Journaling Techniques

The Power of a Mood Journal: How Writing Can Help Manage Emotions

Have you ever had days where you’re not quite sure what you’re feeling, or why you’re feeling that way? Keeping a mood journal can be a powerful tool for increasing self-awareness and managing your emotions. By tracking your moods and the events and circumstances that may have contributed to them, you can gain valuable insights into your patterns of thought and behavior, and develop strategies for coping with difficult emotions.

In this post, we’ll explain what a mood journal is, why tracking your moods is worthwhile, and how to keep a mood journal effectively to learn the most about yourself and to manage your emotions.

What is a Mood Journal?

A mood journal is a place to track your feelings and moods, look for patterns, and learn what triggers particular emotions.

If maintaining a balanced mood is a struggle for you, writing about your everyday life can help you identify why your mood fluctuates or why you stay stuck in a certain mood much longer than you expect to. 

Most of the time, moods come and go. Sometimes you may even feel anxious or sad for a few days, especially when experiencing a difficult time. But, typically, you adjust to whatever is happening in life, and your mood stabilizes. You feel like yourself again.

A mood journal is a place to track your feelings and moods, look for patterns, and learn what triggers particular emotions.

But if you feel like your emotions are all over the place, you’re stuck in a specific mood, or you just don’t understand why you feel the way you do, a mood journal can help. Journaling can help you learn how to maintain your mood and cope with unexpected emotions in a healthy way. Anyone who wants to handle stress better, create a more positive attitude, and better understand what causes their moods may benefit from journaling. 

Why It’s Important to Track Your Moods

A mood is a collection of persistent feelings. Those feelings, and the mood they create, can be affected by any number of external forces. 

For example, if you are snuggled up with your partner, watching a hilarious comedy, and nibbling on homemade chocolate chip cookies, you might say you are in a “good” mood. But what feelings combined to create that good mood? 

In this scenario, you probably feel safe, cared for, content, relaxed, happy, and loved. Those feelings add up to a good mood, which makes perfect sense. But emotions can be short-lived, while moods last longer. 

Let’s say you eat all the cookies, the movie ends, and your loved one goes home for the night. While the external stimuli change, chances are your mood remains the same. You had a fun date, so you still feel happy. But what if you don’t? What if, as soon as your partner walks out the door, your mood plummets? Why? Didn’t you just spend two hours in contentment?

Does the presence or absence of the other person affect your mood dramatically, or is something else going on? Tracking your moods will help you better understand major mood changes like these and observe trends in your moods. 

A journal can help you maintain a balanced mood and support your efforts at improving your mental health in many ways.

1. Identify Mood Issues

Quick — what’s your mood like right now? Are you happy, sad, bored, or curious? Most people never learn to notice or identify their feelings beyond good and bad. There are minor differences between similar feelings that are important to recognize. 

Tracking your emotions in a journal may help you discern the difference between being angry and sad or feeling happy and content.

While the nuances may be subtle, recognizing individual feelings instead of lumping them together is important in understanding more about your behaviors and how to change them. This tool can be especially powerful for people who frequently experience anxiety or depression. Mood journaling can help you recognize triggers that cause these mental health issues and work to avoid them. 

2. Process Adverse Emotions

Sometimes you just need a place to feel your feelings without judgment or consequences. Too often, we can bottle up difficult emotions because we’re unsure how, where, or to whom we can share our true feelings. 

Avoiding feelings of shame, anger, or resentment ultimately gives those emotions more power over your life. Some people work so hard at not feeling the negative that they avoid or tamp down emotions, even the positive ones.

A journal is a safe space to process negative or painful emotions you don’t want to share with others or feel uncomfortable sharing. In a journal, you can let everything go. Even if you have negative feelings about a person or situation and know they aren’t rational, you can write all about them in a journal.

The act of writing things down can be cathartic. Expressing anger or pain, even on paper, can help lower the intensity of those feelings and help you process the strong emotional reactions you are experiencing.

