Tracking The Maelstrom

When you are coping with mental health problems, it can be difficult to keep track of what helps you and what doesn’t make much difference. You are lost in a maelstrom of symptoms and can’t think clearly. Assessing deterioration and improvement feels impossible.

A simple tool which can help you to decipher your symptoms is tracking your mood. If you have ever had counselling or another type of talking therapy, you may have been given a grid of days and times and asked to make a note of your mood at regular intervals throughout the day. This is helpful, but it can also be a pain in the ass. You forget to fill it in or the grid doesn’t provide enough room for you to record the details you want. You might try it for a couple of weeks to see if you can spot patterns, but it’s hard to integrate it with your life.

The trick to making mood tracking work for you is to adapt the tool. There are apps, for example, which you can use anytime if you download them to your phone. You could also set an alarm on your phone to alert you to track your mood at regular intervals. Or you could go old skool and carry a notebook — this allows you to record as many (or as few) details as you like. You could draw your own grid or just write however you wish.

I use an app called Moodtrack, which is free if you keep your record public and costs 79p if you want them to be private. You can choose your own username, or get the app to generate one for you. If your username doesn’t make it easy for people to identify you, the free app is still pretty anonymous. You simply identify your mood and how positive or negative it is, whenever you want. You can also include an optional comment, so you can record what you are doing and any other possible triggers or reasons for your mood. Sometimes, other users leave supportive comments, but you can obviously ignore them if you don’t wish to interact.

As with most mental health management tools, you should experiment with tracking your mood and discover what works best for you. For instance, some people prefer to note more details than others. My own preferences vary depending on my current mental state: when I feel most depressed I write little or no details, whereas I like to include a lot more information when I’m able to analyse my mood. You should also consider how often you want to record your mood — once an hour might be appropriate if your mood changes frequently and/or you participate in a variety of activities throughout the day, but once every three or four hours is more suitable if your mood is more stable or if you are too busy to update more often. Personally, I find every two to three hours is the most beneficial interval for me.

Mood tracking is so simple that you may question whether it can be helpful, but it helps you to become more aware of the changes in your mood and to live more mindfully. It enables you to spot patterns which are unlikely to emerge when you are lost in the maelstrom of mental illness. If you are sceptical, just give it a try — you might be pleasantly surprised. What have you got to lose? A couple of minutes every few hours. What could you gain? A better understanding of your mental health, which could allow you to manage your symptoms better and possibly recover.