If you’re trying to improve your mental health, mood tracking is absolutely essential. In this article, I’ll be talking about why mood tracking is so important, and how you should go about doing it.

Why you should track your mood

In order to understand why mood tracking is so important, let’s look at how we approach improving our physical health. If we’re trying to lose weight, what do we do to see if we’re making progress? We weigh ourselves! If we’re trying to reduce our cholesterol levels, what do we do to see if they’re going down? We take cholesterol tests! The same idea is true for mental health: if you’re trying to improve your mental health, you need a way to see whether you’re making progress. Mood tracking is what allows you to do that.

Mood tracking is also useful for seeing trends and correlations in your moods. Just like you might keep a food diary to identify food allergies, tracking your mood (especially with a journal) can help you understand what activities and other factors makes you feel better or worse.

How to track your mood

In its most basic form, mood tracking can take as little as a few seconds. All you need to do is come up with a scale to track your mood on. I recommend a -5 to 5 scale, with 0 as the center. I’ve found that this is significantly easier for brains to comprehend than, for example, a 0 to 10 scale – although 5 is technically the middle (“average”) number on this scale, it often seems lower than average (think about it for a second – how does rating your mood at 5/10 feel?). You can also rate your mood with a custom word scale (e.g. awful, bad, okay, good, great), but I often find that numbers give people more granularity when rating their mood, and have less baggage attached to them.

However, when tracking your mood, I don’t think numbers are enough to tell a full story. You’ll probably also want to journal. There are several benefits to doing this:

  1. It helps you see correlations between your moods and your life. While mood scores alone can show trends, correlations require more data. By including writing alongside your mood scores, you’ll be able to more easily discover how different activities impact your mood, and take action based on whether they make you feel better or worse.
  2. It gets you thinking about how you’ve been feeling before you pick a score. I used to use a journaling app that asked me to score my mood, and then optionally write something after. Oftentimes, after writing a bit, I would have to go back and change my score! Reflecting is an important part of tracking your mood, and writing forces you to do that work and figure out how you’re really feeling.
  3. It’ll help you build language to explain your mood. If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t very good at explaining your emotions and feelings, even to yourself. By writing regularly, you’ll start building the language for explaining your emotions and feelings to yourself. This can help you better recognize your emotions for what they are, and manage them appropriately.

There are also lots of benefits to journaling by itself, which we talk about in our journaling article!

The most important thing about tracking your mood, though, is that you do it consistently. To do this, I recommend setting reminders at regular times during the day, so you can start to build a mood tracking habit. I personally use an app called baseline to do this – it makes me write first, then rate my mood from -5 to 5, and has built-in notifications so I always journal consistently.

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baseline is a 100% free, non-profit operated, journaling and mood tracking service that's designed to help people better understand their mental health by building a journaling habit.

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Mood tracking apps

Using an app for mood tracking can be very useful, especially to build a mood tracking habit. Unlike a physical journal that you’d either only be able to fill out at home, or have to carry around everywhere you go, the app goes with you wherever you and your phone go. There are lots of mood tracking apps out there, but the one I recommend is baseline, for several reasons:

  1. It has both writing and mood scoring components. As I talked about before, this leads to a better mood tracking experience, and will help you get more out of the habit.
  2. Customizable notifications. With baseline, you can set different notifications for different times and days of the week, allowing you to build a mood tracking habit that fits your schedule.
  3. Strong privacy. No more worrying about whether anyone else will read your journal entries! baseline can be locked with a password, and all of your entires are encrypted.
  4. Free, and operated by a non-profit. Not only is baseline 100% free, but it’s also operated by a non-profit, so nobody is trying to make money off of your journal entries or sell you anything.