3. Recognize Behavioral Patterns

Many different outside influences can affect your mood, but it can be challenging to recognize patterns without writing down the contributing factors (this is why journaling about relationships can help). 

External factors that might affect your mood include:

  • What you’ve eaten
  • How well you slept the night before
  • How much you’ve exercised
  • Your physical health
  • Hormonal fluctuations you’re experiencing
  • The weather
  • Your interactions with others
  • The quality of your relationships
  • The physical environment you’re in

With so many different people and responsibilities vying for your attention, it can be difficult to notice that your mood changes when it rains or that being in a specific location makes you feel anxious. 

Writing down these details in a journal makes examining all the factors that can influence your mood and identifying patterns easier.

4. Create an Action Plan for Improvement

When you experience a whirlwind of emotions or don’t understand why you feel a certain way, it’s difficult to recognize what you need to feel better, much less to take action on your own behalf. Keeping a mood journal helps you understand yourself better. 

Not only does the practice help you understand the “whys” of your emotional ups and downs, but it can also help you understand your challenges in maintaining a balanced mood. Once you know the obstacles, you can create a plan to overcome them.

The Powerful Effects of Keeping a Mood Journal

Thoughts and feelings are closely intertwined. The way you feel influences the way you think and vice versa. Better understanding your moods can lead to personal insights and help you improve your overall outlook. 

Mood journaling can help you:

  • Improve your mental health
  • Learn stress management techniques
  • Increase your self-awareness
  • Break down emotional barriers
  • Determine which external factors affect your mood
  • Shift your perspective
  • Improve your concentration
  • Develop healthier coping strategies

Think of mood journaling as a personal fact-finding mission. When writing in your journal, you’re collecting data. Once you have enough data to recognize patterns, you can use the information to develop coping strategies to help you manage your emotional health.

How Writing Can Help Manage Stress

All types of journaling can help to relieve stress. To start, the act of writing forces you to focus on what you are feeling. Time slows down, distractions melt away, and what you are experiencing becomes clearer. 

Writing about something can provide an instant switch in perspective, which may help you find solutions instead of getting lost in your feelings.

A journal can help you manage stress by giving you opportunities to:

  • Gain a sense of purpose and control
  • Identify stress triggers
  • Better understand the source of your stress
  • Track your progress
  • Acknowledge emotions that you might otherwise ignore
  • Process internal struggles
  • Vent safely and privately
  • Identify fears or concerns that are causing stress

Journaling also allows you to practice positive self-talk. Once you express your emotions on paper, take a moment to examine the situation from a new perspective. Validate what you did right, including writing in your journal. Allow yourself to celebrate that you used a healthy strategy. 

Too often, people focus only on the negative when engaging in self-growth activities. Understanding your challenges is essential, but it’s equally important to recognize your strengths and give yourself credit when you take steps toward better emotional health. 

How to Start a Mood Journal

When you’re ready to reap the benefits of keeping an emotion-focused journal, don’t overwhelm yourself with rules or suggestions. The basic process is quite simple. You can keep it that way or get deep into the details if that appeals to you. 

Either way, these four steps help you get started with mood journaling, and journaling even three to five times has emotional and physical health benefits.

1. Choose the Right Tool

Finding your essential tools for journaling is the first step to starting a mood journal. Your approach to journaling your moods could simply be a pen and a notebook. Or you can enjoy the benefits of modern technology by using a journaling app like Day One. You could also download a mood-tracking template or make a simple one yourself. 

Journal apps like Day One can be helpful for mood journaling because the app has so much flexibility. The Day One app has journaling features including prompts, reminders, and other resources to keep journaling fun and consistent and help you get the most from the practice. You can set reminders to document your moods or simply open the app and write when you notice a strong mood or emotion. The app also offers custom journal templates, a calendar view, and even weather info for your journal entries.

2. Start Small

Recording every emotional up and down during the day is unnecessary. Start where you are, and build from there. Writing about your feelings is sometimes emotionally challenging, but overall, it should make you feel better and like you understand yourself more. 

