Number 17 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' explores the wellbeing benefits of taking and sharing a photo every day…

Throughout its 170-year history, photography has explored what it is to be human, documenting our physical and emotional states. At its best, photography is a passport to explore intimate worlds, to change perceptions, and to change lives.

Through the invention of digital photography, the internet and smartphones, more people than ever can take more photos than ever and instantly share them with the world. As with a lot of modern tech, this has double-edged impact on our health and wellbeing.

Many of us experience the negative side: we certainly read and hear about it more often. Through the media, we are continuously open to an endless bombardment of images of violence and war that desensitise us to people’s suffering. While staged and manipulated photographs, served to us through social media and advertising, fabricate unrealistic expectations on our bodies and our lives.

My job was a highly stressful role… There were some days when I’d almost not stopped to breathe… And just the thought: oh wait a moment, no, I’ll stop and take a photograph of this insect sitting on my computer or something. Just taking a moment is very salutary I think.

Participant in the study (The daily digital practice as a form of self-care: Using photography for everyday well-being)

But on the other side, a study this year found that daily photography and sharing photos have complex benefits to our wellbeing.

The study, authored by Dr Liz Brewster of Lancaster University and Dr Andrew Cox of the University of Sheffield, was based on the popular online practice of posting one photo every day for a year. To put this in perspective, Instagram currently lists over 1.5 million photos with the #365 hashtag for each day.

Over a period of two months, the researchers recorded what photos people took, what captions they added and how they interacted with other users in comment sections. They found that taking a photo each day improved wellbeing in terms of self-care, community interaction and reminiscence.

One main reason for the daily photography proving so beneficial to wellbeing was that it forced participants to be more mindful of what they were doing and what surrounded them. It helped them take a break from work when they were stressed, and to stop focussing on one mindless task for too long.

Participants in the study reported getting more exercise out of the photography. One person said: “It encourages me out of the house sometimes when I could just sit on my backside with a cup of tea. I’ll think maybe I’ll take a walk down on to the seafront and before I know it I’m two miles along the coast."

Other participants found comfort in the community that built up around the daily photo sharing, finding networks of support online and more opportunities to chat with people around them in reality. The researchers also found that the accumulation of images created a well of positive memories that participants could later draw from to reminisce and boost their mood.

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