Quantified Health. Part 2: Measuring Mental Health

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self tracking personal analytics quantified self mental health metricsTo me, the most important indicators of mental health are stress and mood. In this post, I will describe how I measure these indicators, and how I hope to use this data in the future.

In general, psychologists and psychiatrists recognize two types of stress: eustress (eustress (positive stress that manifests itself in the moments of enthusiasm, inspiration, creativity and excitement) and distress (negative stress, associated with discomfort, anxiety, confusion). In addition to eustress and distress, scientists further differentiate between hyperstress (too much negative “pressure”, associated with irritability, anger), and hypostress (negative stress caused by lack of challenge or enthusiasm, constant boredom). I believe that it is important to keep track of all four types, and I do so on a daily basis, three times a day:

How stressed were you on a scale of 1 = Not at All to 10 = Extremely this morning (afternoon, evening)?

Positive Stress: 1 (not at all) .. 10 (extremely)
Negative Stress: 1 (not at all) .. 10 (extremely)
Hyperstress: 1 (not at all) .. 10 (extremely)
Hypostress: 1 (not at all) .. 10 (extremely)

stress metrics quantified self tools for measuring stress I am also currently testing Azumio’s Stress Check app to supplement my stress measurements, and will be  reporting results in a couple of months, after I have enough data points. Stress Checker is a mobile app that measures your stress level by analyzing variability of your heart rate (if you are interested in how variability in heart rate low and high frequencies are related to stress and other mental conditions, check out this article). All you have to do is to press your finger to your iphone’s camera flash and wait for a couple of minutes for the app to to collect your pulse data via camera. The resulting metrics are both quantitative (on a scale from 1% = lowest to 100% – highest) and qualitative (stress levels: low, medium, high).

I adopted Seth Robert’s approach to measuring mood, using three dimensional scale: happiness, irritability, and eagerness to start the day:

How happy do you feel this morning (afternoon/evening): 1 (extremely unhappy) .. 10 (extremely happy)
How irritable do you feel this morning (afternoon/evening): 1(extremely serene) .. 10 (extremely irritable)
How eager do you feel this morning (afternoon/evening): 1(exremely reluctant) .. 10 (extremely eager)

In my opinion, these qusetions capture most of the important mental states indicative of mental health problems such as depression, irritability and anxiety. The Mood Score is computed as anarithmetic average:

Mood = (Happiness + Irritability* + Eagerness)/3 

Please note that Irritability* in the formula above is in fact actually a Serenity, a “reversed” original value of Irritability: Irritability* = 11- Irritability. The mood questions, just like stress questions, are asked three times on weekdays (morning, afternoon, evening), and once on Saturday and Sunday.

The main idea behind collecting this data is to see how my mental health changes over time, and examine the impact of sleep quality, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle and external factors, as well as treatments. Perhaps, by isolating and manipulating certain treatments (e.g., meditation, binaural beats, herbal supplements, breathing or physical exercises), I could learn to control my stress and mood levels in the future.

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3 Responses to Quantified Health. Part 2: Measuring Mental Health

  1. Seth Roberts says:

    if you want 5 to be neutral (neither happy nor sad) you should use a 0-10 scale, not a 1-10 scale.

  2. Hi Seth,
    Thanks a lot for the suggestion! I used 5-point scale, with 3 being a “neutral”, and found that I have been abusing that “neutral” point too much. I decided that I want more variability so I switched to the scale with no “midpoint”.

  3. forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

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