Forcing yourself into a rigid journaling schedule or asking too much of yourself may make the process too overwhelming before you’ve had a chance to learn anything valuable.

Remember that even journaling occasionally is good for your mental and physical health, so don’t get down on yourself if it takes a bit to build the habit. Start small and build a foundation.

3. Make Journaling a Habit

While you shouldn’t stress about journaling every day, consistency is key when you’re trying to recognize patterns in your own behavior. So, you want to try to write in your journal every day. Setting reminders can help.

You also may want to focus on only one issue or emotion you’re trying to understand at a time. For example, instead of journaling every time you have a strong emotional reaction, only record incidents related to anxiety. If you frequently feel guilt and shame, reserve your writing for incidents that trigger those feelings.

Once you become adept at writing about your mental health and emotions, you can keep track of more moods and their triggers.

4. Be Patient with Yourself

Establishing any new habit and better understanding yourself is a process. You may journal for several weeks before you notice any kind of pattern or feel you’re learning anything. Be patient. 

Your journal entries may seem like a list of random information, but if you are consistent, observant, and honest about your feelings, you will have the “aha” experience that turns random data or musings into meaningful information.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Mood Journal

All types of journaling require a few moments of quiet introspection, but you don’t necessarily need to sequester yourself in a private room. In fact, many people enjoy journaling at their favorite coffee shops. But you do need to be somewhere you feel safe and can work without distraction. 

Other tips for getting the most from your journaling practice include:

  • Assess the goals you want to accomplish with each mood journaling session
  • Focus on specific topics or emotions, like anxiety or sadness
  • Don’t be afraid to brain dump (write about everything that’s on your mind)
  • Set time aside each day to review and reflect on your entries

You can also include go-to plans in your journal. What will you do the next time you’re feeling anxious or angry? Thinking through and having a list of healthy coping behaviors written in your journal will help you manage distressing experiences on the spot.

What to Include in Your Mood Journal

Remember, keeping a mood journal is a form of data collection, and you’re the research subject. The more information you provide in entries, the more you will be able to understand yourself and your mood. On the other hand, you don’t want to get so bogged down in details that journaling becomes a chore you want to avoid.

1. Mood Tracker Table

One essential ingredient in an effective journal is a mood-tracking chart or table. To create your own mood-tracking table, draw four columns.

  • Title each column with “situation,” “emotion,” “response,” and “suggestions.” This page will be for one journal entry.
  • Use the columns to jot down notes about the situation that led to a mood change, such as, “I was late for work because of heavy traffic, and as soon as I walked into the office, my manager confronted me about being late.” 
  • Next, write down your emotion and the emotional intensity. In this scenario, it might be “Anxiety, Level 8.” In the third column, write about your response. What did you do when the manager confronted you?
  • Don’t judge or alter your response. Be honest and report what happened as clearly as you can. Use the last column to suggest how you could have handled the situation differently and what you might do next time.

Here’s an example of how this mood-tracking table could look:

SituationEmotion + IntensityResponseSuggestions
I was late for work because of heavy traffic, and as soon as I walked into the office, my manager confronted me about being late.Anxiety, Level 8I felt my heart rate sky-rocket and immediately wanted to run to the bathroom and cry.Pause. Take a deep breath. Realize I don’t like being late, but the traffic was out of my control.

2. Other Info to Include in a Mood Journal Entry

In addition to a mood-tracking chart or table, including other relevant information related to your moods can be helpful, including:

  • Time and date
  • Mood and mood intensity (gauge intensity with a 1-to-10 scale)
  • Emoji that best describes your mood/emotion
  • Hours of sleep
  • Food and water intake
  • Medications
  • Day of your menstrual cycle (if applicable)
  • Unexpected triggers, such as bad weather, heavy traffic, etc.

Feel free to alter this tracking method as you become more experienced at journaling. Also, don’t forget to include your emotional wins. Praising yourself for using healthy coping skills is an important part of the process.

