Have you ever had a bad day? Are you having one now? I would like to propose a few strategies to employ on just such an occasion.
Strategy One: Get to the Bottom of It. Sherlock it!
To discover what’s really wrong, you may need to turn your attention inward, to collect a little evidence.
Check in with your body
Did you sleep well? If not, was something bothering you prior to going to bed? Maybe you’ll have better luck deciding after a nap…
Are you hungry? Hangry even? Can you say, “extended lunch!”
Are you in pain, or feeling ill? When our body needs to reallocate resources to heal what’s ailing us, it takes a toll on our energy level and emotional state.
Check in with your feelings
Did someone let you down? It may help to decide if it was intentional or accidental. Think about whether you can forgive what happened, and also if you should change the way you interact with that person.
Have you let yourself down? Sometimes we hold ourselves to higher standards than others. Consider whether you’re being too hard on yourself. Extend yourself compassion and love, either way.
What exactly is the feeling behind your bad day? Are you sad, mad, anxious, worried, overwhelmed. Naming and identifying emotions can diffuse them. Labeling also allows for conscious decisions about how to react to our feelings.
Check in with your habits
When was your last digital detox? Have you been able to connect in person, recently, to those you care most about?
How is your diet? What we eat affects our mood. At times, people engage in emotional eating, which can become a downward spiral. When we feel down, we binge sugar and empty carbs, which leads to feeling worse.
Have you felt the sunlight on your skin? Being out in nature improves our mood. It’s easy, in the winter especially, to become cooped up and suffer from a lack of fresh air.
Keep searching until you find an answer that resonates, has that “ring of truth”. Sometimes just identifying the true source of a foul mood can shift it.
Strategy Two: Check Your Boundaries
Have you been setting appropriate boundaries, particularly around your time?
When you feel overwhelmed, it could be the result of taking on too much. This may stem from an inability to say “NO”.
If you feel your blood boiling over minor incidents, your “short fuse” may be the result of an accumulation of frustration. Failure to express or enforce our boundaries leads to standing by when we feel violated until, finally, the “last straw” opens a flood gate of repressed emotion.
People feel unable to set and enforce healthy boundaries for a number of reasons. We may remain silent because we believe that our wants and needs matter less than those of others. Some are taught to associate martyrdom with love. Others have every desire to express themselves, but lack the social skills and strategies to do so effectively.
Strategy Three: Redirect Your Attention
Sometimes the best way to stop wallowing in a bad mood is to stop thinking about yourself altogether.
Among the many ways to “escape” from your world:
- Read your way into a world of fantasy and wonder
- Get swept up in the excitement of an action packed thriller
- Do something surprising and sweet for someone. Making their day just might make yours as well
- Reach out to an old friend, catch up, reminisce
- Break out the photo albums and take a trip down nostalgia lane
- Volunteer! Serving those in need quickly reminds us not to take what we have for granted
Strategy Four: Run a 3S Analysis
Are you well? Reflect on dimensions of wellness – financial, emotional, intellectual, physical, sexual, social, spiritual, and vocational. Feel gratitude for all of the many ways you are doing well.
What are you good at? No one is perfect, let the weaknesses go for now and focus on the ways you’ve been, and are, a rock star!
Have you set and achieved goals? Great, what were they? How did you reach them? Could lessons learned through those accomplishments be applied to your current circumstances? Whether or not they can, take a minute to remember the way it felt to satisfy your ambitions, and reach, or exceed, your aspirations.
Are there people who love and support you? Take a minute to feel connected to them. Appreciate how fortunate you are to have them in your life. Go ahead and include your pets as well!
Think back to your past. Did you have teachers, friends, coaches, and others who guided you along your life’s journey? Who has played a role in who you’ve become? Who helped you get to where you are today?
Are you in immediate danger? Yes, it’s a serious question.
I assume, since you’re reading, you are not! When we’re stressed, our body reacts as though we are in immediate danger.
Your body, and possibly your mind, are catastrophizing. That is, making mountains out of molehills. Having a reaction disproportionate to the threats at hand. This is not just a psychological reaction, there’s a cascade of hormones released during times of stress.
Help your mind put things back into perspective. Will what’s happening now matter in a week? How about in a year? Have worse things happened? And did you survive? (This answer is assuredly yes).
Thank your body for having your back! Then take some deep breaths (all the way into the belly) and go for a walk. If you can’t leave, go to a happy place in your mind. Take a time-out from reality. Those hormones don’t just disappear. They need time to “run their course”. You can revisit life’s issues when you’re more relaxed. Trust me, they won’t disappear while you’re gone… or maybe they will.
Strategy Five: Recalibrate and Reframe
Definition of the situation is an important concept in sociology. We, humans, frame things in our mind, usually within seconds. We put what we’re experiencing into pre-existing cognitive constructs, then act accordingly. When we do this, we may be labeling what is happening accurately, or we may not. If you walked into a school through a metal detector, for example, you may immediately decide it’s a safe place because security is tight. Conversely, you may decide it’s a dangerous place because they felt the need to add a metal detector. Whichever construct you applied would later influence your thoughts and behavior.
If we label a situation, or our current reality, inaccurately, we have the potential to create or manifest what we believe is already there. This is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy, which can be self-imposed or other imposed. As a faculty member, I have seen too many students who felt they would fail my class do just that. They didn’t fail due to lack of intelligence; they failed due to lack of effort and application. Because they didn’t believe they would pass, they didn’t apply themselves in ways that would allow them to. They predicted their future, and then went about creating it.
When you’ve had a bad day, at exactly what time did you decide it was a bad day? Was it closer to bedtime, or did you label the day as ruined before lunch? Next time you have a bad day, look at the clock. You may be jumping to conclusions that influence the future.
It’s fine to decide your day is going to be good from the moment your eyes open. I’d actually recommend doing that every morning.
“I woke up again! It must be a glorious day!”
“If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”
One cannot argue with his logic. I’ve declared I’m “winning the day!” by the end of breakfast on more than one occasion. Somehow, I was always correct…
If you prematurely label a day bad (i.e. ever), you’re creating a mental barrier to the possibility of improvement, and are likely condemning yourself to a lousy mood. Instead, try labeling what has gone wrong using the past tense.
“I had a rough morning.”
By doing this, you have already linguistically and mentally decided you have reached your daily “rock bottom”, and are currently on the uphill climb.
If you prefer, take a deliberate stand for turnaround. I watched the movie Thunderbirds (released in 2004) with my daughter. Lady Penelope has a wonderful line during a scene when some of the main characters are trapped in a walk-in freezer, presumably freezing. She looks at the others and says, “Right, that’s quite enough losing for one day!” I appreciated both her optimism and conviction.
Strategy Six: Embrace It! Have the “Best Bad Day Ever”!
Make the time to:
- Sit with your feelings
- Honor your mood with emotionally appropriate songs
- Have a sad movie marathon
- Give yourself a hug, and a hot bath, and a cup of tea, and a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer… or whatever it is that comforts you
- Visit a museum, or a park, or your garden
Do things that you have been avoiding:
- Do your least favorite chores, why let them ruin a “good day”
- Is it tax season…?
We were not meant to be upbeat all the time. It’s not natural or healthy. There will be ups and downs, they’re a part of life. Only, we have the ability to determine when it’s best to adjust and keep moving, and when we should grab our umbrella and walk straight into the storm.