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Bullet Journal Mood Tracker: A Mental Health Therapist’s Take

Although bullet journaling is about saving time and space, when it comes to a mood tracker, evidence suggests that slowing down may have benefits.

In this article, I explore the research supporting an update to the mood trackers currently popular in the bullet journaling community and offer an evidence-based, therapist-designed alternative.

Read on to learn how I used my training as a mental health therapist and my personal experience as a bullet journaler to reimagine a new mood tracker layout for 2021 and beyond- based on peer-reviewed research exploring the intersection of journaling and mental health.

Use these shortcuts to download my layout, read through my tutorial on using it, and review the research supporting a shift in how we use bullet journals to track mood.

Pages contained within this printable pdf layout bundle.
Pages contained within this printable pdf layout bundle.

The Problem with Bullet Journal Mood Trackers

A simple grid-style mood tracker tucked in a bullet journal can be a helpful record: Mood trackers allow us to understand trends, see the impact of therapy/medication/changes in support, and can even give us a powerful tool to help us self-advocate as we communicate with our healthcare providers. In short, they’re good for data gathering. Where many mood trackers fall short is that they don’t give us the opportunity to harness the aspects of journaling practices that researchers say have the capacity to improve our mood from day to day: mindfulness (source), emotion expression (source 1 + source 2), and self-compassion (source).

Moods Change through a Day

I’ve always felt that traditional mood trackers limited my ability to express what I experienced during a day. For me and most of my clients, moods shift and emotions ebb and flow throughout a day – that’s normal! Experiencing a range of emotions that shifts as we move through life is a sign of a healthy and flexible brain.

So when a long and complex day ends with a bullet journal prompt asking us to reduce our day down to a single color-coded emotion, we’re faced with a choice to reduce our experience to fit the confines of our journal or break the “rules” of bullet journaling by going off-script.

When using simple color-coded grid mood trackers, instead of expressing that a day held complex, shifting, and nuanced emotional experiences, we record the day for posterity as simply one emotion. That, according to researchers², may not have the same positive mental health benefits as fully expressing our emotions in more complex ways.

Download this Printable Bullet Journal Style Mood Tracker

Each download includes instructions for use, a full-color version for digital journals, and a black and white version for easy printing.

Bullet journal mood tracker layout mockup
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Reimagining A Bullet Journal Mood Tracker Using Research

As I noticed this gap between the most popular bullet journal mood tracker layouts and the journaling practices that peer-reviewed research indicates can help us have fewer poor mental health days¹, I knew I wanted to create a layout that bridged the gap.

What if, I wondered, there was a bullet journal mood tracker layout that was:

  1. Easy to understand at a glance and,
  2. Provided space for emotional expression, while still being
  3. Faster than traditional journaling.

The result was the bullet journal layout you see here: a mood tracker redesigned by a therapist to merge evidence-based aspects of therapeutic journaling with the convenience and approachable look of a fun bullet journal.

Important note: This bullet journal layout, like all of the educational resources on my site, is not a clinical resource; it’s not designed to provide treatment or replace a relationship with a mental health care provider. For more information, see the terms of use.

How to Fill Out This New Mood Tracker

In the next section, I’ll show you step-by-step how to use this mood tracker layout.

The key is modifying the layout as needed to work for you, not the other way around. So, if you find that the layout works better for you with modifications, by all means, modify to your heart’s content! As I walk you through the steps to filling out this new mood tracker layout, I’ll also explain the changes and how research indicates this change might result in a more satisfying and effective mood journaling experience.

Blank Layout

Begin by printing, tracing, or re-copying the layout into your bullet journal.

(Don’t worry, the premium download version doesn’t include my name emblazoned under the title!)

A mood tracker bullet journal layout before being filled out

A mood tracker bullet journal layout with color spectrum filled in.

Create Your Color Spectrum

You’ll notice this mood tracker includes a spectrum and not a key – that’s intentional. A spectrum offers a wider variety of emotions and the ability to visualize that some days and some emotional experiences hold more than one emotion.

The first step to filling out this mood tracker is to populate the spectrum at the top of the page.

Use colored pencils, highlighters, or art markers to create a spectrum as wide as you need. Blend or overlay colors as needed.

Label Your Spectrum

What do colors mean for you? Although angry and sad tend to have colors assigned to them, you get to label your own spectrum.

Use lines to add as many labels as you need to.

A mood tracker bullet journal layout on a blue background with blanks for labeling.

Tracking Intensity of Emotion

For some people, tracking INTENSITY of emotion may be especially valuable for communicating with providers about how mood fluctuates through a day, week, or month. To add the intensity of a mood to this mood tracker, use colors or numbers: Add a number after each written emotion description, rating the intensity of the feeling from 1-10, or track visually by using a full-color spectrum of markers, colored pencils, or pens. Use shade and color saturation to represent, at a glance, emotion intensity. (Example, feeling a little disappointed about something minor might be a pastel blue, while a day of heavy depression symptoms could be represented by a deep royal blue)

A mood tracker bullet journal layout filled out before highlighting.

