Tracking symptoms to unlock the triggers of my psoriatic arthritis was a huge obsession of mine for a while in my life. Sometimes I forget how crazy I was until I look back at the files of data I collected on myself.
I was on disability at the time and prior to my leave, I had worked as an information-technology (IT) consultant, so I felt that the more data I had on myself, the more patterns I could potentially uncover. I wondered: If I paid close enough attention, could I impact my condition in such a way that I could get off disability and get back to living my 20-something life?
For me, the answer was a resounding yes!
After starting down a long path of research, I realized that I needed to work on calming my immune system down. I knew that 75- to 80-percent of my immune system lived in my gut, so I used an elimination diet to first cut out common trigger foods and then experimented with lesser-known trigger foods.
Once I got into a groove, I started looking at supplements, beauty products, activities, sleep patterns, moods, my behaviors, my pain, and fatigue. The list went on and on.
The further I went down the rabbit hole of data-tracking, the more I needed a better tool (or tools) to keep track of it all.
So I created a mega spreadsheet that I could update every day. It included data collected from phone apps I used — MyPlate, Headspace, and my Fitbit. Aggregating all the data in one place gave me the full picture of what I was dealing with and helped me to start uncovering patterns for my own triggers.
Here’s an example of the pain and fatigue charts I would create on a regular basis to assess how I was feeling:
What worked for me won’t necessarily work for everyone.
Because we each have to honor our journey and go at our own pace, here are three simple ways to collect data on yourself:
1. Journal/notebook The easiest is to write it down observations in a journal or notebook. You can decide what symptoms you want to track and how you want to track them. Perhaps you’d rather just write a narrative each day of how you felt and what you did. This is a wonderful way to get started on tracking your symptoms.
2. Apps Phone apps are great because they’re easy to update and they’re always with you. The great thing about our phones, too, is that they’re always evolving. Using the “health” app on your iPhone is a fantastic place to start, for tracking everything from steps to mindfulness minutes.
If you’re looking for options that work on various smartphone platforms, try one of these examples to help track your anxiety or mental state, a fitness tracker, and the National Arthritis Foundation’s Track+React App. If you’re looking for specific psoriatic disease apps, check out this NPF article.
3. Spreadsheets If you are as into collecting data on yourself as I was, maybe you do want to create an Excel spreadsheet or GoogleDoc to document your symptoms. It can be as grand or as simple as you want. I really liked this option because it gave me the flexibility to document all the data points that I felt were important to me. I’ve yet to find an app that includes everything I want to track all in one place!
There is no “right” way to track your symptoms. Talk with your doctor and ask for a suggestion. At the end of the day, listening to your body’s cues can truly help you uncover your triggers and get you on your way to a personalized treatment plan.
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Julie Cerrone Croner is a Psoriasis HealthCentral Social Ambassador, certified holistic health coach, patient empowerer, yoga instructor, autoimmune warrior, and the blogger behind It’s Just A Bad Day, NOT A Bad Life. When she’s not empowering chronically fabulous patients to live their best lives, she can be found traveling, cooking, geeking out over health-related things, or enjoying life in Pittsburgh. Julie loves social media, so make sure to connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.