Mental Health

Find The Pattern, Find Your Peace: Tracking Mental Health Data

Behavioral Patterns: tracking my mental health data article feature image
If you're struggling to determine what triggers your episodes of depression or anxiety, or if you're uncertain why your eating disorder makes a return to your life every fall, try looking for the similarities and differences.

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⚠️Trigger Warning: bipolar disorder, eating disorders, anxiety

Patterns are everywhere.

For most people, that goes without saying. There are patterns in our clothing, the tiles on our floors, and the music we play. We even see patterns in how people behave, and we learn to extrapolate to determine what they might do next.

The importance of patterns is something I saw watching my little nephew learn about the world around him.

As he began putting pieces of information together to reach conclusions about how things around him work, it reminded me that finding patterns is a crucial life skill.

For me, patterns can also be used as a mental health tool.

I was diagnosed with bipolar at 19 but was given very little information about it. I had to figure out how to survive on my own. The main thing I learned was to track what was happening within my own body and mind.

I started by writing down when I took my medications. Slowly, I began marking down my mood each day, which grew into documenting my symptoms. Finally, I was able to see, with a clarity I’d never before had, the warning signs of an impending episode, the amount of time between each one, and how long it might last.

Related: I Have Bipolar Disorder and I Can Take It

Even if you’re not dealing with bipolar disorder, I believe collecting information on yourself is crucial.

We’re in charge of our lives, and we can make them better by investing time in ourselves and using healthy habits.

A few years have gone by, and I’m still keeping track of what I now know is vital information: this data that I can use to make sense of and overcome my struggles.

Recently, I attempted to expand my data collection. More information means greater understanding, right?

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been in a slump. I was ready to get over it. So, in addition to writing down my daily moods, symptoms, sleep habits, and meds, I kept a log of how much I got done each day, how much coffee I drank, what day of my period cycle it was, and so on.

I was craving structure. I was desperate for meaningful patterns to help me figure a way out of my rut. After all, that’s what had worked in the past.

It turns out that more information to analyze wasn’t a magic solution.

The experience did teach me some lessons:

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1. Life is complicated, to state the obvious.

It requires a balance. Human emotions and problems really can’t be boiled down to data points.

Even if I could integrate all the messily scribbled information I had in front of me, it wouldn’t capture the nuance of my actual lived experience.

Similarly, using every notebook and journaling app available to track the symptoms and specifics of my disorder isn’t always feasible –or fun. It’s rather freeing to let some control go.

2. Simple things become messy when you zoom in or out too far.

I’m bipolar.

Things like my mood, energy, anxiety, and irritability fluctuate. If I get too close to the issue and see only the tracked information, I miss out on the life I’m living while fluctuating.

If I zoom out and think that I’ll never be successful until I figure every bit of this out? You guessed it. I miss out.

3. It’s possible to find patterns that don’t exist.

It reminds me of the phrase drilled into my head in college psychology classes: correlation does not equal causation. If two things are happening simultaneously, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing so because they’re related.

If you want to search for helpful patterns, make sure you have a clear head, aren’t in an active crisis, and can think clearly.

Personally, I’m thankful that I’m in a period of my life where I can find beauty in what I discover within my behavioural patterns.

Yes, it was hard for me to see tangibly in front of me that I had episodes every three months, and yeah, it was weird finding “beauty” in that. And it’s a stretch, but living through bipolar episodes as they weaved in and out of my life taught me a lot about how things can still be amazing in the bad times.

I look back on my past episodes, and they were not fun. But I can pull lovely memories from those moments anyway. I love that.

Even when I don’t intend to sit down and separate the patterns, it’s been enjoyable to look back and see the winding trail behind me that’s brought me to this moment. I look back at journals, mood apps, social media, or even my camera roll and see how far I can come in time.

Thanks to my experiments, I’ve seen first-hand how many factors affect how I feel on a given day.

So much goes into how I feel each week, each month, each year. It all seems to do this strange sort of dance, and even though I wish pulling out the patterns would stop the motion, I wonder: would that even be any fun?

So if you’re struggling to determine what triggers your episodes of depression or anxiety, or if you’re uncertain why your eating disorder makes a return to your life every fall, try looking for the similarities and differences.

And most importantly, join Libero’s community, where we’re all welcome to talk about mental health freely and be supported while doing so!

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My name is Laura! When I was a teenager, I fought what I call a crazy battle with anorexia. After three years of intense struggling, I was lucky enough to be shown that there was another option: recovery. It took years of hard work, mental grit, and introspection, but I learned to live a life of freedom. Now I’m learning (once again) that you don’t just choose recovery; you have to keep choosing it.


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