How are you feeling today? No, really. I’m asking in all seriousness.
You could answer truthfully (perhaps that’s unlikely), or give me a classic “Fine, thanks.” Regardless, I won’t make you respond…yet. I will, however, tell you how I’m feeling today: “Okay.” Like the straight-faced emoji or, even better, the upside-down smiley face.
I’ve been tracking my mood daily, first via app and then via good old paper and pencil. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the experience has made me a happier person overall (we’re all allowed bad days), I do think it has allowed me to reevaluate how I deal with my emotions and why exactly I may feel the way I do in certain situations.
Outside of my personal experience, research has found that mood tracking can “increase people’s awareness and proactive self-regulation of their emotional well-being.”
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the experience has made me a happier person overall (we’re all allowed bad days), I do think it has allowed me to reevaluate how I deal with my emotions and why exactly I may feel the way I do in certain situations.
According to the study, maintaining a positive mood has a whole bunch of great side-effects, such as enhancing cardiovascular, hormonal, and immune functions, promoting better sleep and exercise, and encouraging open-minded thinking and effective problem-solving.
When it comes to mood tracking, the key is in figuring out why exactly you feel the way you do. I’m no scientist, but I’d like to think that the better you become at catching the things that make you feel “bad” before they have the chance to affect you, the more “good” there may be. And from that, the aforementioned magic will abound. It should be said that this practice is not specifically intended to cure anxiety or depression, but rather something that can help you become aware of how you’re feeling each day and what may be causing those feelings.
Here are some of the personal benefits I’ve discovered when it comes to daily mood tracking. Read on, then ask yourself, truthfully, how you are. In my own practice, I’ve learned I like to track my mood in my regular journal—a quick assessment of my feelings using as many big words as I can muster paired with a bit of reflection on what led me to feel that way—but everyone can find a process that works for them. You can find some tips on how to start mood tracking here. Emoji analysis is not required but highly encouraged.
It’s a low-pressure activity.
While I’m a huge proponent of gratitude journaling, mood tracking is nice because…sometimes you don’t feel like being positive! Besides bitter honesty, mood tracking doesn’t expect anything of you. If you’re feeling angry you can leave it at that—no forced positive spin necessary.
At the same time, if you’d like to dig a little deeper into what’s making you angry, that’s allowed (and encouraged) too. There are no set rules and no wrong answers.
It offers a (simple) path to self-understanding.
I’ve tried many mood tracking apps. In my opinion, the best ones are those that (if you so choose to engage) push you a bit, asking what led to your reported excitement or nonchalance. They’ll give you some easy answers so you don’t have to think too hard—exercise, friends, work, etc.—then ask you to think about how you can deal with the same situation in the future.
This reminds me of journaling when I was little. “I’m mad at my mom because she didn’t let me get highlights.” etc, etc. Oftentimes the why is as important as the what. You’re actually angry because you lack autonomy and don’t look like Lizzie McGuire, little me. Your emotions are valid, but it’s not mom’s fault.
It enables you to acknowledge triggers.
You can use mood tracking to identify your personal emotional triggers and use that knowledge to your advantage. If you notice you’re in a bad mood on Wednesdays in particular, think about why this might be. A particular weekly work meeting? The one night a week that you don’t have a show to watch? Identify the problem and pre-plan a way to turn the mood around.
It helps you expand your emotional vocabulary.
I, for one, find comfort in knowing there are many emotions open to me. You don’t have to feel “good” or “bad.” You can feel a little bit of both, with more specific options such as content, carefree, exuberant, grouchy, disagreeable, and frenzied available to you as well.
It encourages healthy communication.
It’s more productive to tell your boyfriend “I’m feeling a bit despondent because of my current workload” when he asks what’s wrong than it is to say “nothing” and hope he’ll know how to help you anyway. Probably. I’m still learning.
Sophie Vilensky (@sophiavilensky on Instagram and Twitter or if you met her in second grade) is a Real Housewives scholar and naturopath’s daughter. At this point in time these things are very important to her.