Mood Tracking for Bipolar Disorder – How Do I Track My Mood? (2/2)
OK, you’ve sold me as to why I should track my mood (part 1); so just how do I track my mood?
Obviously, the simplest form of mood tracking is just recording depression and mania on a scale, say, of one-to-ten. You could use a “paper” and “pencil” (look it up on Wikipedia).
You might still notice mood trends but that type of mood tracking is not nearly as helpful as it could be. And the more complicated your case, the more you already know, the more subtle your shifts may be and the less you’ll see using simple methods.
There are far more useful, not to mention easier, options.
What Do I Track Besides Depression / Mania?
- Overall mood
- Physical health issues / side effects / treatment changes
- Anything else that’s important to you (maybe weather, menses, diet or PTSD symptoms, for example)
(Don’t worry; I still do it in 60 seconds or less.)
And even better than just tracking the above variables of mood, environment and lifestyle, it would be great if you could track multiple scales per mood. For example, instead of rating depression on a scale of one-to-ten, rate sadness, fatigue and concentration, then use those variables to calculate a depression rating.
Don’t be scared – there’s an app for that. (Other options at the bottom.)
The Best Free iPhone / Android Mood Tracking Program
Not surprisingly, the easiest way to track your mood is using a computer. Specifically a smart phone, because you have a cell phone within arm’s reach of you all day and you need to take a break from playing Angry Birds sometime.
Here’s the one I like;^ it’s free and available for both iPhone and Android phones: T2 Mood Tracker by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. * (More good, free mental health apps are discussed here.)
T2 Mood Tracker – Why it’s Great
This mood tracking / mood charting program is great because it does everything I think is important:
- It uses multiple variables to calculate a mood rating
- It tracks multiple aspects of mood
- It graphs everything for you
- It allows for custom moods / variables
- You can add comments each day, as needed
Moods / Variables in the T2 Mood Tracker
As I said, your mood isn’t one thing. You aren’t just depressed. You’re depressed with a hint of anxiety and a soupçon of stress thrown in.
The T2 Mood Tracker has these moods / variables built-in:
- General well-being
- Head injury
- Post-traumatic stress
I have head injury and post-traumatic stress turned off as they don’t apply to me. I think the other four are good for everyone. I have also added scales** for:
- Physical symptoms
Your list might be slightly different but I think the above are worth tracking for everyone. (Details on my custom mood variables here.)
How Does the T2 Mood Tracker Work?
It’s easy. Each day you open the app and click on each mood / variable. Within each mood are ten pairs of emotions to consider. For example, anxiety has:
- Worried – Untroubled
- Pressured – Calm
- Tense – Relaxed
- Sleepless – Rested
- Distracted – Focused
- Irritable – Cheerful
- Unsafe – Safe
- Fearful – Fearless
- Panicked – Content
- Anxious – Peaceful
All you do is place yourself along a scale from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other for each pair. The app does all the calculating behind the scenes.
This may seem like a lot, but the idea isn’t to spend five minutes pondering each pair, the idea is to rate yourself by gut reaction. Between all ten pairs, you’re going to get a more accurate reading than you ever would just rating anxiety, one-to-ten.
I would say I spend about one second per pair.
The Mood Tracker Graphs the Moods for You, Which is Essential
You can then see the mood chart / graph containing all the moods and drill down to see the pair data for specific moods if you like. Graphs are how you can see trends, because the data for any given day is of limited use, but the data for a month is what matters.
You can also add notes each day for anything the mood data doesn’t capture. For example, medication changes or major life events that may affect your ratings.
Why Mood Tracking Doesn’t Work for Some People
I’m a Rapid-Cycler – Mood Tracking Doesn’t Show Me Anything
I understand your feelings. I’m a rapid-cycler. I used to agree with this. But that’s because I wasn’t tracking enough data. I was using an old-fashioned spreadsheet and it just didn’t track enough for me to see meaningful trends. But this does.
I can honestly say, where other mood tracking has failed, this app has succeeded. I’ve learned new things about my mood during the first three weeks of use.
I Can’t Remember to Track My Moods So Mood Tracking is Useless
Completely understandable. We’re busy people and you’re right, if you don’t use it every day, it doesn’t work as well as it could. Luckily for you, the T2 Mood Tracker allows for reminders that pop up on your phone – three times a day if you like.
This isn’t a perfect app; it doesn’t do everything I would want it to and the graph is really ugly. But for its short-comings, it’s well worth at least giving it a shot. After the first two days you’ll find it easy and fast, I promise.
What Have I Learned Through Mood Tracking?
I have learned about the relationship between sleep and physical symptoms – a correlate far stronger than I ever recognized. I have learned my own propensity for a correlation between stress, anxiety and depression – again, more correlated than I ever recognized. And a few other things.
And the mood trending is so clear it practically smacks me across the face. This is very useful for both you and your doctor.
Do you track your mood? Have you tried an app? How does it work for you?
There are many other apps out there, this is simply the best free app I’ve seen. Feel free to suggest others below.
I Don’t Have an iPhone or an Android Phone
Sorry about that. I have two suggestions for you.
- HealthyPlace has an online mood journal that is award-winning and all you need is an internet connection.
- Moodscope is not a bad online mood tracker.
- Links to other options for you. You can use the spreadsheets on the computer, which is best because then you get the graphing done for you automatically, or if you don’t have access to a computer all the time, you can print them out; which is better than nothing.
Other, Other Notes
^ I was not in any way compensated for this article. This isn’t an ad, just an opinion.
* Interestingly, T2 is a component center of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE); so the app was actually built with veterans in mind. Other health apps they offer.
** In settings you can turn off/on rating categories and add custom ones. See the help file for more details.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.