Add 1-3 Lines of Text

Instead of simply color-coding a box for each day of the week, in this mood tracker there’s room for writing briefly about feelings. Research indicates that this emotional expression is key to how traditional journaling improves well-being.

Take a moment to slow down and mindfully write a few words about how you felt through the day and, if you want, note any particularly emotional experiences.

HINT: For extra benefit, use this blank space to practice your penmanship, a hand lettering style you’ve been working on, or even to add a small doodle. These practices, which naturally slow us down and require us to be more mindful to the task at hand, may further boost the benefits of keeping a mood tracker in your bullet journal.

Finish by Color Coding

To help create the visual at-a-glance summary that bullet journal mood trackers are beloved for, revisit your written words with a highlighter, art marker, or colored pencil.

Based on the colors you labeled in your spectrum, add color – or more than one color – to highlight the words.

A mood tracker bullet journal layout with one entry completely filled out

If you are not able to afford a personal use license, you may hand copy these layouts into your bullet journal. As with all my art, I encourage the creation of unique new art inspired by my work; however, publication or resale of the exact templates on this page, or versions similar enough to constitute copyright infringement, may be subject to DMCA claims as well as fees and penalties assessed by my post-licensing partner and legal advisors.

Releasing this Mood Tracker

I’m thrilled to release this new version of a mood tracker. While mood trackers and bullet journals have been popular for many years now, this new mood tracker that integrates emerging research on well-being and mental health may help to curate a bullet journal that’s more effective at supporting mental health and improved mood.

For more therapist-developed bullet journal templates and layouts, be sure and check out my article on bullet journal layouts to maximize the mental health benefits of bullet journaling.

Recently, I did a roundup of all of my bullet journal-friendly mental health educational resources. As I did the research for the article accompanying that collection of templates and layouts, I stumbled back into research I’d read a few years ago about the link between journaling and improved mental health. It turns out, the essential elements (which you can learn more about by checking out my article on how research indicates we can maximize the mental health benefits of bullet journaling) are taking the time, mindfulness, and space on the page to more fully express emotions.

References:

  • 1. Philip M. Ullrich, M.A., Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, August 2002, Pages 244–250, https://doi.org/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10
  • 2. Eldeleklioğlu, Jale & yıldız, Meltem. (2020). Expressing Emotions, Resilience and Subjective Well-Being: An Investigation with Structural Equation Modeling. International Educational Research. 13. 48-61.
  • Schueller SM, Neary M, Lai J, Epstein DA, Understanding People’s Use of and Perspectives on Mood-Tracking Apps: Interview Study. JMIR Ment Health 2021;8(8):e29368. doi: 10.2196/29368
  • Kristine Klussman, Austin Lee Nichols, Julia Langer, Nicola Curtin, Improving mindfulness through self-connection, European Review of Applied Psychology, Volume 71, Issue 6, 2021, 100626, ISSN 1162-9088, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erap.2021.100626
  • Işık, Şerife & Erguner-Tekinalp, Bengu. (2017). The Effects of Gratitude Journaling on Turkish First Year College Students’ College Adjustment, Life Satisfaction and Positive Affect. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling. 39. 10.1007/s10447-017-9289-8.
  • Amid Ayobi, Tobias Sonne, Paul Marshall, and Anna L. Cox. 2018. Flexible and Mindful Self-Tracking: Design Implications from Paper Bullet Journals. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Paper 28, 1–14. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173602

Image Description for Screen Readers

Pink square image with the key image in the middle. The key image has a blue background with a white overlay and the title “Mood Tracker” in a pink banner. Under this is a color spectrum inside a long rectangle. Different parts of the spectrum have emotion words written out from them: angry to red, frustrated to orange, happy to light green, calm to light blue, sad to dark blue, excited to pink. Below this are the days of the week in yellow boxes, each with blank space next to them to record the day’s emotions. The first box, Monday, has the phrases, “long hand description” (highlighted in yellow, depicting somewhere between frustrated and happy) and “but also this feeling” (highlighted in pink, depicting excitement) to demonstrate the different emotions experienced in a day and how to record those emotions. There is a transparent overlay on top of the image that reads, “Sample Entry,” and “@LindsayBraman, reproduce only with permission” written at the bottom of the image.

