The Benefits of Mood Tracking

An assortment of colorful journals on a white tabletop.

Finding balance can be hard to do. 

A 24-hour news cycle, increasing pressures at work or school, relationships, and even environmental factors can have an effect on your mood, so getting in touch with your emotions can feel daunting. 

One day you may feel on top of the world and the next your energy is low and you feel reclusive. Shifting moods are normal! Research over the last few decades has shown that your mood can change depending on your quality of sleep, the music you listen to, and even the color of your work space

Moods are a part of everyday life, and, by definition, short-lived. Typically they come and go, rarely lasting more than a few days or so. Psychologists say that’s what separates moods from emotions. Emotions are also typically much stronger and more specific than moods. The two are linked, however. 

“When you are in a bad mood, you are inclined to have negative emotions such as being sad, angry, or afraid about something. But when you are in a good mood, you are inclined to have positive emotions such as being happy or hopeful about something. So the nature of emotions should inform us about the nature of moods,” says cognitive psychologist Dr. Paul Thagard

Understanding your moods and what triggers different moods can help you achieve a more balanced lifestyle, avoid potential stressors and bolster the things that make for a good emotional state. 

For many, the best way to understand a mood pattern is to start by documenting it. After a week or more, you’ll be able to see what kinds of things interact with your moods, potentially leading you to the root of a funk or helping you maintain that sweet spot. 

Remember that moods are temporary and tracking them will help you be more mindful — after all it’s hard to manage what you don’t measure. For more serious mental health concerns, seek out a professional or someone you trust to talk to.

The simple system for mood tracking

Sometimes putting a mood into words isn’t so easy: We may describe our day as kind of blah, but for no particular reason. Everything went according to plan, nothing majorly delayed or derailed. Just blah. Not a bad mood, but not a good one either.

It’s these days that may drive you to decide to start keeping track of your moods. Starting anywhere, even with a simple method, may teach you more than you think.

Your mood might shift or evolve several times throughout the day. A good morning might turn into a sluggish afternoon, or a funk may stick around for a couple of days without any real reason. The more you document, the more you may be able to pinpoint exactly where your triggers are, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.

A simple thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate your daily mood is a good way to start your tracking journey! Maybe you start with smileys: =) for a day that leans good; =( for a day that leans bad; and =| for a day that didn’t really qualify for either. 

Emojis or other small graphics or symbols can also help track your mood throughout the week. Adding keywords can be an even better indicator of what caused your mood changes. Things like stress, hanging out with friends or reaching a goal can be good indicators of a mood that you may not notice otherwise. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, just enough to recall your memory when it comes time to review your week.

For an easy tracker that goes a little more in-depth, try a scale. Maybe a 1 is a low day while a 10 is the best day ever. Moods aren’t all or nothing, and if you’re looking to really drill down, this could be a great way to start. 

You may start noticing trends in your moods that correlate with days of the week, your schedule or other factors. That may lead you into a deeper mood tracking journey and improve your mood along the way. 

One study found that simple acts of mindfulness can end up helping being able to process moods. 

“Instead of attempting to change emotional experiences, meditation practice trains the individual to notice and observe emotions simply as they are and to accept emotional reactions as they arise,” researchers concluded.

Journaling to track your moods

It’s no secret putting words to a page feels pretty cathartic, and there’s some science behind why. Researchers believe that journaling is a great tool for mental health and, by proxy, managing your mood. 

“When you have a problem and you're stressed, keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety. Once you have identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress,” psychologists from the University of Rochester Medical Center say. “Keep in mind that journaling is just one aspect of a healthy lifestyle for better managing stress, anxiety, and mental health conditions.” 

Journaling allows you to check in with your mood in a variety of ways, from the emotions you’re feeling to the things that are contributing to them. The University of Rochester scientists say keeping a journal can ultimately help manage anxiety, reduce stress and aid in coping with depression. It also helps people to address their fears, track symptoms and triggers, and work out a plan to avoid or deal with shifting moods.

When it comes to keeping tabs on your mood through journaling, experts have a few recommendations:

  • Try to practice everyday. Journaling regularly will help you learn more about your moods. 
  • Make it easy. One of the most difficult things about journaling is accessibility. Carry a notebook or set a reminder to make it routine. 
  • Limit expectations. Your journal is here for you! Whether it’s sketching, writing or some other form, don't let expectations get in the way.

Journaling for mood tracking can be as simple or as in-depth as you want it to be. It may take a bit to find a groove, but give it some time. Different days and moods might require different efforts. It’s all part of a process to find a little bit of zen amid the chaos.

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