May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which has been observed in the U.S. since 1949 with the goal of raising awareness about mental health, fighting stigma, providing support, educating the public and advocating for policies that support the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness. In support of those objectives, it’s helpful to evaluate tools for managing emotional well-being, one of which is called mood tracking.
Why is it Important to Track Your Mood?
If the concept is new to you, mood tracking is a technique in which you record your moods daily to help identify mental and emotional patterns. It is thought that by studying mood dynamics, consistently taking the “emotional pulse” if you will, you can more successfully identify triggers, problems and challenges that may jeopardize your well-being over time.
Becoming more emotionally aware allows you to fully own your feelings and deal with them in healthy, constructive ways. You might think of this as “emotion regulation,” a term referring to your ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. Before you can regulate your feelings, however, you first need to understand them. That’s where mood tracking comes in.
Tools to Help You Track Your Mood
Mood trackers come in a variety of styles, from wall charts and journals to online apps with multiple features. Choosing the right device for your lifestyle and preferences will help ensure you use it consistently. Not only can paying daily attention to your moods support mental and emotional health, it can also help to identify depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Mood Tracking: What the Experts are Saying
According to Laurie Ferguson, Psy.D. of Spark Psychological Services, “Monitoring mood symptoms can help us combat the all-or-nothing thinking that comes with depression and anxiety. When we’re stressed or depressed, our brain shifts in to “everything always” mode, so we think it will never end. Tracking our mood highlights the subtle shifts toward improvement and this builds motivation to keep up what works, which is often exercise, hydration, sleep and solid nutrition.”
Dr. Ferguson goes on to say that “Connecting with others is a major component of getting better, so get in touch with supportive people in your life. Even when using mood tracking apps, human feedback is shown to improve outcomes. Counseling, whether in person or over telehealth, can help propel you to wellness. Not only can these tools be useful for determining if mental health interventions are helping with your mood, but they can also help you see how your mood might influence your physical health. For example, you might note that you’re less likely to eat or sleep well when you are experiencing feelings of sadness, anxiety or stress.”
Deciphering Your Mood Patterns
Mood patterns may also be age-related. Check out Mood Swings After Age 40 – Why They Happen, and What You Can Do. Additionally, your state of mind can be affected by the seasons, and not just due to lack of sunlight. Learn more here how Seasonal Depression Can Affect Us in the Summer, Not Just the Winter.
Once you have a better understanding of your mood patterns and cycles, you may then feel inspired to try some uplifting self-care rituals, such as positive affirmations. These are carefully worded phrases or statements that can be spoken, written, or set to music which help challenge and counteract negative thoughts.
Positive affirmations are rooted in the self-affirmation theory, which states that humans have a fundamental motivation to maintain self-integrity, a perception of themselves as good, virtuous and able to predict and control important outcomes.
Research suggests that certain neural pathways are increased when people repeat positive affirmations daily. Self-affirmations have also been found to decrease health-deteriorating stress and are linked positively to academic achievement.
Additionally, people around the world have traditionally used essential oils, botanicals and herbal therapies to help support a healthy mind, body and spirit. For example, check out The Best Essential Oils for Anxiety – and How to Use Them, as well as 5 Herbs for Mood — and 5 Lifestyle Tweaks for a Sunnier Disposition. You might also find value in Emotional Health: How to Assess—and Improve—Your Wellbeing. If you find joy and healthy serenity in lovely natural settings, take a peek at Nature’s Medicine: How ‘Blue Spaces’ Positively Impact Your Mental Health.
Closer to home, why not create an emotional sanctuary in your own backyard? For tips, see How to Grow Your Own ‘Mood Garden’ This Spring. Whether you like to journal, talk, sing, paint, draw, play a musical instrument, or dance, seeking out creative ways to express your feelings can be powerful nourishment for the soul.
As you can see, tracking your mood can be a vital first step in accessing your feelings, evaluating them without judgement and cultivating self-compassion. In the famous words of George Eliot, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”