Turning negative emotions into a positive through photography

We are currently experiencing an understandable increase in mental health problems. These are uncertain times. With worries ranging from finances to health, social isolation, and lack of routine. This is leading to many, if not most, of us, experiencing some form of anxiety.

But actually, the world was already experiencing high levels of depression and suicide rates before the coronavirus. So now, more than ever is the time to consider ways in which to cope. And ways in which to turn this into something positive.

Negative emotions can be destructive and painful to live with. And although I am coping very well with the current situation, that is not to say that I haven’t experienced times of distress in my life. My HSP nature, along with my empathetic personality means that I feel things deeply and am connected to emotions strongly. Learning to harness and channel emotions has been something I have spent years doing. So I understand and wanted to share a few thoughts on how to channel anxiety into creativity in the hope that it helps you as well.

Use your anxiety as a fuel to create.

I naturally turn to creativity in times of distress. The medium changes over the years or days. Sometimes it is photography, sometimes art or writing. The idea is to begin, and as you create using your hands, your mind becomes involved, distracted, and eased. Transforming the essence of the pain you are feeling into a physical creation is so much more important than we can ever know.

Creativity is a fabulous therapy that can work just as well, or even better than traditional therapies.

As a teenager filled with angst I painted huge canvases of the sea. In times of grief, I run to the water’s edge to photograph. During times of stress or anxiety, I am soothed by being in nature, photographing wild seas and beaches. I need to create when I feel anxious or upset. There is no other outlet for me that helps.

Anxiety has energy. Feed off that energy and use it as fuel for creativity.

Art is therapy, a meditation of its own.

Meditation and mindfulness are often suggested to those with anxiety issues. There is no doubt that they are powerful tools. We think of traditional meditation as sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours. And yes, this is one way. But are there other ways to get in a similar zone to meditation?

When I go out and photograph, I get completely lost. My mind is emptied and I fully concentrate on noticing. The light, the sounds, the wind. For instance, during lockdown, I was feeling unsettled and upset one morning. I went into my garden and made the decision to photograph something in the patch of grass behind the house. There wasn’t much that obvious so I had to really look and concentrate on finding a subject. Eventually I found some lichen growing on the trees and spent an hour finding the right angles, the right lens combination, noticing the way the sun lit up little mini-worlds within the lichen. I noticed the colours and patterns. How it was possible to highlight one small part of the plant, whilst throwing everything out of focus and making it seem like a dream world.

I emerged an hour later and I felt exhilarated and excited by my images. The upset had dissipated simply through concentration and focus on creating something and noticing beauty in the world. Getting absorbed, distracting ourselves through creation, and turning negative emotions into a beautiful piece of art in the process.

Go and create and allow your anxiety to be released in a positive way. Give yourself an outlet.

Don’t seek perfection – enjoy the process.

When starting to create, create without preconceived ideas about creating a masterpiece. Most artists spend years before they create great work, so don’t set yourself up to expect to create amazing work. The process is the important part. Great work may come later down the line with persistence and regularity.

If you think about how children create. Have you ever seen a three-year-old who says they aren’t very good at painting so they won’t do it? They dive in hands and feet and create and enjoy the mess. They experiment and are free. We should remember this as we open our notepads, our drawing pads, or pick up our camera.

Try and feel childlike in your creations and let loose. Even a few strokes on a page is an achievement if it makes you feel better. You do not have to be “good’ at art or photography or writing and it’s far better not to think about how good it is. Enjoy the process and by the time you have finished, your anxious feelings may well have subsided.

Ideas to try

  • Sketch or paint freely.
  • Photograph plants and small details in your garden.
  • Try intentional camera movement to free yourself.
  • Try some cyanotypes.
  • Use your camera phone and apps to create iPhone images.
  • Write in your notepad. Write stories or thoughts or poems.
  • Doodle or colour in.