bipolar parent

Why Should You Chart Your Moods if You Have Bipolar Disorder?

Credit to user Selbe Lynn. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mood charts can be valuable tools if used properly. The charts provide a quick reference guide to how your moods and medications affect your daily life.

Among other things, they can track:

  1. The date.
  2. Mood scale.  All mood charts intended to track the effects of bipolar disorder have a mood scale, with most ranging from -3 (low mood) to +3 (elevated mood). 0 is the baseline, indicating “normal” or stable mood. You record the most intense mood at the end of the day by placing a dot or an “X” in the appropriate box. If you suffered from both mania and depression, you would mark two dots or “X”s. This gives you an easy graph to track exactly what moods you’ve experienced, providing both a way to examine patterns in your moods, and an early warning system for potential mood episodes.
  3. Weight. The chart I recommend, used by the National Institutes of Mental Health, recommends that you weigh yourself on the 14th and 28th of each month. This makes it easy to track whether your medications are packing on the pounds, or if your diet is actually working.
  4. Menstrual cycles. Premenstrual syndrome symptoms can interfere with mood, weight, and cause irritability. It’s a good idea to know when a dip in your mood is due to a visit from Aunt Flo.
  5. Sleep. Most mood charts have spaces to mark down how many hours of sleep you received the night prior. A lack of sleep might be a warning about a manic episode.
  6. Medications. Usually, mood charts also encourage you to write down your medicines, the dosage, and whether or not you’ve taken them. This can help you actually take your medication on time.
  7. Alcohol and drug use.
  8. Anxiety and irritability.
  9. Notes. These are records of life stressors or therapy sessions. These notes can be a brief mood diary.

But why should a person chart their moods, if the above list wasn’t enough? There are several reasons:

  1. Simplification. Your mood is affected by a great number of things, among them sleep, medication, and life stressors. Because there are so many factors involved, it is easier to chart than to keep a diary, or remember everything between doctor’s visits. The best part is that you can take your charts with you to psychiatrist and therapist visits!
  2. Keeping track of patterns.  A quick visual guide enables you to easily see patterns in your moods, and warn for potential mood episodes before problems develop. If you track your moods and keep notes, you can identify your own personal triggers for episodes.
  3. Empirical data. A mood chart definitively shows the effects medication, exercise, and sleep has on your mood. Collected over a period of time, the data makes it easier to pick out specific reasons behind your mood changes rather than just relying on feelings.
  4. Social Security disability evidence. Because mood charts can show exactly how intense your mood swings are, you can use them to demonstrate how your episodes interfere with your day-to-day life.

Mood swings from bipolar disorder–from the grandiose highs of mania to the deep despair of depression–can be intense and unpredictable. Using a mood chart is an easy way to learn potential triggers to mood episodes, understand the impact of medication, and keep track of other factors such as weight and sleep. Charting your moods can help bring order to an irregular disorder.