Wellness tracking

Use it for physical or mental health

Wellness tracking has become a popular way to get a handle on physical, spiritual and mental health needs. Whether you track using a personal fitness device, apps or a bullet journal, keeping track of personal habits helps us to be mindful and reach our target goals.

Typically worn around the wrist like a watch or around an arm, a personal activity tracker like a Fitbit or Apple Watch takes the guesswork out of tracking physical activity. Physical activity is calculated in real time, including the number of steps taken, distance traveled, number of stairs climbed and the amount of calories burned while doing so.

Users report that this real-time data encourages them to be more physically active. Whether goals are set or you follow the mantra "progress, not perfection," this feedback can be incredibly helpful.

While electronic activity trackers have broadened in scope over the years, physical activity is just one part of wellness tracking.

Nutrition trackers are helpful for conveying a realistic idea of calories and portion sizes. There are many nutrition trackers, but Lose It! and My Fitness Pal have free versions that are recommended by nutritionists and health coaches. It's easy to enter the information about what is eaten and the quantity. Some apps even allow scanning a package's bar code to bring up portion sizes and calories.

Nutrition trackers can help you visualize and adjust your eating patterns, whether you eat too much or too little, in a timely fashion or sporadically, or want to focus on eating certain food groups and avoiding others.

Mental health tracking has become an important way of dealing with stress, which most of us have had plenty of as we enter year three of the pandemic. There are several free apps which can assist. MindShift is an app for anxiety that is particularly helpful for teens and young adults, while Happify targets depression.

Apps like Calm have been around for quite a while, offering assistance with relaxation, meditation and sleep. Youper is billed as an emotional health assistant, using AI and journaling to help manage overall mental health, especially for beginners.

While mental health trackers should never be a substitute for therapy or psychiatric care, they can be useful between appointments or for those who cannot access formal mental health care for financial or other reasons.

Bullet journals are a non-electronic method of tracking wellness and can be used for a variety of health topics. Some bullet journal users make their bujos, as they are called, a work of art, but the most important part is functionality, whether that is wrapped in a package embellished with fineliner pens and washi tape, or outlined plainly with a ballpoint pen.

Pinterest and YouTube provide a ton of ideas and tutorials for various kinds of wellness tracking. A habit tracker can track both habits we'd like to encourage, such as getting to sleep and waking up on time, as well as habits we'd like to break, such as smoking, self-harm or vegging out on screens.

Hydration, taking medicine or birth control, exercise – bujos can track it all. Tracking not only keeps our focus on the important things in our lives, but can help us notice patterns we may not see otherwise. For example, tracking our energy and mood may help us notice that we do not feel so great the week before a menstrual cycle, encouraging us to carve out a bit more self-care in that week.

Tracking caffeine use and sleep may help us notice that we can no longer drink caffeine after noon without a noticeable effect on our sleep patterns. This use of tracking patterns may also help those with multiple chronic illnesses to discover what helps or hinders their symptoms.

Bujos provide a way to not only track but to encourage keeping up with good habits. Fitness tracker bingo, a 5 x 5 square of short, exercise breaks, can help shift our routines and add just a little more to our physical fitness regimens. Even an extra 10 sit-ups per day or holding a plank for a minute can give us a sense of accomplishment and burn a few more calories.

I track my own wellness in the form of a simple self-care accountability. I list the things I do daily, such as physical therapy exercises and brushing my teeth, as well as things I know that help regulate anxiety, such as putting together jigsaw puzzles, meditating and journaling.

I have more on my list than I could ever accomplish in one day, but looking at a month of tracking, I can tell that I am following through on my commitment to take care of my physical, mental and spiritual needs every day.

Carey Smith is a freelance writer from Springfield who appreciates the emphasis on progress, not perfection.