re unaware of it. You may not notice how dramatically depression alters the way you speak, the words you choose, and the stories you tell yourself about who you are.
That’s why it’s so powerful when you lift up your camera and consciously choose what to focus on. Your camera makes the simple process of observing the world through your own perspective both physical and literal.
Instead of feeling confused and unable to take hold of your mind, you deliberately choose and control what you capture in your photos. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that have the most power.
2. Motivation to get active and get outside
The struggle to get out of your bed or outside the house can be all too real when you have depression. But the chance to photograph a sunset, find a new place to explore with your camera, or just get your next best shot can give you an extra boost of motivation to make it happen.
Photography is a great first step because, at its essence, it’s a very individual and personal practice. It doesn’t require social interaction, making it easier if you have social anxiety.
As you become more comfortable, it’s also a great way to connect with people.
Photography also gives you an incentive to get outdoors. Although it won’t cure depression, some studies suggest that being in natural settings may help. For example, researchers at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment have found that time outside, especially walking in nature, may reduce the risk of depression.
3. Opportunities for introspection and self-reflection
With every photo, you’re expressing something about yourself, whether it’s an emotion, a style, or a story tied to the moment that you’ve captured.
I believe there’s a mountain of opportunities for you to use these pieces of data to help you learn more about yourself. You can become aware of habits or uncover deep pain that hasn’t been dealt with before. This may require professional help or support, so be sure to be open with your healthcare provider or therapist about the self-reflective work you’re doing.
Try to see each photo as an invitation to further understand yourself and improve your outlook.
Working with your photos to understand yourself is only the first step, from my point of view. It’s vital to keep building and creating yourself on an ongoing basis. I like to put it this way: Think of yourself as the most important project of your life.
You’re not set in stone, but always changing and improving over time.
Through your camera, the photos you take, and the stories that you tell about yourself, you can work to create the person you want to be.
This is your ideal self.
Do you know who that is?
5. A chance to bust stereotypes
If you struggle with depression or anxiety, you likely know and may have experienced the stigma that exists around mental health.
Every time someone misattributes acts of violence to mental illness, makes a discriminatory joke, or shares a statement that goes against reality and well-documented facts, it contributes to the stigma. And it only makes it harder to talk about what you’re going through.
That’s why when you share photos and stories that focus on your reality, it helps to spread awareness and debunk those out-of-date, stigmatizing ideas.
There’s a kaleidoscope of different experiences among people who deal with depression and anxiety. As your own personal process of recovery can help you grow, it can also help bust down stereotypes at the same time.
6. Opportunities for connection and empathy
The photos and stories you create help provide a safe way for you to express what you’re going through, while leaving interpretation open to the viewer.
You don’t have to discuss depression in specific terms if you don’t want to. Those who can relate are still likely to connect with your images or words.
We now live in an always-on, globally connected culture. Sometimes it feels like an obligation to share everything online. Although many online communities and tools provide a space for you to give and get support around these issues, there’s also evidence that social media may have negative effects on mental health. For example, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that increased use of Facebook is linked to decreased mental health issues and overall wellness.
Tip: Set up a private Instagram account, or blog, just for yourself. You can use it as a personal, visual journal. This allows you to share and keep your stories in a convenient way, while cutting out the impulse to get more likes and follows, which can increase anxiety.
7. Practicing gratitude
I find that photography is often a practice of searching for and capturing what you find beautiful in the world. It’s a simple way to express gratitude. In turn, it may help you start building positive thought patterns to balance out the negative.
8. Practicing mindfulness and calming anxiety
In my experience, depression can make you want to turn off your mind as you try to deal with the never-ending cycle of negative thoughts. Depression can make it hard to sleep and hard to focus.
Depression can make it hard to do anything.
So, when I began to take photos, and noticed how my thoughts ceased, it was a welcome relief. Try it. You may not even notice at first, but it might be the underlying reason you find yourself drawn to photography.
Taking photos is its own form of practicing mindfulness. It puts your focus on the external world and helps to quiet your mind, even if only for a few minutes.
9. Providing routine with a visual journal
Photography can be a way to keep track of your mood and how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis. You may start to see patterns over time that allow you to understand more about what helps and what makes things worse.
Tip: Set up a recurring alarm or app reminders to help you build a routine around taking photos or writing stories. You can use coach.me to track your progress for free.
Finding a new way to express yourself may help you start to work through depression or anxiety, or both. I believe that you don’t need to look very far to find a tool that can help you express yourself and capture your perspective.
The phone in your pocket is more powerful than you think. And so are you.
Bryce Evans is an award-winning artist traveling the world, sharing valuable insights on life, and working to positively impact a billion people. He’s worked with top international brands, created projects with global reach, and exhibited his artwork around the world while being featured by VICE, Huffington Post, WEDay, The Mighty, and more. In 2010, he founded The One Project as the first photography community for people living with depression and anxiety. He's become an expert in therapeutic photography for mental health through his writing, teaching, and speaking, including the TEDx talk, How Photography Saved My Life.
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