Tracking moods

Memory is affected by depression. In particular, it can be more difficult to remember when you’ve been happy, which reinforces the idea that you’re never happy. Keeping a mood log can help dispel this lie. I first wrote about tracking mood in Empty Cauldrons, and if you find this post interesting than you might decide that you are also interested in buying my book.

Tracking mood is simple enough: just note the first emotion that comes to mind, several times a day. Looking back at the results before going to sleep, or at the end of a week or a month, can reveal surprising results.

As simple as it is in theory, tracking mood can be a royal pain to make into a habit. It involves some combination of memory, planning, and technology. Throw in a large helping of forgiveness, for all the times that you feel like you’re doing it wrong.

Memory might not seem like a solid choice for someone in the midst of depression, especially when the symptoms include brain fog, which is why I recommend reminders with triggering events. The events that work best are ones that take place at regular intervals, or irregularly but not infrequently—at least once a week. For me, a good mix includes whenever I make coffee (1-3 times a day), brushing my teeth (2-3 times a day), cleaning litter pans (ideally every day), and losing the game (which can happen at any time).

Planning might involve setting several phone reminders that go off during the day, or asking friends to check in and ask your mood from time to time. Either of these options can feel overwhelming, and if that’s the case then you really, really should find a way to do this. These are the times when understanding our own moods is most essential.

Technology is what fills the gaps in memory and planning. There are lists of mood-tracking apps out there, and the variety is quite broad. I had this idea of reviewing a number of them, but they all seem to have features I find unnecessary. I like simplicity: give me a spot to enter a word or two, and some kind of reminder system. Someone who likes apps that do a whole lot more might be thrilled by what’s available, and I don’t need to be the buzzkill. Spending the time researching the privacy policy of any mental health app before using it is also a good idea, to see if they fit with one’s privacy preferences. Remember that information that isn’t shared with a medical professional probably isn’t protected by medical privacy laws, just general ones.

I have been forgetful, I have been poor at planning, and I have been hesitant about technology, but I still think that tracking mood is very important because it’s one of the early-warning systems that depression is present. Since there may be others in the same boat, I am trying to find tools that will help the widest variety of people. Post-its and other reminders may be enough for some, but as for technology I started with this list of mood-tracking apps. As I said, most of them include a lot of features and privacy flags, but they each are probably a perfect fit for some of us.

Since I couldn’t find something as simple and straightforward as I would like, I decided to try to offer reminders of my own, to anyone with a phone number who wants to get texts from time to time. These will come at random times, and the number of messages sent every day will also vary. Some of the messages may come in while the user is sleeping; consider whether that will be a problem before signing up. The service is called Remind, and after my review of the associated app’s privacy policy I pronounce it “good enough.” What’s important to me is that the actual moods a user is feeling can be recorded on paper, or in some other document, when the reminder is seen. To make it especially useful, make sure to note down not just a the current mood (I aim for the first word that comes to mind when I see the question), but also the date and time.

All that’s needed to sign up for these reminders is a phone that can receive text messages. Send the message “@moodnow” to 81010, visit and enter “moodnow,” or download the app to get started.

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