Dr. Richard O'Connor
(860) 364-9300

The Mood Journal

The Mood Journal

Because depression won’t let us feel our feelings, we develop mood changes instead. One minute we’ll be feeling pretty good, then without warning we feel depressed—sad, discouraged, no energy. One of the favorite phrases of depressed people is “out of the blue”—“It just came over me, out of the blue, and I felt so awful again.”  We’ve stuffed our feelings so much that just one more drop is enough for them to break through in a wave of sadness, regret, or guilt.

The basic principle that the depressed person has to learn is that these mood changes do not come out of the blue—mood changes are always caused by an unfelt feeling. The feeling is usually triggered by an interpersonal event, although sometimes it is just a response to a memory, something we read about, or hear on television. Something happens that makes us angry, makes us feel hurt, sad, or scared—or even happy—but the event doesn’t register on our consciousness. The feeling seems disconnected from reality; we don’t understand what’s going on in ourselves so we feel inadequate, out of control, frustrated—depressed again.

The Mood Journal can help us monitor our own moods to help detect the feelings underneath. Trust that there is always a precipitant to a mood change, and use the Mood Journal to help analyze the connections between events and the change in mood. In this log you’re simply asked to describe your mood changes and the external and internal events accompanying them, in the hope that you will begin to see the connections.  It’s a way of helping you to be more observant and objective, getting underneath your denial and repression.

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. After a few weeks’ practice, 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.”

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 at first. 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. If you do it for a week, you’re bound to learn something valuable; if you do it for a month you’ll learn a great deal, and you’ll automatically start to become more observant and accepting.

The depressed person often feels there is no reason for feeling depressed (or angry, or scared), 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.


Mood Journal

Date, time Mood change Externals (who, what, where, other unusual circumstances) Internals (thoughts, fantasies, memories)



















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).

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. 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 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.

November 2, 2011

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Undoing Depression

Dr. Richard O'Connor maintains an office in Sharon, Connecticut. Call 860-364-9300 or email rchrdoconnor@gmail.com to arrange an initial consultation.