Tracking and measuring one’s mood is an activity many of us are familiar with. Perhaps we put colored dots on our calendars to mark when we have a bad day or maybe we journal about our days and how our moods affected them. Even as children we were aware of our moods and felt the urge to analyze them. Some of us may have even purchased mood rings as children as a means to measure our moods. While the validity of mood rings is questionable at best, tracking your mood is a highly beneficial and common practice.
People choose to track their moods for a variety of reasons such as monitoring their mood or to identify external factors that may be influencing their mood. Additionally, understanding one’s emotional state has been an increasingly popular practice. A majority of people will use mood tracking apps in conjunction or as supporting tools with more professional treatments, such as therapy (Islam & Choudhury, 2020; Stark, 2020; Van Ameringen et al., 2017).
What makes the aspect of tracking your mood in an app so attractive to people? Not only is it generally easier, faster, and more convenient, people typically feel more “safe” and comfortable to report their mood to an app rather than a clinician or therapist (Van Ameringen et al., 2017). This may allow people to be more open and honest about their moods and what external factors may have influenced them. For example, someone may feel embarrassed to tell someone about a time they got upset or distressed over a trivial issue. However, it is important to note that mood tracking apps are tools meant to support one’s professional treatment or for casual tracking, not as a replacement for professional help (Stark, 2020).
As mentioned above, the reason why someone would get a mood tracking app is varied quite a bit. However, it is generally to improve one’s awareness of emotions, analyze one’s mood, or keep a note of mood changes during a period of time. Whether self-prescribed or recommended by a healthcare professional, researchers have determined 5 main reasons why people use mood tracking apps (Meiners, 2019).
The use of mood tracking apps, and other healthcare apps, have broken barriers and created accessible healthcare and/or support (Bush et al., 2019). Especially amidst a pandemic, mental health apps have become wildly popular amongst the youth and elderly alike. However, there is some debate about what makes mental health, particularly mood tracking apps, legitimate and effective.
A survey distributed by Stawarz and colleagues (2019) asked 81 people what they looked for in mood tracking apps and other mental health apps. More specifically, which features they found to be important and credible. 32% of respondents reported that professional input and the ability to self-monitor were very important. When asked about specific features, 40% of respondents said mood tracking was very important and another 59% responded that guided activities in addition to mood tracking were important features they looked for.
So, that is a pretty good idea of what users look for in a good mood tracking app, but what do professionals think comprises a good mood tracking app? While each professional may differ on opinions and criteria, the general consensus is the app is based in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), addresses anxiety and low mood, includes customization, enables a tracking or report system of symptoms or mood, curates specific activities based on mood, consists of a simple interface, establishes efficacy, and provides credible information (Bush et al., 2019).
This is not an exhaustive list as there is some debate on whether or not mood tracking and other mental health apps are effective and legitimate. Some mental health professionals detest the idea of these apps while others welcome them with open arms. However, mental health apps have been improving and increasing their validity as useful tools of support.
As discussed above, there are so many reasons why people get mood tracking apps
While they cannot diagnose or treat a mental disorder, mood tracking apps can help when feelings of anxiety and depression are present (Costello & Floegel, 2020). Mood tracking apps can help you understand your emotions, honor them, cope with them, and monitor them. Even if mood tracking apps aren’t your thing, it can’t hurt to try one out (Costello & Floegel, 2020; Meiners, 2019).
Bush, N. E., Armstrong, C. M., & Hoyt, T. V. (2019). Smartphone apps for psychological health: A brief state of the science review. Psychological Services, 16(2), 188–195. https://doi.org/10.1037/ser0000286
Costello, K. L., & Floegel, D. (2020). “Predictive ads are not doctors”: Mental health tracking and technology companies. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 57(1), e250. https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.250
Islam, M. A., & Choudhury, N. (2020). Mobile apps for Mental Health: a content analysis. Indian Journal of Mental Health, 7(3).
Meiners, M.M. (2019). Motivations to use health-related self-tracking apps.
Stawarz, K., Preist, C., & Coyle, D. (2019). Use of Smartphone Apps, Social Media, and Web-Based Resources to Support Mental Health and Well-Being: Online Survey. JMIR mental health, 6(7), e12546. https://doi.org/10.2196/12546
Van Ameringen, M., Turna, J., Khalesi, Z., Pullia, K., & Patterson, B. (2017). There is an app for that! The current state of mobile applications (apps) for DSM-5 obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and mood disorders. Depression and anxiety, 34(6), 526–539. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22657