Can’t See the Forest for the Trees: My Year in Mental Health by Northeastern

2022 was dominated by concerns over COVID-19, a turbulent political landscape in the US and rapid increases in the cost of living. I personally was at a pivot point in my career and looking forward was (and is) frightening in any context, let alone in a post-COVID society. Working alone remotely, it was easy to allow anxiety to loom large in my life. I began using an app called Daylio to track my mood and record activities each day. This visualization features 365 days of data from 2022, using data points on mood (trees) and health-affirming activities such as yoga, socialization, and creative hobbies (birds, hikers, stars).

A 2014 review by Rita Berto on the role of nature in coping with stress found that visual exposure to natural environments “had a profound restorative effect on the ability to focus” (Berto, 2014). This research informed the decision to paint a nature landscape with emphasis on the overall visual effect rather than individual data points. Although a viewer may calculate the exact instances of an activity, the visual is not intended for point-by-point, granular analysis but rather a calm “soft fascination” experience in the interests of alleviating mental fatigue.

After a few iterations of different landscapes, I settled on a mandala, a traditional aid for meditation. I wanted to enjoy the process of creating the visual (and celebrate my own discipline in recording data for 365 days!). Too many of my previous iterations involved wrestling with technical specifications or capabilities and ending in a frustrating or subpar result (programmatically generating trees in d3, trying to create a circular bar chart in Tableau etc). This visualization stands out to me from all my work because the process of drawing it was an act of restoration itself.

The phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees” rings true for 2022. Visualizing my mental health over the year reveals that a few bad days and anxiety do not dominate the landscape. Overall, it was a year full of affirming friendships, hobbies and surprising discipline towards yoga!