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Mood is a complex emotional state which can cloud people’s reasoning and affect their well-being. Due to the complexity of an individual’s emotional experiences, mood tracking becomes essential in health care. Journaling, in particular, is one of the most effective ways to report and understand a patient’s emotions, discover triggers, manage symptoms, and improve their quality of life.

Mood journals collect data about a person’s emotional state during the day. People can keep track of their mood swings, internal thoughts, and the date and time of any significant event. Mood journals become essential tools in the monitoring and treatment of psychological problems, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. In fact, with the newest digital advancements in health care, mood diaries can be utilized along with mood sensors and apps – revealing the secret to people’s emotional well-being.

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Digital Mood Journals: Usage and Features

Easy input of moods, feelings, and thoughts: Mood journals have numerous applications in research and practice. Although the idea of tracking one’s moods and thoughts is not novel, technological solutions take self-tracking to new levels in order to improve health care. Patients can input a mood as well as feelings associated with their mood. Digital journals offer a wide range of colorful emoticons and rating scales, which engage participants. Note that users can customize the list of emoticons on their devices. Patients can also include thoughts they had at the time, which can help them reflect on their automatic thoughts and patterns of behavior. Notes and comments can be added without any restrictions to the word count. Built-in analytic tools designed by health professionals and psychologists can help users understand how thinking contributes to anxiety and other emotional problems.

Engaging visuals: Moods are complex emotional states which come and go. They fluctuate over time and have significant variations in their reactivity and levels. Therefore, it’s not surprising that visuals can help users make sense of their data. By becoming more self-conscious, patients can understand and improve their moods and well-being. Pie charts, past entries, and pictures can boost self-awareness and present overviews of moods over time. Patients can set a data range (e.g., moods over the last month) and get an automatic overview of experiences and activities during that period. Note that frequent moods can be presented in a bigger font to facilitate readiness and improve the user experience.

Up-to-date reports: Import and export options are essential features used to improve doctor-patient communication. Data and visuals can be combined into mood reports, which consequently can be shared with health professionals. Alerts can remind users to update and share reports or contact their providers. Various formats (e.g., PDF) are available across different devices (e.g., iOS). Interestingly, users can even upload videos and audios, and their transcriptions respectively, to provide more insights into their moods and mental health. In fact, this feature can help patients who are not proficient in typing. Patients can even upload pictures of themselves to see how moods affect their appearance. Note that all data sharing complies with HIPAA, privacy, and ethical regulations.

Automated features: Digital journals provide engaging interfaces and automated features. Users can set reminders and input daily activities that contribute to their mood (e.g., sleep, meals, etc.). Online calendars can help users search for events or update their notes (e.g. “Lack of sleep makes me irritated.”). In fact, there are numerous benefits of typing notes: users can visualize their thoughts on screen immediately and type faster, which helps them stick with the habit of mood journaling. In case journals are used in combination with wearables, biometric data is automatically integrated into the patients’ data and mood charts (e.g., jogging for 20 min). Users can set personal goals (e.g., reduce caffeine intake and weight) and track change over time.

Social support: Research shows that people acquire new habits when they’re surrounded by a supportive environment. Therefore, apart from measuring and tracking moods – as well as medication adherence, digital journals give patients a unique chance to share their stories and connect with peers. Integrating social features and Help buttons can benefit patients struggling with bipolar disorder as well. Note that a mood diary which is considered a medical tool should comply with HIPAA rules.

Emotions, Affects, Moods and Feelings

Measuring moods is essential in supporting people’s well-being. Note that there’s a difference between emotions, moods, affects, and feelings. Basically, emotions lead to the release of chemicals throughout the body in response to a trigger, which lasts approximately six seconds.  When emotion is given value and is processed by reasoning, a feeling occurs, which is long-lasting. Affects and moods can be defined as emotions and feelings altogether. Affect can describe a person’s overall feelings; while moods can be defined as background feelings (Clark, A., 2005). In other words, moods are generalized emotional states. They can be influenced by various factors (e.g., environment, diet, attention) and can last up to days. In fact, due to their transitory nature, they are complex emotional states. It’s interesting to mention that some researchers claim that moods should be treated as personality traits which are not significantly affected by short-term variations.

