Many therapists and people with bipolar disorder recommend journaling as a practice that allows you to track your moods and figure out what your triggers are. And many individuals do well with journaling.
I didn’t, however. I tried starting a journal of what I was doing and what I accomplished daily. It rapidly turned boring and whiny. My entries looked like this:
- Paid cell phone.
- Forced myself to finish work assignment.
- Finally got off that stupid level of that horrible Candy Crush.
Writing is what I do, but journaling, especially when depressed, was an unrelenting series of pitiful nothing. Instead, I started this blog (on 1/7/14). In my blog, I could write about anything. Still, it wasn’t much good as a way to track my daily moods.
Technology is starting to address that problem. Recently some inventions have come on the market that promise to help you track your moods not just daily, but hourly (or even more often). Most of these devices resemble what would happen if a Fitbit and a mood ring had a child.
Most of them claim to monitor your moods by tracking your heart rate and/or your breathing. (One notes that it tracks your steps too, so you don’t need an extra device to do that. Another promises to monitor galvanic skin response, pulse, and skin temperature, which sounds more like a lie detector than mood tracking.) Then you take that data and compare them with what you were doing at the time and voilà – a mood journal.
Of course, these devices make certain assumptions – for example, that when your heart rate is elevated, you are anxious or tense. Needless to say, there are plenty of other things that can raise your heart rate and breathing. Sex, for one. Or running. Neither one of which is necessarily a source of anxiety for everyone. There is, as far as I can see, no way for the device to tell when you are depressed. They appear to assume that everything except anxiety is normal.
Then there’s the fact that you still have to journal. The devices work on the theory that you can look for patterns in your breathing and respiration, then figure out what you were doing when that happened. Upgraded devices and apps are planned that will add calendar and location functions to make this easier. But if you’re in your house the whole time the moods are happening, it won’t tell you much.
(One brand of these devices is available only from an employer, health plan, or EAP, which, if you ask me, is pretty creepy. If there’s anyone I don’t want to have information about my moods, it’s my employer.)
My friend Mike came up with an in-between solution that uses both higher-tech and lower-tech approaches to monitoring his moods. Over a period of several months, Mike had been on four different drug regimens for depression. Not all of them worked, and he was unsure which did the most good.
His idea was to go to his social media and chat apps and take a look at when he was the most active, engaged, and responsive. Then he looked at what medication he was on at the time. He noticed, for example, that in the first few weeks of April, he was posting more about accomplishments and responding to others’ posts and chat messages. A quick check of his pharmacy records and he had a pretty good idea of which medications were working best. No journaling involved – the evidence of his increased energy was right there in front of him, already recorded. And no $150 expense for an emotional tracking device.
Maybe journaling is right for you. Maybe a wearable mood tracker is the thing that will help. But don’t overlook the tools you already have. Think about them in new ways and you may already have a handle on understanding your moods and meds.
Comments on: "Tracking Your Moods: Low-Tech, High-Tech, and In Between" (6)
Fascinating post. I personally have a print out mood chart for every month that I love to fill out; no words involved, just “check marks” for how I feel, how much I ate, how much I weigh, etc. But how much I write, and how much I want to write, definitely gives me insight as to how I am feeling on any given day. Thanks for this xox
Glad you liked it! Your system sounds really useful.
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I use an app MoodTrack…very cool to see how my mood changes thru the day
It’s great that you’ve found something that works for you!
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Great post. I’m sure the technology for those devices will be perfected over time. I created a line graph on Excel that I fill out daily. It goes from -5 (severely depressed) to +5 (Manic). 0 is normal. I use the program to place a line in each day’s box to show where I am on the scale. It has comment boxes beneath the graph for each day– one for activities, one for comments and one for hours of sleep. Comments must be kept brief, one or two sentences. Most of the time I don’t fill those in at all but I do when I feel something might be significant. When we go visiting or have company, I note it. If I had a disagreement with my husband I type it in. Meds changes get noted and highlighted in green so I can find it easily when looking back. Too little sleep or sleeping longer than usual gets the number of hours noted. I see my psychiatrist every 3 months so that’s all I print out for him. The visual of the graph along with occasional notes is very helpful and revealing and it only takes seconds to do each day. My Pdoc loves it.