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Elspeth Furey

Monday 28th of February 2022

Hi Lindsay! I found your blog a while ago and refound it today. Your graphics are always the absolute best. I am also in St.Louis :) I think its a problem that most mental health care workers do not spend a lot of time thinking about how to track and journal effectively. It was always silly to me that I---a person coming here because I am disorganized, have distorted ideas of time ect. was nonetheless really expected to know without referencing something if I was better off since starting X med or if this week was better than last one-- and without knowing that how could any progress be tracked! Indeed, many therapists and psychiatrists even more so seem entirely unconcerned with whether they are receiving inclusive or accurate data or how that data is compiled. And I have an aversion to trying to put a number or color to my feelings, but it seemed like at least being able to notice a trend in terms of medications working, and being able to counter my sense that I get in a bipolar swing that "I am always sad". Maybe I could find patterns. Seems like the fastest and most accurate way to try and do that over trusting my ability to recall and perform sufficiently in the session as a basis (a bipolar person being in a good mood on any random session time is not really indicative of a treatment plan going well for example)So I started using a variety of different mobile apps, because I wanted graphs that could tell me "when you take X med you are 10% more likely to be happy" . And it does help. sort of. I have some additions that are really important to think about that I don't see being thought about 1) My results were skewed because I was more likely to log when I was really happy or really distressed. Much more likely when really distressed. Which leads to number 2 2) Entering the app I scrolled a bunch of symptoms and old entries which put me in a new headspace. The recording process itself alters the data, which could be good--but in this case was not. If journaling is to increase mental wellbeing, positive journaling practices are important. Maybe some way to track how you feel when you record and then at the end how you feel after reflecting--although the rebel in me would probably not love this and want to say "still like shit thanks". Positive journaling techniques can sometimes feel reductive or condescending to me or ring of toxic positivity--ignoring and downplaying the reality of distress being guilted into feeling gratitude. There's a balance somewhere. I cant decide if journaling should be ameliorative or descriptive. 3)More journaling/recording is not always better. My journals and my apps tended to make me focus more on my illness than my environment and I found myself thinking to myself "I am going to write this down". It became a bit obsessive. And missing days were distressing. 4)Probably the most important, many apps and in a way bullet journals that are daily do this too, they do not indicate the volatility or instability of emotions. If I recorded a level 0 big frowny face at 10 am and level 10 big smiley face at 9pm the app would call the day neutral 5)The apps tended to not to have any way to record mania. Because higher is seen as better reading the data was confusing to separate the happy but not manic to manic and mixed episodes are even harder. I ended up reserving the top happy for mania. But obviously this is all confused when it is compiled. Even apps specifically for bipolar had flaws of this fashion. 6)Emotions are considered binarily as pleasurable or not pleasurable 7) Tendency to conflate journaling/recording/habit tracking/task tracking into one which was a bit of a mess and the task tracking tended to make me feel that my ability to succeed on a day was determined by what I got done. I have since spilt it up but then the likelihood of writing in all of them was low for me. A planner (the clever fox one is really great. I like that it has weekly and monthly places to review what you did well and what you will do better next week and places to put goals and priorities and rewards.), a journal for more infrequent long meditations and practices and prompts ect and a tracker that I use pretty much just to record what I actually feel and did. I briefly say what happened that day (to remind myself later of context) and then briefly describe the kinds of symptoms I felt. In Daylio you can create infinite "activities" to track whatever you want and i track symptoms that way sorting into anxiety depression mania ect (like sweaty plams, sick stomach, on period, took pills, took walk) and later when I look at the calender I can have it show me just how often I had activities from a group or a specific activity. This is not perfect but ive used it the longest and moving to something else would require a lot. So my advice is set it up well in the beginning so you dont have to face starting over. None of the many apps I tried were perfect, at least Daylio is very customizable and now you can add a picture which helps on the days i do not feel like writing a ton. I use daylio in part because my memory is impacted by my meds and sometimes I need to remember what exactly happened last week because I will tear myself up if I can't remember. I hate the idea of time and life being lost like it never happened. Some of this anxiety over recording myself was probably less than perfectly healthy. But I haven't met this fictitious mentally healthy person yet so I refuse to hold myself to the standards of unachievable health.

On a side note, How do you feel about using the terms "sick" "illness" ect? There is the benefit of being taken seriously, but it plays into an idea of one ideal healthy mind. Not to mention it seems to imply cures or that the illness is not intrinsic to who you are but some extra thing. I see these posts that are "you are not your illness" and I see what they are trying to say--they want to absolve me of guilt and encourage me I can change or emphasize that I have other traits. But the idea of this foreign mind invader is bizarre too, I am bipolar, I am also female, white, read books, like clothing ect. None of which are all I am--but none are neatly separate from "who I am", and none all by themselves would constitute who I am entirely. It seems like a remnant of that idea of a perfect soul in an imperfect mind-- that the real me "isn't my thought" "isn't my actions" ect--without offering what exactly it is then. I am always me. Every part of me is me. My brain and body do not react separately from "me"-- I am my brain and body. Such dualism is everywhere in "empowering" mental health literature. Which also tends to focus on how people can heal themselves and not how a society could accommodate people do they were not so disabled by their environments. Long story short the illness metaphor can be useful but it is just a metaphor.