Using Day One as a Mood Journal

Using the Day One app to track your moods can make mood-tracking more convenient and accessible. You may not always have a notebook with you, so you can use Day One on your phone to quickly track your moods whenever you’re feeling something you need to process.

Day One can help with automatically adding date, time, weather info, location, and custom tags for certain emotions.

Here’s an example mood-tracking entry in Day One.

example of mood journal entry in the Day One app

Note: Here’s the markdown code for adding a mood-tracking table into your Day One entry or journal template.

Other tips for using Day One as a mood journal:

  • Create your own custom journal template to track your moods with various fields for information you want to document with each mood.
  • Start a separate journal for your mood-tracking.
  • Add tags for moods to your mood journal entries so you can filter entries by a particular mood.
  • Upload a photo or sketch to visually describe your mood
  • After keeping a mood journal for a while (maybe a few weeks), set aside some time to spot trends or patterns. Use Day One’s search feature to filter by tags, weather info, and location.

Mood Journal Prompts

Mood tracking is the primary step in this type of introspective journaling, but it doesn’t have to stop with tracking. You can write in your journal anytime and about anything. Use your journal to reflect on your feelings, assess how you’ve handled stress in the past, and plan for what you might do in the future. 

After several weeks or months of journaling, it’s natural to feel like you don’t have anything left to write about. So, how do people keep up a journaling practice that spans decades? Using prompts helps. 

Using mood journal prompts can help you delve deeper into your emotional exploration. They also keep journaling more fun and interesting. 

Consider these mood journaling prompts for further inspiration:

  • What problems or issues am I facing today?
  • What moods did I experience throughout the day?
  • What caused my negative moods, and how did I respond?
  • What triggered my positive moods, and how did I respond?
  • Were my moods appropriate to the situation?
  • What mood patterns did I repeat today that I would like to change?
  • What things are within my control to change, and what isn’t?

Journal Prompts to Explore Emotions

You can also use these journal prompts to explore emotions:

  • What emotion am I feeling right now?
  • Where do I feel this emotion in my body?
  • What are the physical sensations I experience when I feel this emotion? Does it manifest in a certain part of my body or in a specific way?
  • What triggered this emotion? Was it a thought, a memory, or something someone said or did?
  • How am I responding to this emotion?
  • When was the last time I felt this way?
  • What emotions do I feel most often?
  • What emotions do I avoid feeling?
  • How did my emotions affect my thoughts and behavior today?
  • How can I express this emotion in a healthy way?
  • What can I learn from this emotion? Consider how this emotion can teach you something about yourself, your values, or your needs.
  • What were some moments of stress or frustration today?
  • What were some moments of peace or calm today?
  • How did I handle negative emotions today?
  • How can I better cope with difficult emotions in the future?
  • What are some ways I can promote positivity and happiness in my life?
  • How can I support myself through this emotion? Write down self-care strategies that can help you feel more grounded and centered when experiencing this emotion.

Wrapping Up: The Power of Keeping a Mood Journal

If you would like to handle your emotions more consistently and better understand your moods, keeping a mood journal is one pathway to gaining deeper self-awareness. Whether you’re working with a mental health professional or working alone to understand your behavior better, mood tracking is a powerful tool that provides insights into your triggers and behavioral patterns. 

About the Author

Kristen Webb Wright is the author of three books on journaling. With a passion for writing and self-reflection, Kristen uses her experience with journaling to help others discover the benefits of documenting their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In her role at Day One, she helps to promote the power of journaling so people from all walks of life can experience the transformative power of journaling.

Download the Day One App to Start a Mood Journal

Here at Day One, we’re on a mission to share the benefits of journaling for well-being and living a more meaningful life. Download the Day One journaling app to start tracking your moods, writing about your emotions, and observing the benefits of mood journaling in your life. Daily reminders, daily writing prompts, and journaling streaks are designed to help keep you motivated and consistently journaling.

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