Door 43 wellbeing blog: Photo journaling as a route to wellbeing

Door 43 wellbeing blog: Photo journaling as a route to wellbeing

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In these blogs our Door 43 team provide wise words and support to help young people manage emotional health and wellbeing during this difficult time. Be sure to look out for these blogs on the Sheffield Futures website and our TwitterFacebook and Instagram channels. 

This week Terri talks about her new found love of practicing presence through photo journaling and how this can be a tool to create a greater sense of wellbeing – especially important during lockdown. 

Hi everyone, it’s Terri at Door 43 here.  So, a couple of weeks ago I was over on Instagram talking to you about a way that we can try and take care of our wellbeing right now, through practicing presence or what we sometimes call ‘taking notice’.   This week, I’m going to be sharing with you my personal experience of practicing presence and creating a photo journal during lockdown.

I’m going to outline what taking notice is and why it’s important.  Then I’m going to talk about why I decided to do it, what I discovered for myself and how it’s helped me create a greater sense of wellbeing during lockdown.  Afterwards, I’ll share some useful tips on taking notice and how you can practice presence in your daily lives.

What is taking notice and why is it important?

Taking notice means that we actively bring our attention to the world around us and to ourselves.  It means being present in the moment and being aware of our thoughts and feelings as they arise, without getting lost in them. When we’re being present, it means we’re focusing on the here and now.  Focusing too much on past events and worrying about the future can have a negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.  It’s a natural response to think about the things that make us feel anxious or stressed, but if we do this too much, repetitively thinking about past and future anxieties, we can fall into the trap of ‘ruminating’ our thoughts.  This means going over and over the same negative worries in our mind without making any real progress towards finding a resolution to them, which just increases our anxieties even more! It can be a vicious cycle! But, if we take a break from these thought patterns, by taking notice and focusing on the present moment, we can reduce our negative thinking and anxieties and create a feeling of calmness and connectedness.

When we start to take notice, we begin to strengthen our self-awareness which makes us more aware of our values and needs.  It can make us really take in the things that are important to us, what we enjoy and appreciate and the moments in our day that make us feel good.   By taking the time to savour these moments, it can make us feel more grateful.  Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brain’s natural tendency to focus on threats, worries and negative aspects of life.  Gratitude creates positive emotions, like joy, love, and contentment, which research shows can not only undo the grip of negative emotions like anxiety, it can also broaden your mind and create positive cycles of thinking and behaving in healthy, positive ways.

Why did I decide to take notice and take pictures?

So you might be thinking, why a photo journal?, what’s the connection with taking notice and taking photographs? Well, a recent study investigated the effects of taking photos every day and sharing them on social media.  The researchers found that taking a moment to be mindful and looking for something different, beautiful or unusual in the day, had positive well-being benefits including better self- care, increased exercise, creating social interaction and improving mood and feelings of happiness.

All of those benefits sound exactly what we need right now. In fact, we need them more than ever while we’re on lockdown, as a lot of people may be experiencing a greater sense of anxiety, isolation and with social distancing impacting our usual routines, it means we have limited access to some of the usual activities that help us manage our wellbeing. So, I wanted to try this for myself and incorporate taking notice and taking pictures as a practice in each day with the aim to enhance my own wellbeing and  so that I can share my experience with you and hopefully encourage you to try it for yourselves.

So, for the past few weeks I’ve been looking out for things that I find interesting or make me feel happy, moments I appreciate, things I’m grateful for in each day and taking a photo of it.  I’ve been storing them in a designated folder in my phone so that I can later look back and reflect on them.  I’ve also been sharing them with my friends and family by posting them on social media, showing my partner and talking about what I found special about that photo and even sending them to my friends.  Here are just a few of the photos I’ve taken:

What I discovered is that taking notice and taking pictures has made me more mindful. I always enjoy being outside in nature, I take my dogs out walking everyday, but sometimes I let my busy mind wander thinking about the day ahead, that call I need to make or email I must send, rather than just focusing on the present moment. But while I’ve been aiming to practice presence throughout my day, I’ve felt a greater sense of appreciation for the area that I live in, noticing the seasonal change and how pretty the natural environment is.  I’ve felt a greater sense of curiosity and sense of adventure.  It’s been fun taking different routes on my walks so that I can find new things to take photos of.  I’ve felt a greater sense of gratitude, even just small moments like enjoying a cup of coffee while I’ve sat in the garden enjoying the lovely weather have made me feel so grateful to have the opportunity to slow down, read and relax in the sun.  And most of all I’ve noticed how taking notice has made me feel more connected, with myself, my environment and also with my friends and family who have enjoyed receiving photos of captivating moments and have even started taking notice and taking pictures themselves, so we can share our special moments together.

What else can you do to take notice and practice being present?

Celebrate the tiny joys.
It could be having your favourite coffee or a walk in the park, celebrate the tiny joys as much as the big ones.
Make mindfulness a practice.                 Whether it’s through yoga, meditation or another mindfulness practice like writing gratitude letters, take time in your day to intentionally be present. Identify the moment. Take a moment to check in with yourself and identify the moment you’re in. ask questions like: Where am I? What is around me? What noises do I hear? How am I feeling? What am I grateful for right now? Think ‘Taking Notice and Taking Pictures’
Listen without intending to respond.
Instead of half listening to a conversation, or thinking about what you’re going to say, try inviting more presence into your conversations and relationships simply by listening with curiosity, rather than anticipation.
Be OK with not knowing all the answers.           Part of the reason we get so caught up in future worries is because we want certainty and avoid vulnerability. We can sometimes feel we’re not good enough for not knowing how to handle certain situations, creating self-doubt and self-criticism. The less you strain to find the answers, the more likely they are to come to you. Listen to your body.
One of the best ways that you can be present in your life is to listen to what your body tells you. Your body will let you know when it needs energy and when it needs rest. 
Feel your Feelings.
Try to just sit with your feelings and simply observe them instead of trying to change them. Let go of the mentality that certain feelings are bad and that you need to be positive all of the time. Instead, let yourself feel.
Reduce Distractions.
Identify your top distractions and develop a plan to avoid them. For a lot of us this might just be taking the time to put down our phone or devices so that we can completely focus on one thing at a time without having a notification, a phone call or a message to take us away from what we’re doing.
Enjoy your Routines.
We all have our little rituals or routines that we do on a daily basis. It could be something as simple as having a cup of tea in the afternoon, or a relaxing hot bath at night before bed. Take time to enjoy the things that give us a little bit of peace and quiet or make us feel good. Every day, ty doing something slowly, in peace, without distraction, enjoying the moment.
Find difference between flowing and planning.
When we plan out every single detail of our days, weeks, and months, we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to go with the flow. While it’s important to plan, it’s also important to be flexible in how you handle your daily life.
Reflect on your day. Whether by journaling, writing a list of things you’re grateful for, or telling a loved one, it’s important to reflect on a few things that went well during your day. This encourages you to think positively.  It can also help prevent the days from feeling like they’re blurring into one another, something that can easily happen right now with how much our usual structures and day to day lives have changed. Get away from the digital world.            Spend time away from your phone and computer every day. Read a book, write (not type!), go for a walk, practice yoga, play a game, get outside and get active, eat your lunch outside and have a garden picnic, draw, cook, or be creative…. Do something daily that doesn’t require a connection to the internet.

So, taking notice can not only benefit us, but benefit those around us too and it can be something we do every day.  The key is to be aware of what you’re doing and try to engage with it.  Try to see things with new eyes, look for beauty in the unexpected. Try and pay attention to the environment, the smells, sights and sounds and take a moment to appreciate it.  Social distancing means our lives have been put on hold for the safety of ourselves and others, but social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.  We can still find ways to connect with our friends, our families, with nature, and with ourselves.  The opportunities are there if we stop for a moment and take notice (and take pictures if we want to! Try it!).








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