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COVID, mental health and taking pictures

To see some, the connection between these three things may seem unclear, but there will be others who will probably relate straight away.

The whole pandemic has created mental struggles for so many people over the last few years for all sorts of different reasons. For some it's the nature of the change to our "normal" way of life, for others it's been putting plans and dreams on hold, for others the uncertainty of the future brings great anxiety and then, more directly, there is the obvious fear of death, hospitalisation, sickness or having to isolate. Our lives have been disrupted on many levels and different groups of people have reacted very differently to it.

I have read that in theories about stress and anxiety, they say there are three common reactions or impulses that humans have to a stressful or dangerous situation - One is to FLEE, or to escape or avoid the thing that causes the anxiety or fear. This is understandable, and I see many people adopting this attitude as our governments opened the floodgates to Omicron without much of a transition or seemingly much of a plan. The second is to DENY. We certainly see these kind of people making their voices heard a lot, and sadly we all probably have a friend who has gone down some conspiracy rabbit hole. There is such a pattern of this around the world that I believe it's a symptom of mental illness, and certainly it's a well documented phenomenon as a reaction to something so overwhelming that the brain can't cope with the reality and creates a narrative with which it is more comfortable. You can hear even quite intelligent people just babbling some total irrational nonsense and cherry-picking information from dubious sources to justify their narrative. As we have seen, this can have really toxic and tragic consequences, including unnecessary death.

Another less extreme for of denial is the person who lives off unrealistic hope and positivity. For me, the so-called "positive thinking" can be incredibly toxic and perhaps importantly, disempowering. I say disempowering, because it's relying on events getting better and believing that everything will work out alright if we wish it so. But what happens if things don't work out ? What if the worst case scenario happens ? I've seen the crushing effect this has had on those with unrealistic expectations. That's where the final type of reaction comes in : ACCEPTANCE.

Sometimes it may be necessary to go through the other two phase to get to this one, but there's a point where we may not like the reality we're living in, but realise that accepting it as it is is the best way forward. By accepting that a bad situation may not improve, as it's something you can't control, you can make plans on how to deal with it, rather than wasting energy on something you can't stop. This is far more empowerin, as far as I'm concerned. You can only do something about a situation if you are willing to fully appreciate the reality. This has never been more true to me that during this pandemic, where we are dealing with a virus which doesn't give any regard to peoples' feelings, to politics or beliefs. It is an implacable foe which takes advantage, if you like, of both the weaknesses and the natural instincts of humans.

But none of this is easy or that the strain of the situation doesn't get to us in one way or another at times. I just think rather than trying to hide from or deny the reality of a very difficult situations or to wring our hands about the mental health implications of the pandemic, it's much better to find coping mechanisms to help deal with what feels like the overwhelmingness of the situation. We can still enjoy life, achieve things, have goals and so on. For me, the pandemic has been a time of great personal reflection, growth and insight and I've found my own ways of preventing myself from sliding into a great morrass of self-pity and despair.

For some this may be meditation or yoga, going for a jog, watching a movie, trying new recipes...for me, photography has been a big help as a kind of therapy.

Photography, like most other art forms, is a way of seeing, conceptualising and presenting the world around you, specifically in a visual way. It makes me look at the world around me in a conscious and focused way, to seek out strange and unexpected juxtapositions of objects, symmetry and pleasing patterns in nature or man-made constructions. You start to study the world around you, the places and the people, more intently and try to formulate ideas for photos. You start to notice things you didn't before. As I result I've also found new and interesting places near me that I didn't know of before.

If nothing else, it gives you a focus or a purpose other than worrying about what's going to happen with COVID or where I'm going to earn money from. In the meantime, I'm trying to learn new skills and techniques, improve me photography by reviewing and analysing the work that I've done and understanding what I like or dislike about it. and how I could improve it. This is, of course, not just relevant to photography but life in general as well.

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