Using Mood Triggers with Therapy Clients

If you’re a therapist, you may be interested in using Mood Triggers with clients. Mood Triggers is a completely FREE Android application developed by Nick Jacobson at Penn State.

Why use Mood Triggers in Therapy?

Assessment is an important aspect of any  therapy, in order to provide and synthesize a case with a client. Mood Triggers can aid in case conceptualization, while requiring minimal work on the therapist’s part.

Many cognitive-behavioral therapies (particularly for anxiety and mood disorders) ask clients to engage in symptom monitoring using daily homeworks. These diaries can offer useful insights into how a client experiences anxiety and depression in their daily life, but these assessments do not offer a rich case conceptualization without discussing the diaries in depth with the client.

Record Monitoring

  1. Electronic diaries of anxiety and depression. Mood Triggers offers all of the normal features of paper monitoring tools, but provides many new monitoring features that have great clinical utility and are easy to implement in practice. Client’s will be prompted once per hour on their phones. Therapists can then view peaks and trends’ to clients anxiety and depression.
  2. Automatic Sleep Monitoring. Persons with anxiety and depression often report difficutly with sleep hygiene (sometimes sleeping too little and sometimes oversleeping). Indeed, empirical research has shown that anxiety and depression are both linked to poorer sleep quality, and this contributes to greater symptoms severity. Mood Triggers will automatically monitor client’s sleep duration (and soon sleep quality). As a therapist, early in therapy you get a full record of a client’s sleep behaviors, allowing you to build sleep hygeine into the early stages of therapy.
  3. Automatic Step Monitoring. A hallmark symptom of depression is low behavioral activation, which can contribute to low physical activity. Mood Triggers automatically logs and keeps a record of clients steps to give clinicians a snapshot of their client’s activity levels throughout the day. Walking has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression in experimental studies, and Mood Triggers allows a therapist to know when to intervene.

Personalized and empirically based case conceptualizations

  1. Mood Triggers monitors a number of constructs that have been empirically related to anxiety and depression (like avoidance, helplessness, hopelessness, attentional biases any many others). By clicking a single button in the app, Mood Triggers will list the aspects that are most impactful in determining a clients anxiety and depression symptoms. These are presented in an easy to read list, and this can be used to inform treatment plans.
    • Example 1: When a therapists clicks the results button, they see that the top symptom related to a given client’s anxiety is negative life events. This tells the therapist that the client’s anxiety is primarily driven by being overly reactive to stressors in their daily life. The therapist can then target stress reactivity first within treatment.
    • Example 2: When a therapists clicks the results button, they see that the top symptom related to a given client’s anxiety is avoidance. The therapist can target avoidance behaviors immediately within the therapy, and work on a construction of a fear hierarchy to work on fear exposures.
    • Example 3: When a therapist clicks the result button, they see that the top symptom related to a given client’s anxiety is heart rate. The therapist can see that the client is strongly reacting to their physiological arousal. The therapist immediately begin introceptive exposure to break the link between anxiety and physiological arousal.
    • Example 4: When a therapist clicks the results button, they see that the top symptom related to a given client’s depression is fatigue. The therapist can work on intervention strategies to increase energy levels throughout the day with the client.
    • Example 5: When a therapists clicks the results button, they see that the top symptom related to a given client’s depression is hopelessness. The therapist can work on a cognitive intervention targetting the client’s maladaptive thoughts about the future.

Sounds great, but isn’t this a lot of work?

No! We designed Mood Triggers to be easy to use, for both clients and therapists. Mood Triggers is designed to be a self-contained self-help tool.

Since Mood Triggers contains all the instructions needed to use the app within the app itself, all that would be required is to tell client’s the name of the Mood Triggers app, have them install it, and bring their phone in with them during the next therapy session.

A therapist can view a record of the client’s anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms, and health behaviors from one click on the home screen.

Accessing the personalized and empirically based triggers of that client’s anxiety and depression just requires that a therapist and look at the top of the list of triggers. If a trigger is green it means that as a client’s trigger goes up, their symptoms rises, if a trigger is red it means that as a client’s trigger goes up, their symptoms decreases.


Mood Triggers is a no-cost, useful assessment tool that can offer a therapist valuable insights into their client’s anxiety and depression symptoms, and requires only minutes of the therapists time.

Link to Mood Triggers on the Google Play Store

Personalized To You

The Mood Triggers app quickly becomes personalized to you.  Because you will be filling out surveys every hour, the app will become familiar with what is the main trigger of your anxiety or depression, and will have charts available to you, so that you can see what you, specifically, need to focus on in order to work on getting better.

This factor of the Mood Triggers app is also very beneficial for therapy.  The app will give you some aspects that you need to work on, such as “avoidance” or “helplessness”.  Once you have this information easily identified for you, which can be hard to do on your own, you will have something to focus and work on with your therapist.  

Identifying what is triggering your anxiety or depression can be difficult, but it is the most important step in getting better.  Because Mood Triggers is personalized to you and helping you improve, it provides information on what is the most triggering, as well as what is the least.  The app helps you learn more about yourself and your anxiety/depression, so that you can become the healthiest you!

