The Power of Tracking Your Mood

A woman stands on a city street using her phone.

Mood rings are back. At least that’s the impression I get from my undergraduate students. Invented in the 1970s, mood rings promise the wearer a constant measure of their mood. Black for stressed. Blue for relaxed. Pink or purple for excited. And so on.

Of course, what mood rings actually monitor is your finger temperature. The rings contain liquid crystals that twist according to temperature to reflect different colors. So, if you’re holding a hot cup of coffee, you’re going to see a “happy” color, no matter what you’re feeling inside.

Mood rings may not be accurate. But they do tap into our desire to name and understand our emotions. And those are good skills to have.

When we track our moods daily, we increase our awareness of what we’re feeling and why. This kind of self-tracking can help us stay emotionally healthy.

Does it require more effort than glancing down at your hand? Yes. But not by much. When you use AbleTo’s Mood Tracking tool, the whole process takes 30 seconds or less. That’s a small investment. Especially when you consider how much value self-tracking can provide.

3 reasons to track your mood

Mood tracking is a simple way to unlock big mental health gains.

It can help you:

Spot patterns to set goals and gain control

From a paper-based calendar to a digital app like AbleTo, there are many easy ways you can track your mood. It doesn’t matter so much how you do it. What’s important is how often. Aim for once a day to start. I typically suggest sometime in the evening. This allows you to take stock of your overall mood near the end of the day.

Log your general mood (very good, OK, etc.) along with specific feelings you’re experiencing in that moment. For example, excited, hopeful, scared. This creates a long-term record of your mood. The extra data points make it easier to spot patterns and triggers. Once you know these things, you can make positive changes.

Speed up progress

Tracking your mood can help you figure out how well you’re managing it. Without a record, it’s easy to overlook progress.

Want to get even more out of mood tracking? Log your habits — exercise, hours slept, etc. — as well.

Doing this can help you figure out what influences your mood. For better or worse.

For example, you may realize that 8 hours of sleep is your sweet spot. Less than that and you feel drained. More than that and you feel groggy. That’s an insight you wouldn’t have uncovered without tracking.

Gain awareness and find red flags

Progress is often non-linear. You may have as many downs as you do ups for some time. Mood tracking can help you identify red flags. These are cues that something may be amiss.

For example, you may notice that falling out of your regular exercise routine made you feel low and less energetic.

Without mood tracking, it can be easy to dismiss these mental health “valleys” as the result of everyday life. Mood tracking helps us gain awareness of — and control over — the real culprits.

Try it out

Try mood tracking for a week and see what you discover. You may be surprised by what you learn and the connections you can draw.

If you catch a bad mood, try self-managing it using healthy habits or tools in your program. Self care not helping? Consider seeking support from a friend or mental health provider. (Your provider may even want to see your mood log, if you feel comfortable sharing.)

By making mood tracking a habit, you’ll touch base with yourself and your progress every day. Real progress that jewelry can’t capture.

By Patrick Raue, PhD

Patrick J. Raue, PhD is Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. He received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Stony Brook University in 1995.

Raue is Associate Director for Evidence-Based Psychosocial Interventions at the University of Washington’s AIMS Center and Director of the National Network of Problem Solving Therapy Clinicians, Trainers & Researchers. In these roles, he develops and leads implementation and training programs in a variety of behavioral health interventions.

Raue’s clinical expertise includes the identification and management of mental health conditions in medical settings, including primary care and home health care. He is a clinical advisor to AbleTo.

Clinically reviewed by Sarah Dolling, LPC, Clinical Content Producer at AbleTo.

Photo by AaronAmaty/iStock. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.

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