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Living Well

The Mood Journal

In this log I'm asking you to describe not only your mood changes and the external and internal events accompanying them, but also how you think a "normal" person might feel under such circumstances. You may know someone you think of as well adjusted, someone who seems to experience a full range of emotion, whom you might want to use as a hypothetical model. Imagine how that person would feel in the external situation you are in, given the thoughts, memories, and fantasies that you are having. Then try to rate the extent to which your mood change is in synch with "normal" feelings.

Mood Journal

Externals (who,
what, where, other
unusual circumstances)
Internals (thoughts,
fantasies, memories)
"Normal" feelings Mood/ feeling
agreement (1-10)

Instructions: when you detect a shift in mood, write down the change (e.g., from neutral to sad), the external circumstances (what you were doing, where, with whom), and the internal circumstances (what you were thinking about, daydreaming, or remembering). Then based on those external and internal circumstances, describe how you think a "normal" person might feel (e.g., sad, angry, happy, proud). Then rate how much your mood agrees with "normal" feelings (1= no agreement, 10 = complete agreement). This is an important and powerful tool. If you use it correctly and regularly, you can begin to get around your own defensive system. This may not feel good. You may find yourself worrying more, feeling perhaps a bit more edgy. You are going to become more aware of things that upset you. This awareness is what depressives try to avoid.

Just remember that this avoidance sacrifices your true self and makes you depressed. You may see your defenses at work in how you use the Mood Journal. You may forget to use it (repressing a conflict between your wish to get better and your fear of change). You may get mad at it for suggesting things you don't want to hear (projecting your anger at yourself onto an external object). You may think it is boring and a waste of time (isolating your affect and intellectualizing your feelings). Try very hard to stick with it nonetheless.

Review the Mood Journal every day, ideally at the same time of day, when you have a few minutes and can give it your attention. See what patterns you begin to notice. Follow this intellectual exercise with a relaxation routine (see chapter 8). The time spent in relaxation will give your unconscious mind the opportunity to digest what your review of the Mood Journal has told the thinking part of your brain. We are talking here about changing lifelong habits of thinking and feeling; you need to get all the different parts of yourself working together on this task.

Trying to change yourself in this way is hard work. It helps if you can laugh at yourself. I'm the kind of person who buys self-help books about getting organized, then misplaces them. I've lost the same book on "accounting for nonprofit managers" so often that I finally bought three copies. There is a perverse gremlin within us that resists change, especially the kind of change that someone else says is good for us. My strategy has now become to appreciate the gremlin's tricks on me, then try to outwit the little beast. So if you find yourself losing this book, or if you find that life always interferes with completing the Mood Journal, just assume that your gremlin is at work. Laugh ruefully at the games he's playing with you, then see what you can do to be smarter than he is.

After a few weeks' practice with the Mood Journal, you should begin to see the connections between your mood changes, external events, and internal processes. Once you can see that mood changes are caused by what's happening to you, you can stop pretending that they come "out of the blue." What I think you'll also find is that your moods are more closely connected to "normal" feelings than you think they are. The depressed person often feels there is no reason for feeling depressed, and thus feels crazy or out of control. But if we take the trouble to investigate, to get underneath our own defenses, we usually find that there are perfectly good reasons for feeling the way we do. Understanding that is the first step toward doing something about it.

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