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How I Use Mood Labeling to Lift My Mental Health as a Bipolar Founder

Hard-learned lessons in managing your mood - especially when the world is on your shoulders.

Five years ago, my psychiatrist and therapists recommended I track my mood when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As I tracked my mood, I developed my ability to also label them. Labeling my mood helps me take more control of it. If I know my mood is low, I can alter my behaviour and make a conscious change. 

There are several ways with which I label and control my mood. I found that they worked for me after I started tracking my mood daily three years ago. I’d like to share these with you in the hopes that it helps you control your own.

Mood labeling technique #1: labeling my behavior

The easiest way is labeling my behaviours. I look at how I move: am I sitting around watching Netflix a lot more? Am I spending too much time on Facebook or Twitter? Am I eating a lot more high-carb food that I usually consume when I’m worse off? Because food can affect our mental health, it’s a good indicator if I’m feeling low.

Once I’ve picked up on any of those and labeled my mood correctly, I start thinking of how I can change my behaviour to improve my mood. There are a few ways:

A. Doing something seemingly productive

I find that I have a harder time focusing if my mood is bad, but it helps if I do something that I consider seemingly productive while still keeping a level of passiveness. Sometimes I pair reading a book or learning something new with playing a mobile game. I’m playing around, but I’m still learning and having some momentum in my life because I’m also reading or learning.

B. Planning things in advance

I find that just planning things in advance is usually very helpful. Things like putting an event together is a bit more challenging during this time, but this can even be something smaller. I will plan a call with a friend in advance, or plan when I’m going to pick up a certain book to read. Planning things in advance helps me manage stress, and when I’m making progress, my mood also starts to elevate.

Mood labeling technique #2: labeling my thoughts

Detecting my thoughts can be a little more challenging, but I can identify my mood as being low if I am being less hopeful about outcomes.

For example, do I start thinking that someone I am dating doesn’t like me anymore? Do I start thinking that “I’m not worthy” or “I’m not that smart”? Maybe I’m thinking that my startup isn’t going to work out. Or maybe I start being critical about what my body looks like or feels like.

All of these are signs that I’m probably a bit more sad or anxious, and need to take control of my mood and my thoughts. I found the following ways to be very helpful for me:

A. Meditating and clearing my mind

I find that meditating and self-care calms and improves my mood. I love taking a bath and putting some salts in and just letting myself relax. But even things like clutter can be bad for my state of mind, so the act of cleaning my room or my house helps clear my mind. A comfortable environment is essential to “mental hygiene”, even more now that we spend much of our time at home as we wait for the pandemic to pass.

B. Reaching out to friends and socializing

It’s important to feel a little bit more connected, especially during COVID when we need to be physically distant from one another. Reaching out doesn’t mean we need to talk about what struggles we’re going through–just checking in on each other can be enough. I find peer accountability particularly powerful as it can help both of us become more productive while filling our emotional needs as a social species.

Mood labeling technique #3: looking into my body

Being aware of how my body feels like is really important in detecting and labeling my mood. Is there more tension in my shoulders, is my chest feeling tight? There is usually a feeling of heaviness, of being physically heavy, when my mood is low. I might be a bit more sluggish when doing my errands, or trying to learn something new is taking longer than usual.

If these come to my awareness, they help me pinpoint that my mood is low and I should do something to change that. There are a couple of things that I always remember:

A. Medicating is important

Definitely talk to a medical professional if you need medication or if you need to raise your dosage. Medication is thankfully becoming less of a stigma in these current times, and it is the fastest way to make sure your mood is controlled and you are emotionally and mentally doing well.

B. Moving about and exercising

If my mood is lower, adding more exercise helps me a lot, even if it’s just extra pushups every day. That little bit of momentum improves my mood. Science has shown this to be true, that exercise and mental health are linked and moving even just 15 to 20 minutes more each day when I would normally just be sitting down, improves not just my physical health but also my mood and mental well-being.

Find out your own signals

Maybe the signs that your mood is low won’t be like mine. I figured all of these out for myself when I started tracking my mood daily three years ago. Since we track our physical fitness, we should also track our mental health. While I built an automatic tracker to help me keep up with the habit, I initially started off with a manual tracker. I would manually list down what I was feeling, what mood I was in, and it helps in mentally acknowledging what they are.

But the power of labeling comes into its own when you start seeing trends in your mood, and it becomes the leading indicator of change. Labeling helps you detect when you need to change something to improve your mood, but seeing your mood history will help you see how far you’ve gone.

I’m learning more and more things about my well-being as I label and track my mood. This played a big role in my journey of self-improvement, and I plan to do this daily for years. Start labeling your own mood and tracking it like I do. I want to see you emotionally flourish.

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