How I avoid "Seasonal Depression" as a photographer in the winter

Like many, I suffer from seasonal depression/Seasonal Affective Disorder. I call it "The Big SAD"

I also have some significant anxiety and suffer from periods of mania. Surprise, surprise, right? Apparently, creatives are prone to Big Feelings. Fortunately I'm medicated for the Big Sad and no longer suffer the overwhelming and often perplexing desire to cry for no reason every time I'm somewhere alone and quiet. Still, though, I have to work at my mental health and sometimes struggle to find the right balance of stimulus for my brain and body. This gets really hard at two specific times of the year- when I am busy and when I am not. When you're a photographer, this usually means "when the weather is nice and when the weather is not."

During the spring, early summer, and the fall, I'm usually running ragged photographing horse shows every weekend, portraits on weekdays, and editing photos and riding my own horse in every moment in between. This doesn't leave a lot of room for self care, but eventually my body starts to fall into the pattern of constantly being busy and I might even say I thrive on it at times. This all comes crashing down when the weather stops cooperating, though. As someone who is perpetually outdoors, whose job depends on the sun and the goodwill of nature, I tend to suffer the most when suddenly being outdoors is unbearable. For me, this is when the air hurts my face. I can handle heat- I love it, I am a creature of the sun. The cold, though... I don't do cold. It doesn't matter how many layers I wear, I never seem to feel warm enough. The extra weight and constant shivering saps my energy and destroys my muscles. I hate it. I also hate that everyone else hates it too. Fortunately, I work with animals who don't ALL hate the cold. Exhibit A: my australian shepherd, Delilah.

A blue merle australian shepherd dog photographed playing in the snow by Haley Johnson in Kansas City, Missouri.

The great thing about having animals that enjoy being outdoors is that they have a way of pulling you out of your funk like nothing else can. Would I willingly go spend hours tromping through snow when it's 5 degrees out on my own? Absolutely not. If Gilligan needs out of his stall, though... I suppose I can bundle up and tough it out. More than that, watching Delilah and the horses snort and frolic in this cold icy muck actually kind of makes me really happy. It kind of makes me want to play too. I kind of start to appreciate when I see those delicate little snowflakes sitting at the tips of whiskers and ears and soft noses. I kind of stop minding the cold so much.

Maybe the weather is an opportunity to experience something different, to play hard then rest and recover rather than trucking along all day at the same pace. Winter is notorious for being slow for photographers, but having my regular schedule shook up and at the mercy of the weather might not be such a bad thing. Everybody needs rest, after all- or so I've been told. Rather than stress about not being able to work, I spent December and January this year as an opportunity to play and rest. Here's what I got up to:

Getting Organized

I make no secret of the fact that I tend to expand to fill the shape of my surroundings with my stuff- just ask my husband or look in my office, car, tack room, horse trailer... the list goes on. I decided this winter that if I was going to keep my husband and dogs from touching my expensive gear, that I should probably find a better container than just "the entire basement." Lol. After one long date night of building Ikea wardrobes with my husband, my brain has finally been able to settle down so that I can focus less on how much of a mess I keep making and more on what I want to do with my free time and space. Win win!

Play Inside

Sometimes, especially in the midwest, the weather REALLY sucks. I decided that instead of letting that cramp my style, I could focus on returning to the fundamentals I learned in school. Perhaps this might have been the actual motivation to organize my basement, haha. Drafting my husband and dogs to help me play with studio lighting was an excellent way to both "work on myself" and enjoy some family time. Unfortunately my models didn't always sit perfectly still, but we did have a great time and as an added bonus, I got to practice working with unruly clients, haha.

Play Some More

Not every day was awful during the January arctic blast. Some days were actually 30 and sunny which felt amazing after the long week in negative temperatures! To celebrate, I recruited several tough models and spent all day creating and playing before the snow turned to muddy slush. We managed to have a day full of beautiful light, fresh, fluffy snow, and happy ponies and puppies which kept our hearts warm and tingly!

In conclusion...

Winter is a great time to remember that nothing lasts forever. Snow melts, seasons change, and new opportunities can happen as often as the breeze blows. As a photographer, I maybe had to force myself to appreciate it, but cruddy weather is a wonderful opportunity to reset and enjoy the quiet moments. Life is already starting to get busy again now that February is here, and by March I'll be wondering how I ever had time to read books and clean my basement. That's okay, though- there's a season for everything!