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  • Robin Dynes


With mental ill health such as depression, symptoms are not always clear. They may develop gradually and often you do not have insight into what is happening. You might ignore or try to explain it away as ‘having a bad day’. You rationalise what is happening and think it will pass. Keeping a diary or writing a journal is a good way to keep track of your moods and symptoms and help you be aware of warning signs of depression or that things are starting to go wrong. It can also help raise your awareness of situations and events that could trigger a depressive episode. In addition a diary can be used to track what you are doing day-to-day and to plan activities to help your recovery.

Using an activity diary to track moods and symptoms

This is a system that works well if you already have a well-established routine that you are happy with or feel restricted by having to plan.

You can but do not have to use a formal diary or journal. You can use a note book or keep it on your computer. It need only take a few minutes each day.

The idea is to record briefly what you are doing and how you are feeling. This may be that:

· You are sad

· Had difficulty sleeping

· Lacked energy

· Lost interest in doing anything

· Felt like withdrawing from socializing

· Had problems concentrating

· Felt negative and so on.

It is helpful to note the strength of these moods. This can be done by using a rating of 1-10 where low figures represent weak and high figures a very strong feeling. Doing this gives an indication of how severe the feelings are. If keeping a journal it will also be useful, when you experience a change of mood, to write down a few details about what you are doing, who with and where you are doing it. Include what thoughts or memories are going through your mind.

These notes can be reviewed at the end of the week and you can spot:

· Events and recurrent thoughts that are affecting you. You can then plan how to deal with these events in a better way and manage your depression

· Warning signs that you are gradually becoming depressed and need to seek professional help. This will be indicated by the severity and persistence of the feelings and your reaction to them. For example, withdrawing and becoming isolated or persistent feelings of hopelessness. The diary will also provide useful information to share with the doctor and help him make any adjustments necessary.

Notes can be kept brief - you will at least be able to record what you did, how you felt and the intensity of your mood. For example: ‘Went for a walk’ Felt good (8). Any side-effects from medication can also be recorded. You might like to keep a more detailed journal-like record.

Using the diary to help recovery

A diary can also be used to help when recovering from a depressive period and when withdrawn or not socialising with others. It helps plan and build a workable programme to gradually become active and involved with others. You don’t need to stick strictly to the plan, you can be flexible and change activities if and when you fancy doing something else.

Again you can use a diary or simple weekly sheet such as that shown above. When planning weekly activities it is better to begin by filling in all the things that are essential and which you need to do. This would include things like appointments, cooking meals, housework, weekly shopping and so on. You will then be able to see what time you have free and include some activities you enjoy, time for relaxation and other things you would like to be involved in and want to do.

This might include a hobby, going to a class or doing some gardening. Every minute of every day should not filled – allow enough time in between doing things to give time to do unexpected things that crop up like having a cup of coffee with a friend, resting or relaxing. Also gradually build your programme over a period, to avoid taking on too much at once. Activity planning for the week should take into consideration:

· Doing a hobby or pursuing a personal interest of some sort.

· Taking some exercise. This might be going for a walk, going swimming or doing something active that you enjoy. Exercise is very important as it can improve your mood and personal health.

· Time to relax, perhaps to enjoy some music, watch TV or read.

· Maintaining a regular sleeping routine. This can help with improving mood and increasing levels of energy.

Once the week is planned, you can then enter in each daily section a rating for how you felt during the activity and anything else you wish to record to track your moods and symptoms. This will help you stay aware of what is happening and when you begin to stop doing things. It will also enable you to see which activities are most helpful when you are feeling low.

Copyright – Robin Dynes

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