Using Photography to Combat Stress, Anxiety and Isolation

February 27, 2018

It has been a hard couple of months for our family. We’ve survived the flu, my husband Peter has been out of town and working a lot, plus we’ve had several professional and personal issues to confront. During this time we also marked the one year anniversary of our move to Minneapolis from Nashville, Tennessee. My great Northern migration! I was so stressed and flustered over the date of our moving anniversary all I could think about was if we were still where we should be. My heart reassured me we were, but I was feeling lonely, tired and discouraged, so the doubts kept creeping through my mind. In this last year it seems like so much has changed, but so much has stayed the same. I still don’t have a stable career path, I’m still working through the difficulties of making new friendships, and I’m still figuring out where I fit in this new city.

When stressors like these come up, one of my first lines of defense is to isolate myself. I make excuses to keep from seeing people and being in situations that may, possibly, cause me more stress. My insecurities rise to the surface, and after a while, I’m convinced that others are just as content with me being inside as I am. I am safe when I am alone. No one can hurt me there. That’s the lie I continue to tell myself. Though I may feel safe at the moment, I forget that I’m the one that hurts myself the most. Very counterproductive, right?

Snow covered stream and woods

Even though I can identify this negative pattern, getting out of it is incredibly difficult. If you recognize this in yourself, which is very common with anxiety and depression, you know that you can’t just snap out of it. There have been times in my life where nothing but therapy or medication has helped me overcome it, and it is OKAY if you need this help. However, since I’m already on medication, and my stressors haven’t been as heartwrenching as others I’ve gone through, I’ve been able to work on coming out of this funk. There are several tools that I use that help me. Today I want to share with you my favorite, one that I have used my entire life. The act of creating.

Over the last year, one of the most significant changes in my life has been how I use photography. For twelve years I took photographs for other people, and since I moved, I now mostly just take photographs for myself. It has been such a joy and has helped me love photography again. I photograph what I see and find beautiful, I experiment, try new techniques, and I don’t do it to please anyone else except myself. The amazing thing about shooting this way is I have found that people still like what I do! By making images that I love, others can continue to relate to my artwork, and we can discover a commonality that we may not have had before. It is beautiful!

This past weekend I knew that it was time for me to start exploring with my camera again. Even though it is one of the best things for me to do when I am in a funk, I tend to put off creating. It had been months since I created for myself so on Friday morning I packed up my gear and decided to start driving until I found a place I wanted to photograph.

While I drove down Minnehaha Parkway, I remembered that Lynnhurst Park had a beautiful trail I enjoyed walking in the summer. It leads to Lake Harriet and is full of large trees and a small stream that feeds into Minnehaha Falls. I pulled into the empty parking lot and stomped through the snow to the trail. It was stunning with the trees covered in snow. I noticed that the stream was flowing even though most of the water here in Minnesota is still frozen. Then I saw a few mallards playing in the water and began to photograph them. As I strolled down the trail, the sound of the ducks became louder and louder. I looked up and in front of me was a fantastic sight! The whole stream was full of mallards! They were flying and bathing, sleeping and fighting. It was so incredibly picturesque and peaceful.

Lynnhurst Park, Minnehaha Parkway

I continued to walk down the trail and noticed that people had made beautiful ice lanterns that ran along the path. Some holding flowers, some with different colors, and some built into stunning sculptures. I walked until I reached the Lake, and again, a remarkable site of fresh snow and quiet on the frozen water. It was a time of prayer of thankfulness for me, a time of creativity, and refreshment for my soul. On my walk back I spoke with a gentleman for a while who had helped make the lanterns along with his wife and others. He shared that they would be lit that night and said I should come back to experience it.

Peter, Monroe and I returned with our pup Wesley and seeing the lanterns lit was stunning. It was an entire neighborhood event, and many people were there along the trails with their families. There was a fire and hot chocolate and cookies. Afterwards, we went home and spent the evening together, and my heart was full.

I keep thinking about what I would have missed if I hadn’t decided to go out if I had continued in my isolation and not taken the step outdoors to create. For me, having a purpose for journeying outside my comfort zone is a big motivator. Sometimes it is the only thing that will get me outside and active when I just want to be alone. It is often the time my mind is quiet enough to feel God’s presence, and sense my resilience after being in a dark place. It is healing for me.

If you don’t have something like this in your life, I encourage you to find what it is. Whether it is photography or some other creative endeavor, find something that you love that can motivate you to journey outside of where you may be floundering. Don’t worry about if others will like what you do. You don’t even have to share it with others! Make something you love, bake, write, paint, whatever reminds you of your worth and value. If you don’t have something yet, try going for a photo walk as I did! You don’t need a fancy camera; just your phone will do. Walk around your neighborhood, drive to a park, and look carefully at what is around you. Beauty can be found everywhere. Especially in you!

What creative endeavors do you have that bring you peace? Do you find it hard to create when you are deep in depression or anxiety? Does creating something help you process what you are going through? If you are a photographer, do you take time to create just for yourself?

Much Love,

Whitney Leigh Carlson

Fine Art Portfolio

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  • Reply Katie February 28, 2018 at 3:10 pm


    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson February 28, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      Thank you, Katie!

  • Reply Julie Oostra February 28, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Whitney! I love this post! I too find creating (and nature) to be helpful in times of anxiety, and yet I’m more likely to not engage these helpful activities and instead go inward and isolate. Your words really resonated with me and are beautiful. As are these photos! And, I love Minnehaha Creek.

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson February 28, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      Thank you so much, Julie! It can be so hard when we know what is good for us but our minds keep us from going forward. I am happy this resonated with you! I actually wasn’t sure what the name of the stream was and now I know it’s a creek! Ha!

  • Reply Hannah DeYoung February 28, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Yes yes yes love this. Photography can be so beneficial to your soul if you use it right! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson March 1, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you, Hannah!

  • Reply Mary Lynn Roper February 28, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    Love, love, love the pics! So glad you continue to challenge yourself in creating beauty for YOU!!! Meanwhile we all are blessed!! Love you!!

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson March 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you, Mom! I appreciate your constant support and love always. Love you too!

  • Reply Ashley Robinson March 1, 2018 at 1:40 am

    These photos are so beautiful! And I had no idea about the ice lanterns . . . we will have to go check them out. I too have struggled to make friends here in the Twin Cities even though I’ve been her a lot longer. I tend to isolate myself and grab hold of activities that give me the excuse to stay that way. Thanks for the inspiration to get out and find the thing that helps relieve stress my way.

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson March 1, 2018 at 4:08 pm

      Ashley, thank you so much for sharing with me. Making new friends as an adult and a parent can be so hard! I have met some amazing people here, but finding time to spend with them regularly, randomly hanging out, etc… is very difficult. When you have children as well it can make it even more so! Everything has to be so planned, and being prone to isolation it can make it worse. The lanterns were beautiful, I hope they haven’t melted yet!

  • Reply Cheryl Hartman March 1, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Whitney, its 4:30 AM in the morning so I’m not sure what’s going on with me but I loved your photos and appreciate your honesty on feeling isolated. Some people find their purpose and everything falls into place. The rest of us struggle for whatever reason. Don’t give up, keep searching. Love, Cheryl

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson March 1, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      Thank you for sharing Cheryl! The isolation I experience is a lot of my own doing because of the anxiety that experience. Thank you for your encouragement, and I hope you were able to get some rest last night!

  • Reply kim thomas March 4, 2018 at 1:14 am

    So beautiful Whitney! Thank you for sharing this, and for the exquisite photos. xo-Kim

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson March 6, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      Kim, thank you so much!

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