Moods affect the way people perceive situations, evaluate stimuli, and react to situations. Note that people’s personality can affect their moods: more positive people are able to maintain a more positive mood. Consequently, a positive attitude can help people maintain a balanced emotional state and well-being. By using a mood diary, patients can widen their attention towards positive stimuli and maintain a positive mood (Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2006). Journals can also help patients express and understand their emotional states. We should mention that an inability to express strong feelings can lead to emotional problems, avoidance mechanisms, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Desmet, Vastenburg & Romero,  2016).

Measuring the Emotional States: PROMIS, Journaling, and Digital Health

Measuring emotions, moods, and feelings can be challenging. Due to the complexity of people’s emotional states, there’s a wide range of scales to measure moods, such as the brief mood introspection scale, the face scale, and the circumplex model of affect. Note that PROMIS is one of the most effective subjective tools used in research and practice. There are numerous domains and items concerning one’s mental health, such as angry mood (e.g. frustration), emotional distress (e.g. anxiety), fear (e.g. panic), depression, negative mood (e.g. sadness), life satisfaction, positive affect (e.g. joy), and self-efficacy (List of Adult Measures, 2018).

Interestingly, digital tools can improve the validity of any self-report. Note that self-reports of an emotional state concerning past or future events are less valid that self-reports of current experiences. Digital tools help users enter accurate and relevant information in real time, 24/7 (Mauss & Robinson, 2009). Digital mood journals, in particular, have numerous benefits, especially in depressed and anxious individuals. As stated above, they can help people track and understand their moods and promote self-introspection. Although moods are complex, the easiest way to measure moods is to differentiate positive from negative moods and rate them at different points during the day. Consequently, mood diaries can help users change their cognitions and behaviors. Note that self-efficacy and locus of control can impact one’s reasoning and actions. Mood logs and journals can also be used as academic tools to promote reflection and problem-solving skills.

When it comes to technological solutions, sensors, trackers, and wearables can also benefit self-tracking. In fact, emotions can be easily identified via the measurement of actual physical changes. For instance, autonomic nervous system measures, startle response magnitude, and fMRI can reveal a patient’s emotional experiences. Note that one of the most popular techniques to measure emotions is the Facial Action Coding System, developed by psychologists Ekman and Friesen, which uses the movements of one’s facial muscles to measure emotions. Interestingly, emotions can be used in marketing and advertisements. To set an example, the self-assessment manikin (SAM) is a tool that employs cartoon characters to assess pleasure, arousal, and dominance – often in the evaluation of products and marketing campaigns.

Summary

Measuring one’s emotional state is a complicated task. The subjective nature of people’s moods challenges research and practice. In fact, the differences between moods, emotions, feelings, affects, and sentiments can challenge patient outcomes, especially in patients with depression or bipolar disorder. Although there’s no clear framework to define people’s moods, there’s no doubt that moods are complex subjective experiences which affect one’s judgment and behavior.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that self-reports, such as PROMIS, are among the most prominent tools in medicine which can reveal one’s emotional state. Mood journals, in particular, facilitate mood tracking – with digital solutions boosting journaling habits. We at Qolty can help you create a digital mood journal which can help users maintain a positive mood and quality of life. In addition, apps and wearables can be employed to simplify self-tracking. In the end, mood journaling can improve patient outcomes and well-being.

References

Clark, A. (2005). Psychology of Moods. Nova Publishers.

Desmet, P., Vastenburg, M., & Romero, N. (2016). Mood measurement with Pick-A-Mood: Review of current methods and design of a pictorial self-report scale. Journal of Design Research, 14 (3), p. 241-279 https://research.tue.nl/en/publications/mood-measurement-with-pick-a-mood-review-of-current-methods-and-d

List of Adult Measures (2018, October 18). Retrieved from http://www.healthmeasures.net/explore-measurement-systems/promis/intro-to-promis/list-of-adult-measures/154-list-of-adult-measures

Mauss, I., & Robinson, M. (2009). Measures of emotion: A review. Cognition & Emotion, 23 (2), p. 209-237 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756702/

Wadlinger, H., & Isaacowitz, D. (2006). Positive mood broadens visual attention to positive stimuli. Motivation and Emotion, 30 (1), p. 87-99   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20431711