Why track your mood? This is not going to be easy (or tracking exercise, which might be even harder). I’d better offer you a good reason, because you have at least two really good reasons not to:
- It’s a hassle, it takes time, you’re already stressed (you aren’t?)
- Worse: it reminds you every day “You have a mental problem”. Most people would like to forget that, or at least push it to the background.
So let’s be realistic. Most people won’t track their mood regularly, no matter how often the workbooks say it. BUT there are times when tracking is a good idea.
- you’re making a treatment change (new medication, adding exercise, psychotherapy) and really want to know if it’s working
- your doctor goes so fast, there isn’t really time to explain how you’ve been doing, you just need a graph to show her/him, until things are stable and you can just report that.
- you’re pretty sure things are stable, so no further treatment changes are needed — but you want to be more sure.
- you’re looking for patterns in your cycling: are the downs actually preceded by little ups? is it connected to your menstrual cycle, your exercise, decreasing your alcohol? your partner’s parents’ visits?
(oh, did I say exercise twice here?)
Two ways to track
1. Paper. Simple, easy.
2. Electronic. Nice graphs. Very contemporary.
Here are two paper moodcharts. There are many more out there.
Simplest: from Australia’s mood specialists
Harvard’s: Dr. Peter Brigham built it years ago.
There are bunch of programs for this. I can’t even keep up anymore. [Update 2017: I returned briefly to fix a link and let you know — the following is way out of date and only serves to give you historical background anymore! Here’s a site that compares programs.
I’m waiting for the “passive” monitors: they use your phone to track your time awake (tapping on it, or in the fancy programs, the phone’s accelerometer); and your typing speed; and number of texts sent, calls made, searches done, that kind of thing. Cool. See how this avoids the whole problem of having to monitor yourself: just let your phone do it (well, assuming you have one).
To my knowledge, as of mid-2017, there are no free apps that will do this passive monitoring. And not-free, I haven’t looked but nothing’s famous yet. Several are still in research stages. Probably not far away now, though. ]
Here’s the historical stuff:
Some are online only, so you’d have to be on a computer to enter your day’s observations. Well, that may be okay for some but there are good reasons not to be on a computer every night.
So, maybe paper is better — unless you have a smartphone.
For that, here are four programs as of 12/2014. This landscape is changing extremely fast. I don’t expect to keep up. You can, though!
1. Suppose all you wanted to do was rate your mood every day (not sleep, exercise, or anxiety). That might make it so simple you’d actually do it most of the time! MoodPanda.
2. If you want to chart mood and sleep and anxiety, and have your fully private results support a research effort (with daily reminders to chart, which is nice if you need it and can be turned off if you don’t): BeatingBipolar.
3. However, if you want a full program that’s been revised for several years, now very slick, that may be the Optimism program (desktop/laptop, or handheld, Apple or Windows). This is a commercial grade product. I don’t know how they are managing to offer this for free. Maybe because they’re marketing it for clinicians?
4. THE ULTIMATE? Imagine a program which not only allows you to enter your own data but also uses your Android to summarize the frequency of your phone calls, texts, and exercise (and even just how much you move around on average). I’m just starting to experiment with the recently available version of this approach that’s been in research for nearly 5 years: Emotion Sense . Part of a research program, free, looks good so far.
In our office we’ve experimented with FitBit and several smartphone sleep-monitoring programs. None is quite good enough (simple, accurate) as of 11/2014.