National lockdown was particularly scary for me as I was living in a tiny flat in Brighton, with no private outdoor space, on furlough and in complete solitude. My hope that everything would soon go back to normal after two weeks quickly diminished as I saw my chalkboard tally chart of ‘days in lockdown’ growing.
This prison-like tally chart started as a light-hearted joke, but it became the first of several personal datasets I collected. I knew that this lockdown was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I wanted to document as much as possible.
Over 91 days, I recorded the follow data points:
- The month and year
- Whether I showered, got dressed, or meditated
- Type of exercise and distance
- Online and face-to-face human interaction
- Mental and physical health
Documenting my daily routines became particularly interesting as lockdown provided a different day-to-day experience to my normal routine. Many of the short-term variables were removed from my daily routine, making for a cleaner dataset. On one hand, there was no anxiety-inducing commute from Brighton to London or everyday work stress. On the other, there were no spontaneous catch-ups with friends, holidays to book, or dinner dates.
While this unnatural environment could have a huge impact on anyone’s mental health, it also seemed like an opportunity to understand how I might take charge of my own wellbeing by understanding what factors within my control make me happy.
As a designer, I often use infographics and data visualisations to reveal patterns, connections, and trends that you would not necessarily see otherwise. Because of this passion, it was only natural for me to turn my dataset into a series of dataviz posters which I have named ‘CoViz-19’, playing on the words ‘dataviz’ and ‘Covid-19’. Visit my Behance page to view them in more detail.
So, what did I learn?
- The first couple of weeks of lockdown were emotional chaos. It took me 12 days to settle into a stable rhythm.
- I’m gross for showering once in the middle of five days in June (must have been a bad week). Maybe you noticed this, maybe I shouldn’t have point it out.
- Running was a coping mechanism rather than a product of happiness. When I felt awful, I knew I had to go outside to feel better, rather than running because I was full of energy. All of my runs occurred on days where I had the lowest amount of human interaction.
- I spent the most time meditating when I was anxious and needed peace, not because I felt content.
- I started volunteering at a food bank on April 27th, where over 20 people were together at one time. Being around this many people was overwhelming compared to what I had been experiencing and as a result, the following week my mental health fluctuated dramatically.
- Zoom quizzes with friends didn’t help provide connection, they only emphasised loneliness.
- My mental well-being declined during public holidays and birthdays that I couldn’t attend, even though I was connected via Zoom. Digital interactions do not and cannot replace physical interactions.
- My highest peaks were when I started doing something new, like creating isometric illustrations, making fresh pasta with friends over Zoom (my Italian Nonna was proud), and crafting macrame wall hangings. It’s interesting to note that pasta-making Zooms boosted my mood, but quizzes/virtual birthday parties didn’t. The act of using my hands to create something, compared to sitting still watching a screen, affected my mood considerably.
- On May 28th, the government introduced the rule of seeing up to six people outdoors. After this date, my mental and physical health line was the most consistent it had been during the 91 days.
- I moved into a houseshare 15 days before I stopped collecting data. Knowing that living with friends again would be great for my mental health, I wasn’t expecting to become overwhelmed by the second week. Being surrounded by people 24/7 was something I had to adjust to after so long in isolation.
Since this project ended I have adopted three things that I know will help me have a better grasp of my mental health and take charge of my own wellbeing. These include:
- Personal creative projects
- Regular meditation
- Little and often time in solitude
The power of visualising this data has provided not only a nice set of posters capturing a significant point in history, but has also revealed patterns and trends about myself that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
Chesca Kirkland is an Interaction and Data Visualisation Designer at Signal Noise, the design consultancy within Economist Impact helping to drive people from data to action.
To see more of her work, follow her on Behance and Instagram.