Easy to Read Home Screen

Although the Mood Triggers app tracks and provides you with a lot of information, the home screen is easy to manage.  It provides you with a summary of your activities and moods, including your steps, heart rate, sleep, and anxiety/depression levels.  The information is shown on a screen that is very easy to look at, with light colors and writing.  You can easily access your results to see how your anxiety has been throughout the day, as well as what has been triggering your anxiety the most.  Furthermore, the survey is very easy to work; you can simply drag your selection to be either closer to “applied to me very much, or most of the time” or “did not apply to me at all”.  Because you will be taking the surveys often (you are prompted once an hour), you do not have to think too hard into the past to remember if something did or did not apply to you, as the question will only be regarding the past hour.  

Mood Triggers is very easy to use and look at, so you will not have to think too hard to be able to use the app and have it help you immensely.  There is no distraction from what you need to know, and it is easy to know and input your information quickly.  The goal of the app is to help you get better!

Tracking Heart Rate is Beneficial

The Mood Triggers App not only prompts you to take surveys to track your mood, but also tracks your heart rate.  All you have to do is put your finger up to the camera on your phone for a short period of time, and your heart rate will be measured you.  Being able to track your heart rate will allow you to better control some of your anxiety, because you will be aRecognition is the First Stepware of a physical symptom that you can focus on.  This woman had a very good experience tracking her heart rate; before a panic attack, she was able to see what her heart rate was and from that, focus on breathing exercises to calm her down.  She was able to watch her heart rate decrease, and stop the panic attack from happening.

If you track your heart rate, you could have similar experiences.  As an increased heart rate is a symptom of a panic attack or significant anxiety, having that to focus on may help relax you.  If you are focusing on decreasing your heart rate (i.e., by doing a simple breathing exercise), you will not only be working on calming the involuntary pieces of a panic attack, but also distracting yourself from the panic or whatever may be giving you anxiety.  

Tracking your heart rate is a fantastic way to listen to what your body is trying to tell you about your anxiety, rather than just your thoughts/moods.  Anxiety is much more than racing thoughts; it affects parts of your body, which Mood Triggers will help you to be conscious of.

Making the Most of Therapy

Sometimes in therapy, it is difficult to talk.  Maybe you had a long list of things you wanted to discuss and you’re drawing a blank, or maybe the week you’ve had hasn’t been quite as stressful to you.  Either way, you might end up spending 30 minutes of the hour just sitting in silence, not sure of what to say.  However, with the mood triggers app, you could have something right in front of you that you could discuss.  Furthermore, this log will just be on your phone, so you will likely already have it with you and will not have to remember a journal.  You will easily be able to look at how your moods have been fluctuating since your last session, which will allow you to make the most of your therapy session.  Your therapist will also get a good look at your sleep and step intake, as well as see highs and lows of your anxiety/depression throughout the week.  This will not only allow each session to help the best it can, but it will also allow your therapist to know enough about your patterns to be able to help you significantly in just a few weeks!

Easy to Use With Anxiety and Depression

The Mood Triggers app is very easy to use despite having anxiety or depression.  Because it is simply an app on your phone, you don’t have to put any serious effort into logging your moods; there will be a survey and you just have to mark how much you agree/disagree with the statement.  If you are in public, or with people that are unaware of your anxiety, you will simply look like you’re doing something on your phone, nobody will know!  It is quick and easy to fill out in any setting.  The app also will notify you when it is time to take another survey, so you don’t have to stress about remembering or even make an effort to open the app.  If you’re feeling particularly unmotivated, the app is still very easy to manage, as you barely even have to think to log your mood, because of the prompts!  


The Mood Triggers app will help you to get better, and it is a very easy to manage log.  It has your information simply displayed on the home screen, so you can know easily recognize what you should be focusing on to get better.



Logging Can Invoke Hope

By logging your moods regularly, you will be able to see that there are times when you are not feeling as anxious or depressed as you may think you are always feeling.  You will be more attentive of the times you are feeling good, which could allow you to figure out what may be helping you to feel better, which could be another aspect to focus on in order to help improve your mood.  

You will also be able to see patterns of when and why you are feeling depressed or anxious, so that you can observe what may trigger your negative feelings (such as avoidance, helplessness, or fatigue).  The mood triggers app encourages you to log many aspects of your feelings, and will report any patterns or triggers to you on an easy to read screen! 

By being able to track your moods, hope to get better will increase.  You will be actively working on feeling better, which in itself is a very positive step towards feeling better, as you are no longer in belief that you can never get better (which is great, because you definitely can get better).  You will also be able to actively work on your biggest triggers, which will help you to lessen your anxiety/depression.   


Mood Triggers App

Fatigue Can Trigger Anxiety

Many people who experience anxiety or depression are experiencing it because of fatigue.  However, this can be a difficult trigger to identify, especially if you aren’t constantly aware of how much sleep you get at night.  However, the mood triggers app can help you to know if fatigue (along with many other possible triggers, such as avoidance or helplessness) is the reason for your anxiety.  The app will be tracking your sleep, as well as how you sleep, and will therefore be able to tell you if your fatigue is a trigger.  Furthermore, because the app tracks how well you sleep, you will have the information to learn if the main issue is how you sleep (for example, if your sleep is very restless), and if you should be changing that in any way.


This information is also useful for a therapist or psychiatrist to help you the best way they can.  How well and how much you sleep can directly impact your anxiety and depression, so a psychiatrist may recommend taking melatonin (which actually has some antidepressant properties!), or something that will allow you to sleep better and lessen your anxiety or depression.


Whatever is triggering your anxiety or depression needs to be recognized before you can do anything to fix it; otherwise, your attempts at getting better will not be attacking the true problem.  Mood triggers can be the first step to getting better, as it will help you to identify why you feel how you feel!