I’m sitting on my couch with my legs crossed, my thumb hovering over a circle on my phone screen. The circle is filled with colours, traveling in a circle from red to blue to green corresponding text over various parts of the circle fills in a range of emotions, from awful to great. I press down on a point on the middle of the circle, where the blue “good” range meets the green “great” range, and then pause. I take a breath, and ask myself how I’m really feeling in this moment.
It’s the middle of September, and I’m almost halfway through my month-long experiment of tracking my mood every day, using an app called Pacifica. After thinking for a moment, I take stock of my emotions and decide that I’m feeling “good.” I click the “done” button, and a message pops up inviting me to meditate. I click off that screen, because although I’m interested in creating a meditation routine it’s not the reason I’m using the app. Instead, I head over to the progress page, where I can see my mood entries for the past week, neatly mapped out on a line graph.
When people self-track their moods, they’re able to better self-regulate their emotions, write researchers from the University of California in a 2018 analysis of 32 mood tracking apps. They note that there are a variety of reasons people might choose to track their mood, from learning to cope with stress to tracking mental illness symptoms.
For me, my desire to track my mood every day was linked to my habit of daily journaling. When I read through my journal entries, I notice they’re very specific to what is happening in that moment of my life. It’s nice to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and I thought that one way I could achieve that was to take stock of my mood so I could reflect on a larger period of my life.
And, for the most part, it worked. I really liked not only looking at my mood over a week, but also taking a moment or two each day to reflect on how I was feeling. There’s something very calming and pleasant about taking a moment to reflect on how you’re actually feeling, not how you tell people you’re feeling (or how your social media posts suggest you’re feeling).
Whenever I opened the app to track my mood, I could rarely identify how I was feeling in a quick instant. Often, I had to take a moment to think. I weighed the positive parts of my day against the challenging parts. This could make it difficult to conclusively say how I was feeling; I often felt like I could rate my mood as “good” but wanted to follow up with “but…”. For me, this was an experience in learning that although there might be a reason to stress—an upcoming assignment, for example—that stressful thing doesn’t have to impact my current mood.
“Mood and emotions can reveal what makes us feel happy or unhappy or what could have positive or negative effects on us; knowing them and their variations over time can help us to better understand the impact of the environment on us and better understand others and ourselves,” writes a University of Torino researcher in a 2018 paper on self-monitoring emotions.
I ran into some challenges trying to remember to use the app each day—it was only towards the end of the month that I realized I could set a notification to remind myself each day. I also realized pretty early on that it’s difficult to track emotions that might be constantly changing throughout the day. When I look back on the line graph of my data for the past month, it’s not so much a perfect picture of how I felt every day so much as a rough sketch of how I felt at one or two points during each day. Still, though, I appreciated the opportunity to check in with myself.
Although my month-long experiment has come to an end, I’m planning to continue tracking my mood. As I read more studies about mood tracking, I’m interested to try out other apps or methods of mood tracking. I’m excited to see what benefits I find from continuing to reflect on how I’m feeling, and see what other lessons I learn along the way.