When it comes to understanding the factors that cause us to feel a certain way, mood charting can be extremely useful. Recently, Dr. Forster met with a patient named David that claimed he was “doing better than he should.” He felt that his overall mood was pretty good, but he was also experiencing difficulty with his memory and concentration. David seemed to be engaging in a lifestyle that completely contradicted what prior research has claimed leads to mood improvement.
Not only was David eating unhealthily and getting little exercise, but also he was staying up late and sleeping little. The question was, why did he still report he was doing well in regards to mood?
To get to the bottom of the great mood mystery, Dr. Forster and David used extensive mood charts David had been keeping. In his mood charts, David tracked his sleep, the quality of sleep (click the bottom for more information about an app that allows you to track sleep quality), how much he was walking and running in terms of steps, productivity, sensitivity (distress in social situations), and more.
After looking at David’s chart, Dr. Forster noticed that when David had stayed up late, he had talked to a coworker about a problem at work. This problem had caused David a lot of anxiety, and after solving the problem, David had an increased sense of productivity and had a more positive mood. The changes in David’s mood were thus, not related to lack of sleep, but instead a reflection of his increased productivity.
In fact, there were many downsides to the lack of sleep that David was getting that were also revealed in the mood chart. As a result of staying up late, David experienced less deep sleep, which is a time of repair and memory consolidation for the brain. In addition, staying u late limited the amount of social contact David made during the day. He experienced more sensitivity and distress about social contact when he had less sleep. Staying up late made it difficult to engage in social contact. Because exposure to the factor causing anxiety actually decreases the anxiety of the individual, having less exposure to social situations due to staying up later made David more stressed. This relationship between social stress and staying up late was shown on David’s mood chart.
Although David felt good this week as a result of staying up late, the positive effects were related to the event of talking and solving a problem with a coworker rather than the amount of sleep he was getting.
A strategy of staying up late will not produce long term positive results. Instead, people who regularly stay up late will experience poor sleep quality, have difficulty with memory and focus, and have more anxiety about talking to people due to less social contact. Staying up late uses of the reserves of both the body and the brain, which makes it difficult to function with a positive attitude each day.
Mood charting gave David a better understanding of his mood. It is a simple and effective way to better get to know how the different aspects of your life are changing the way you feel every day. If you have any experiences with mood charting that you would like to share, please leave a comment!
For more information, click the link to watch a video presentation by Dr. Forster about mood charting.