Text by Cassandra Lamberti
Illustration by Ludovic Pujol
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship” – Louisa May Alcott, “Little Women”
It’s not unusual to overlook one’s surroundings in the day-to-day. As humans, we create a routine for ourselves, and even not having a routine becomes one. It’s easy to rush the day when we focus on specific tasks; anything not on our to-do list is discounted. As a result, stress manages to arbitrate its way onto the list without any warning.
Many people tend to put their own health at the bottom of the list by either avoiding the issue or being in denial. Thinking it may get better the next day or hoping that whatever it is one is feeling (stress, anxiety, depression, etc.) will simply go away on its own is not a solution. Every case is different as everyone is unique. However, mental health problems are not treated with a light switch, where one click turns everything bright and clear. Focusing on oneself takes time, dedication and practice.
Art-related activities have been shown to have a positive effect on one’s mental health. Creating art gives you the chance to slow down a bit, open up a door to improve your self-esteem by unleashing your inner creativity and feeling a greater sense of accomplishment. At the same time, you are allowing your mind to subconsciously focus on yourself because you are doing something that is made exclusively by you. Whether it’s taking a photo of something you visually appreciate or creating a clay dish in a pottery class, that time is spent on feelings that may have been buried but are now climbing to the surface.
Being new to a creative space doesn’t mean it is not for you. It’s actually the opposite. In art therapy, there is no right or wrong way to do anything. Choosing the avenue that you’re most intrigued by may be the most challenging part because there are so many possibilities to explore. It is important to take part in something you have an interest in or have never tried before. This is a time to comfortably release all sorts of feelings through self-discovery. Photography, for example, is a very freeing practice as well as a popular outlet for emotions. All you need is a clear point-and-shoot camera or a phone camera and the willingness to try.
Capturing images requires focus and adaptability, which gear the mind towards creating something positive and gaining new insights. For many, spare time is not easy to come by, which makes taking photos a very convenient activity. It can be done anywhere and at any time – whether you’re on your way to or from work, running errands or about to start a class. What matters most is recognising visuals that you personally enjoy looking at, as well as snapping a photo of the subject the way you see it.
There are a few techniques you can practise in order to ease yourself into photography. Just remember that everyone will have a different input when viewing the same photo. The exercise described below is solely for your own gain. By trying the following techniques, you will be able to connect with and begin to understand your emotions and the memories and thoughts that trigger them.
1. Take a photo and frame it the way you like. This is for the sole purpose of you visually appreciating and wanting to document the moment.
2. View a photo of yourself taken by someone else. We all catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror at least once a day, but those glimpses don’t offer any introspection. However, taking a moment to view yourself as seen at a specific time and being able to recall your emotions from that time will give you an occasion to reflect upon yourself.
3. Take a self-portrait. This will allow you to frame yourself the way you feel, free of inhibitions, and execute it in a photo.
4. Look through a family or friends’ album. This will guide your mind to remember life events, maybe even obstacles, that you were a part of, enabling you to realise how far you have come.
5. Recall or take note of how you prepare before you take a photo. This will encourage a better grasp of your photography process and the steps you take before snapping a shot.
Practising these techniques will allow you to reach feelings within yourself that you may have been unknowingly avoiding.
There is a great deal of different methods to help with your mental wellness: painting to music, writing your thoughts down in a journal or creating a collage. Whatever the path you choose to follow, the important part is that it gives you a sense of unity within yourself.
Some might consider photography and art stressful because of how others critique one’s work. But in the case of art therapy, the point is to de-stress by giving yourself a healthy outlet for your feelings that can be difficult to express. It’s imperative to note that the purpose of this artistic release is to improve your mental health, not someone else’s. Immersing yourself in a new craft takes a lot of courage. Also, you should enjoy the process instead of focusing on the final product.
While there are many things over which you have no control, both photography and art enable you to curate your own world. Amidst life’s hectic moments, there are peaceful ones longing to be had. Be mindful and take a moment to gaze at your surroundings. There is poetry all around you; you just have to remember to look.