POST 5: Design-led ethnography
Take one photograph every day for a week when you have a moment of happiness or in which you feel stress-free. Keep this photo diary for 6 days and then on the last day, answer these simple questions:
Why are these particular photographs moments of feeling stress-free?
Can you comment on any patterns in these moments?
Were you able to reflect on your own happiness from this task?
Over the course of the week, my participant, Laura, has been keeping a photo diary to reflect on moments in which she felt happy or stress-free. What I hoped to achieve with this probe, was to make note of any patterns in the results that might reveal what particular moments, experiences or things are a relief for young students. I wanted to use a simplified version of the technique of mindfulness, which is to be conscious of our surroundings in order to relax our mind. While I did not know what Laura was going to photograph, I naturally assumed that these moments of happiness might involve social encounters or times of leisure.
Laura’s photo diary featured a wide range of subject matter, two moments of social interraction, two images of food, one image of a pet dog, one image of watching cartoons and two images of her home on a sunny day. Laura noted herself that there are some patterns here, with moments spent at home or outside being naturally less stressful and more emotionally positive times, because she felt she could “rid myself of the stresses and anxieties that may have occurred that day”. Home is an emotional safehaven for many young people, particularly if it involves family or friends. Over the course of our adolescent life we associate being at home as a safe space in which we can be ourselves, and avoid the social anxieties of public space.
Laura also found moments of joy when she was with friends, which is an obvious result. Social interaction naturally increases our mood and helps us form strong connections that lead to long term happiness. Talking and hanging out with friends is also a great distraction from any negative thought patterns. Good friends are comfortable to be around and help us feel like we have worth, Laura noted that when she was around her friends “I don’t have to pretend to be anyone or anything else.” Laura also had positive responses to moments of down time or leisure. Sometimes, the simplest and most seemingly mundane moments of watching tv or eating dinner can lift our moods considerably. Ensuring you participate in little everyday tasks or things that might make you feel good and relaxed is really important for your overall sense of wellbeing. As Laura wrote, these quiet times can be moments where she can: “sit and think simply without stress or worry about other people”. Being mindful about things you do often can really help your brain slow down and avoid unnecessary overthinking or anxiety. Mindfulness is all about taking things slow, being conscious of your surroundings and how you are in this very moment. Laura taking time to stop and snap a quick image of something that is making her feel positive is encouraging her to be mindful of what makes her feel good, being present in the moment and not feeling any stress or guilt.
Laura’s response to the overall task was positive, and the impact it had on her, even if just for a moment, remained in line with what I hoped this task would achieve. Laura noticed that while she would have known already that all of these things make her happy, she had never “consciously thought about them before in this context.” The task as a whole she found useful, as she could now “make note of these situations so that I can have them as a future reference to ground myself to when I might be feeling stressed, anxious or upset in the future.” Being conscious of experiences, people or moments that are positive influences on your mental health or sense of calm and happiness is really important for students often living stressful and anxious lives.
Next time if I was to conduct this task, I think I would like to extend the length of the task in order to gain some more information, and perhaps introduce a secondary photo diary that might capture moments of stress or pain. The issue with this might be that we are less likely to record and share moments of anguish as we are more focused on this negative feeling. Next time I think that I should have more refined questions in place that cover a few more areas of query in order to get some richer information.
- We can relieve stress not just through moments of quiet, but also through social interaction as it is a great way to increase self esteem and distract us from unhelpful thought patterns.
- Sometimes it’s the smallest joys that can have the most impact. Taking time to have a nice meal or play with your pet can slowly lift your mood throughout the day.
- Being mindful of moments of joy can help us be more conscious of things in our lives that make us feel stress-free and happy and we can be more inclined to focus on these things when we do feel negative or overwhelmed.