Mental Health Bullet Journalling: Habit & Symptom Tracking

Bullet journal - habits and symptoms to track

Living with a chronic health condition, it can be hard to see patterns in all the different things that are going on. That’s especially true if brain fog gets in the way of being able to remember things. That’s where tracking in a bullet journal (or in an app, or elsewhere) can come in handy. In this post, I’ll talk about the tracking system that I use in my bujo. In a previous post, I’ve covered the basics of bullet journalling.

Monthly overview

For each month, I create a one-page overview calendar. On this, I make note of any major stressors, mood changes, and anything out of the ordinary.

I also make note if it’s a bright sunny day or a rainy day, mostly because it’s a habit I got into. I’ve figured out that my mood fluctuates a bit based on how light it is, but my illness overall doesn’t, so it’s not that useful to track anymore, but I do it out of habit.

Mood tracker

This is another one-page calendar. For each day, I do a mood rating and make note of the prominent emotions that day. I’ve never been a big fan of mood rating, but it gives some idea of patterns. I don’t use a scale of 1-10; 0 is my neutral. A -2 a few months ago may be very different from a -2 now, so the numbers are most useful to look at changes over the span of a few weeks.

Some days I don’t have much going on emotion-wise, but I make note if there are any emotions that stand out on a given day. I’ve created an emotion list, and each emotion has a coloured 1- or 2-letter code, so I can easily fit multiple emotions into a given day on the calendar. Tearful days get a blue teardrop. I’ve recently started to make note of bothersome thoughts about the past, present, or future. Those are also colour-coded. Yes, I’m a geek, and I’m good with that.

Habit & symptom tracker

This is where the geeky magic really happens. I have a 2-page grid set up for each month with a list of habits and symptoms, then I make note of anything that’s going on each day. Habits are things I do, like showering, getting out of the house, health appointments, and any alcohol I consume. I keep track of what’s going on with my body, like periods, headaches, eczema, GI issues, respiratory issues, etc. I also track mental health stuff like concentration, energy, psychomotor slowing, suicidal ideation, and sleep.

I’ve got codes going on here too. Some things are simple, like a plus sign on the showering grid line if I showered (or leave that grid square blank if I didn’t). A few things, like concentration, may get multiple plus signs depending on how bad it is. Some lines have multiple entry options; for example, on the line for headaches, a + sign is a tension headache, while an M is a migraine. On the line for GI issues, there are even more options (B for bloated, D for diarrhea, etc.). Because it’s all symbol or letter codes, I can fit a whole schwack of information in a 2-page spread that’s really easy to scan and see what’s happened when.

It also makes it really easy to look back and see what’s been happening over the last few months or even years. If I want to know when I’ve had migraines, for example, I just look back through my grids and look for that M on the headache line. I can also easily see if there’s a relationship between my migraines and periods, for example.

I’m lazy about showering, because I just don’t care, but the bullet journal serves as a good reminder that it’s been a few days and it’s time. I would probably brush my teeth more than once in a blue moon if I added it to my habit tracker, but I don’t quite care enough to do that.

Why this is useful

Okay, I get that not everyone is as gung-ho geek as I am. This is something I only started doing a few years ago when depression was kicking my ass. It wasn’t something I needed to do before or ever really had any desire to do, although I did track symptoms during hospitalizations.

It works well for me because my memory is crap, and I would have no clue what happened when if I didn’t write it down. It only takes me a few minutes each day, so it’s quick and easy. It’s good for self-reflection, and also for doctor’s appointments because I can say exactly what’s been going on.

It takes a little while to set up for each month, but then each day is really quick to fill out.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has a downloadable wellness tracker tool if you’d like to work from a template.

Do you do any sort of tracking of health-related things? What kind of system do you use?

21 thoughts on “Mental Health Bullet Journalling: Habit & Symptom Tracking”

  1. Thanks for sharing your system – it sounds like its very useful. I like tracking my exercise minutes as well as habits I want to reinforce like hydrating more. It definitely helps with staying consistent. Also, its interesting to see patterns over time.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post and for sharing your logging system.

    I do something similar but not as much detail. My log started by logging whether I had done yoga or walked that day. It is difficult for me to remember day to day if I have been walking so the log is very helpful in keeping me honest and reminding me where I have had “a day of rest” from the walking or yoga.

    Once I started tracking yoga and walking it was so helpful I decided to track my moods. Mostly this is just notes of when I have been feeling anxious or on the plus side when I have had a long walk and talk with a neighbor and am feeling relatively anxiety free. I basically just jot notes about what I have done for self-care and to reach out to family and friends. Once I started the diarying, I opened up on the page a huge entry about anxiety and how anxiety is a bully or at least that’s how I experience it It helps me to go back and read this entry from time to time. Basically the diary helps me see if my moods are associated with good self-care including exercise and time with family or friends or if they are impacted by lack of exercise, poor self-care and more isolating than usual. Not sure yet the verdict.

    I was always a good student when I was younger. This is a way of rating my own progress as much on the little things like getting meds filled on time to the bigger things like am I learning to let go and experience a little levity in my life? That’s a tough one for me?

    1. I’ve really shifted focus to the little things over the last few years. Something like taking a shower I wouldn’t have given any thought at all to when I was feeling better, but now it counts as an accomplishment. I’d rather focus on the little accomplishments than the bigger things that are so much harder to do.

      1. If I could rate myself on what I can accomplish as a doer, getting stuff done, I would rank pretty high. If I had to rank how much pleasure I have while doing tasks it would be next to none with only a small bit of pleasure associated with the completed bucket list each week or so. This is where my mental health diagnosis “hurts” the worst — forgetting or being hindered from finding pleasure in everyday small things. That’s where I do the comparing to other folks and selling myself as coming up short. Maybe if I shifted my list toward all small things, that might help. I know that not finding pleasure in things is one of the indicators of depression. But it just seems that this feeling is always on the back burner for me and often in the form of anxiety. Sometimes I wish I had a big punching bag with the name “anxiety” on it…..!

  3. This is in reply to giving up on pleasure. This is soooooo completely understandable but soooooo completely unfair. Having to deal with a diagnosis is one thing — having to forfeit pleasure is another. Maybe as an on-line community we need a go-to list of things likely to invoke pleasure? A favorite song list maybe? Maybe include “It’s Raining Men” or “R-E-S-P-E-C-T?” The best desert ever? Likely to include chocolate on my list…. A hot bath with a candle or hot oil diffuser? Putting some fresh flowers or a new plant in the living room? These are not rocket science activities and at one point in time I knew how to do these type of things instinctively to bring small happinesses but sadly with all my anxiety I have forgotten how to do mostly all of these little things. Anybody game for getting together a favorite song list? I once had a friend from college who told me she listened to certain music to change her moods. I had never thought of that before. For people with mood issues like me could this be a help?

  4. I am so sorry to hear that. I feel that way also about much of my day also. Not all the time but enough to color my day in general as a functional / “productive” day rather than a fun or enjoyable day.

  5. I love this idea of tracking. I have many chronic conditions. This looks Like a way to bring it all together though. Thanks for sharing.

  6. It seems like you have a great tracking system! Also no shame in the color coding and/or the other codes you use in your charts. That’s a unique, effective way to be responsible and track your health which is great.

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