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How to Be an Anxious Photographer


My name is Emilie, I am a photographer based in England, and I have a severe anxiety disorder.

woman holding camera up
Photo by EmilieShoots
woman looking down
Photo by EmilieShoots

Being a professional photographer is stressful enough and pairing it with an anxiety disorder really doesn’t help anything. What? You don’t believe me that snapping photos for a living is stressful? Well, let me just list a few reasons why it is:

Settings

A lot of professional photographers mainly shoot in manual, which means we do all the work the camera would normally do in auto. “Why wouldn’t you just shoot in auto?” I hear you ask. Well, the reason we shoot in manual is to be able to control exactly what the camera does, as sometimes the camera makes mistakes and can completely ruin an image. We also shoot in manual because we are artists and we want to choose how we shoot certain images to create a certain look. 

It can be difficult to remember all of this at once while on a shoot and can become stressful and overwhelming. 

Dependability

Being depended on to deliver a service can be stressful, as there is an enormous amount of pressure to fulfill or exceed your clients’ expectations, especially if you’re new and inexperienced. 

If theres one thing anxious people hate, it’s being depended on. The fear of failing is extremely daunting.

Editing

Editing can be stressful, as it’s the final part of creating your images and delivering your service. Editing is also responsible for completely transforming an average, boring image to a unique piece of artwork — and trying to decide how to edit an image can be a struggle.

Being watched

Photographers are often the center of attention while photographing because they’re directing people for the shots. It can feel like you’re being watched and judged on your profession and make you feel self-conscience, as if you’re doing something wrong or looking silly… especially while trying to get those artistic angles.

Deadlines

You know you have to have all of the images, DVDs, prints, etc. done in time for a certain date arranged with the client and worry you won’t get it done in time. The editing process can take a while.

Everyone experiences anxiety, but not everyone has an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders are a type of mental illness involving feelings of anxiety and fear. People with an anxiety disorder often find it hard to control their worries, and their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can affect their daily lives. Symptoms depend on the type of anxiety disorder, but the general symptoms include:

  • feeling tense, nervous and on edge
  • feeling like your mind is really busy with thoughts
  • dwelling on negative experiences or thinking over a situation again and again (this is called rumination)
  • nausea (feeling sick)  
  • shaking
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • hyperventilating
  • feeling as if you can’t breath/shortness of breath
  • sweating or hot flushes
  • blushing
  • palpitations
  • chest pains
  • panic attacks
  • anxiety attacks
  • tiredness
  • difficulty sleeping                    
  • needing the toilet more or less frequently
  • churning in the pit of your stomach

After living with an anxiety disorder for about 12 years now, I have learned some pretty helpful tips on dealing with being anxious, as well as coping with being a professional photographer.


My Top Tips on How to Be an Anxious Photographer:

Say yes!

 It’s important, if you are ready, to say yes to some things that make you anxious or that you would usually avoid. I know this sounds like the worst thing to do, but trust me, facing your fears really can work. But doing something you’re not mentally ready for can be damaging and really set you back. I recently said yes to photographing and blogging about a thai tasting event and a VIP restaurant opening in my town and really enjoyed them. Normally I would say no to something like that but decided to go against my instincts. To make me more comfortable I took someone along with me to both events, and that really made it easier. You can read all about them here and here.

Take a deep breath

It is vital you take a deep breath, step back and control your breathing to calm yourself down when you feel yourself getting anxious or the start of a panic attack. One of the biggest mistakes anxious people make is breathing rapidly when they feel panicked; that can lead to hyperventilating, which of course increases anxiety and causes more uncomfortable, scary symptoms like chest pains. To help control your breathing try taking slow, deep breaths through the nose, breathing into your lower belly. Then, hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds and exhale slowly through the mouth. Wait a few seconds before repeating until you feel you have regained control of your breathing. Being a photographer requires you to be (or at least act like) a calm and collected person. Learning to control your breathing can really help calm you down in anxiety-provoking situations.  

Question your thoughts

Realize what you are thinking may not be true. When you are anxious, your brain starts coming up with all sorts of irrational ideas, many of which are highly unlikely to occur. Challenging your thoughts is a good way help relieve some of the anxiety and help you see things more clearly.

What’s the worst that can happen?

I see this question as more of a rhetorical question. The majority of the time, the “worst” that can happen really isn’t that bad. 

Why is that so bad? 

Again, to me this acts as more a rhetorical question and makes you rationalize the situation and understand that what you’re afraid of might not be that bad.

Is this really true, or does it just seem that way?

