Most of us will have had that feeling of dread creeping up on us at some point in our lives; the racing heart, nausea, sweaty palms, and sense of impending doom. For some of us, this is just the start. And it’s not occasional. Working as a photographer with anxiety can feel very isolating and often impossible.
The majority of my work is client facing. More often than not, it is both client facing and working with a subject. Managing this while controlling anxiety has proved tricky over the years. I have tried a plethora of potions, therapies, and lifestyle choices to cope with the anxiety that I developed during my childhood (I am now 31 if that holds any relevance). Anxiety is a broad term and it goes from feeling uneasy in certain situations right through to being extremely unwell.
Here are a few coping strategies that I have picked up along the way (often from very well known photographers) that get me through the working day.
Give Yourself Time
Always be early. If I need to be at a shoot at 9 a.m. and there’s one hour of travel, I will be leaving the house at 7 a.m. sharp. I would rather be sat in a cafe around the corner than adding any stress to my day with traffic, train delays, and general bad commuting karma. Giving myself the extra time, even at the cost of sleep, seems to keep me calm.
Knowing that you have everything covered will remove a lot of worry. I often have three camera bodies, two lenses for each focal length (often a 35mm, 85mm, and then a back up of 24-70mm and 70-200mm), multiple lighting and trigger options, and enough memory cards to save my entire lifetime's memories too. Being certain that no matter what, you have it covered, can take a lot of pressure off you. This continues with backups, travel itineraries, lighting tests, and checking over my equipment the evening before the job. It’s ritualistic, but it works.
Leave Some Kit Out of the Room
When I start to feel the signs of a panic attack creeping up, I will leave for the bathroom to run cold water on my wrists. But, there are only so many times that you can do a bathroom run before people start worrying about the state of your bowels. As an additional excuse to leave the room I have started leaving some kit in the car, in the studio office space, or generally away from the main shooting space. I will nip out and collect a light stand, hard drive, or lens. Try to create a few prefabricated reasons to leave the room should you need five minutes to collect yourself. The people in the room won’t mind.
Visualization and Breathing Techniques
I am not a hippy kinda guy, so I put this off for far too many years. But it works. It doesn’t need to involve crystals and yoga mats, for me it’s taking five minutes in the morning after my alarm goes off to sit still and make time for myself. I usually lay in bed breathing slowing, running through what I want to achieve in the day and what I am going to do well. It only lasts five to ten minutes, but that short time of peace and quiet is key to my daily well being.
Remember Why You Are There
When everyone in the room is watching you and waiting for you to pull out the shot, remember that you are the only person in that room with the skill set to do so, and that is why you are holding the camera.
What works for you? I am always up for trying new things, so if you have found anything particularly useful, please share in the comments below.