The Purposeful Selfie: How Video Diaries Can Promote Your Mental Health
Updated: May 12
Do you struggle with episodic sadness, frustration, fear or feelings of shame? Today's blogpost might provide you a very easy tip for coping when you run into a rough day.
Every year during the winter holidays, I look forward to catching up with my college students. They come in and tell me tales of how life has been away from home. Talks of roommates, classes, fraternity and sorority life, and all the final exams they've passed fill the air with life and excitement. Sometimes, though, they share heavy struggles. Young people struggle with many of the same issues of low mood, insecurity and anxiety as established and mature adults - but often times they don't have the tools to cope with these things as well as people who've lived a little longer.
However, they do have a decided advantage over some Gen Xer's and Baby Boomers - they know how to use technology, and use it very well.
When I was in residency, one of my favorite learning tools was recording patients (of course with their consent) as we worked through their therapy sessions. We did that so our supervising psychiatrists could tell us how we could improve our interviewing skills and therapeutic approaches. But sometimes, a person's improvement was so drastic, it was literally like they had become a different person by the time their treatment was coming to a close.
Early in my career, I decided to adapt that idea to help my patients. I asked them to record themselves on good days so that on low days, they had a reminder that they could be well, joyful, and at peace, again.
I was finding that as a psychiatrist, I had a distinct privilege of seeing people at their lowest, but also at their best. Distant from the throes of their emotional distress, I could remember the days they came into the office with bright eyes and bright smiles and hope - usually after winning some pretty formidable life battles. However, when people have episodic drops in their mood, anxiety-tolerance, or confidence, they forget the good days.
Video Diaries: A Real Power Play
So, when I was talking with one of my college students recently who explained to me that they were doing so well that they wished their "beginning of the semester self" (who was anxious, worried, and sometimes pretty sad) could have met their "end of the semester self," I thought a recording would be a great solution for future worries. Why? Because the "self" that young person is today is doing well, had a successful semester, did great in all their classes, and made some friends along the way. That self knows that things really did turn out alright this time - which means odds are good they'll turn out well next time they're worried, too!
People tend to give up on life when they can't see their way out - or when they think things in life will never improve. Well, when they have a recorded catalog of pep talks, testimonials, and just happy vibes they can give to themselves, hope's a lot easier to find.
Video diaries have helped my patients cope with not just episodic mood changes, but also worrisome anniversaries, medical procedures, and even phobias. This technique can be used if you've been worried about a big exam and you've just received your passing score, if you've been fretting about a difficult conversation you need to have with a supervisor but conquered it, or any other situation which you didn't think you'd survive - but did!
So if today's a great day, and especially if you were thinking it wasn't going to be, break out your phone or another recording device and make a message to yourself. Describe how good you're feeling (not just emotionally, but even physically, if that's relevant) and why. Then transfer your video file to a place where you know it won't be lost. Mine would probably just end up in a folder on my computer, but if you're creative or tech savvy, you could make whole movies out of videos you've recorded over weeks or challenging events.
And the next time you're having a rough day, take a look at your video. You can even make videos for different topics and create a catalog of self-encouragement you can reference anytime.
It's time to take these selfies and upgrade them! Make them work for you and your mood! And if you need a little assistance with the technology, ask your local Millennial - they'll be glad to help you out!