Anxiety can play tricks on your mind and make you believe unrealistic things — like if a group of people near by are talking you might believe they are talking about you (and saying bad things). Challenging these negative thoughts makes you realize that in reality, they are probably just having small talk about their day or whatever and might not even pay much attention to you. You really don’t need this distraction while photographing, as photography demands all of your attention, so being able to challenge these thoughts can help you quickly rationalize the situation. 

Use positive self-talk 

Using positive self talk can help stop the anxious thoughts and replace them with rational, realistic thoughts. Here are some examples of positive self talk that i use: 

  • “I am not my anxiety.”
  • “I am better than my anxiety.”
  • “Nothing is wrong with me. I have anxiety, and that’s OK.”
  • “Lots of people deal with this, I am not a alone.”
  • “I am able to feel the fear and do it anyways.”
  • “I am not losing my mind, anxiety is a liar. That is a fact.” 

As a photographer you often need to be (or act like) a confident person, and using positive self talk like this can help make you feel more confident, self-assured and and positive. 

Exercise

Exercising can help relieve tension, increase mood, improve sleep and reduce stress. Now, I’m not suggesting an anxious person should immediately sign up for a gym membership. Exercise can be anything from a brisk walk, biking, running or any sporting activity you enjoy! Photography is busy work, so taking the time for a long walk or bike ride is essential to de-stress, clear your mind and help yourself relax.  

Escape

Sometimes, it’s good to schedule some me time to just escape in a good book, TV show or movie and relax in your pajamas with your favorite snack. Anxiety is draining, and it’s important to have some time to recharge. It’s also good to distract/occupy yourself if you have a shoot or something you’re nervous for the next day, so you don’t overthink about it and make your self more anxious. Taking a break from photographing/editing sometimes to relax can be good and let you go back to it with fresh eyes and maybe see things differently and improve your work.

Experiment

Photographers often get in a rut with their work. Doing the same kind of thing over and over again can get boring and make you feel unoriginal and uncreative. This can cause stress and anxiety. The best way to change that is to go out of your way to experiment with different types of photography, lenses, effects, subjects and angles. Simply trying something new can really help your perspective in photography, improve your work and you might even find you like a type of photography you would never of considered. 

Talk to someone

Talking to some one, like a friend, family member or even a pet, can be beneficial and improve your relationship with that person, as you’re opening up a big, private part of your life to them. Who knows… they might even feel the same way. Being a photographer can be a lonely job, so now and again it’s a good idea to have some time to just talk with someone and connect.

Therapy  

Talking therapies can be helpful to people dealing with anxiety and can teach about your anxiety levels, worrisome thoughts and help conquer your fears. It helps you understand the cycle of anxiety and how your thoughts affect how you feel and behave. It can be insightful to see how this affects your job as a photographer, as you might avoid certain things due to anxiety and then miss out on important photography opportunities. 

Limit you’re caffeine

Drinking too much caffeine can increase anxiety, tension, insomnia and stress. If you’re a photographer, then coffee is often a must. What, with all the early mornings for shoots, weddings, landscapes, etc. Plus, you need to be alert and have those creative juices flowing. But too much can send you in to overdrive, increase your anxiety and make you experience more symptoms, which can get in the way. 

And sleep more

Anxiety is exhausting! All that excessive worrying, fear, dread as well as all of the physical symptoms is difficult to cope with. Making sure you have more than enough rest to completely relax and recharge is important, as it really does take a lot out of you — more than you think. Because photography is quite stressful and can have an impact on your anxiety levels, it’s important to have down time to just sleep. A lot of anxious people tend to have problems sleeping and often can’t switch off. Instead, they stay up watching the hours go by every night… sound familiar? No sleep can obviously leave a person tired, irritable and unable to focus, concentrate or remember things. Taking steps like making sure to go to bed at a set time, having a relaxing hot bath, listening to calming music or reading before going to sleep can help improve your quality of sleep.

So those are my top tips on how to be an anxious photographer. Of course these are specific to me, and what works for me, might not work for you. If you think you have an anxiety disorder or have some of the symptoms, it’s always best to talk to your doctor and get advice. 

Living with a mental illness is something a lot of people don’t understand — and that’s not their fault. It’s society’s. Society deems any “invisible” mental illness to be lesser than a physical one or nonexistent. One of the most important things to remember when living with a mental illness is you’re not alone. There are countless others suffering just like you, most of whom are too scared too speak up about these debilitating illnesses for fear of judgment. It’s time to end the stigma surrounding mental health, even if it’s by one blog post at a time.

Follow this journey on EmilieShoots.

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