Keeping a mood diary

Are you someone who finds it hard to keep on a even keel, who finds your moods going up and down as if you are surfing waves that keep surprising you with their unexpected intensity? Do you find it hard to know where your moods come from or what drives your feelings?

Some people find keeping a mood diary really helpful. Keeping a record of moods for two to three months can enable you to spot patterns and begin to notice the external things that either lift or lower your mood. It is easy to do. You can use a small notepad or school exercise book for this (or an electronic spread sheet if you are technologically savvy). Allow a page for each day. Divide each page into four sections: These will be mood, menstrual cycle, what happened and ?.

In the mood section, score aspects of your mood two or three times a day. Keep it simple but very honest. If you were expecting to feel bad but feel happy, admit it and record the down moods as accurately as you can too. Devise your own scale. It can be based on the CORE test administered at the GP or by mental health practitioners or it can be your own. Try to be consistent in your recording. Don't make it arduous but devise a scale you can mark quickly and 'from the gut'.

The menstrual cycle is obviously just for women (and not related to your exercise regime - more of that later). Put your periods in and then note when you are pre and post menstrual. If you don't have periods because of the contraception you are using or the menopause, note any medications taken including HRT (hormone replacement therapy).

The what happened section is all about the events and people that you experienced during the day. This can include work, friends and family contact, sport and exercise, contact with nature, hobbies and leisure, sleep (how much/how good), sex, food/alcohol/medication. You do not have to comment on each of the above, just the ones that seem relevant to you. If one seems very important give it the section ? all to itself. 

The ? section will be different for everyone. For some it will be exercise; for others sex. Some might have no need if this section.

A mood diary like this will contextualise your moods. It will enable you to begin to understand your very personal associations between your mood and environment. It's a great way to learn about yourself and a useful resource to take to your GP when you need extra help. After a few months, you may see some interesting patterns: you may notice that your mood is consistently improved by exercise or that spending time with a particular person brings you down. Then it's up to you to 'tweak' your life so that you feel happier and more balanced.

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