A day spent struggling with what felt like every aspect of existence led to a night where I replayed all of the horrible moments in my head. I recalled when my stress level climbed so high I snapped at the kids. I thought of how my to-do list multiplied as I seemingly accomplished nothing.
After many nights of performing this same routine, I started wondering how to break the bad days down so they didn’t have such dominance in my mind. Better yet, was there a way to avoid them altogether?
Bad days come at us in different ways. Besides having plenty of bad-day experiences to draw from, I also spoke to others about what triggers those times when a positive attitude seems impossible. Unchecked lists, miscommunications with loved ones, no alone time, and lack of sleep were listed as catalysts. And, of course, a lack of time to accomplish what we want leads us back to a lack of sleep.
Some circumstances we can’t control, like sick kids or flat tires. Other circumstances we can control, but expectations can be hard to meet. Committing to wake up a half hour early to work out and then not successfully doing it leaves us starting the day feeling like we’ve already failed.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that, once a day goes bad, it’s gone. Spilling that first cup of coffee in the morning or pulling that unexpected medical bill out of the mail feels awful. We snap at the kids. We stop even trying to get anything worthwhile done. We see the whole day as a lost cause when it really doesn’t have to be.
Research shows that it’s important we don’t throw away a whole day if we can help it. The author of “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn Anchor, says that “happiness is a choice,” and a very advantageous one at that. When we’re positive, our chances of being healthier, more productive, and more creative increase.
Bad moods are bad for us, and they are also contagious. Annie McKee, coauthor of “Primal Leadership”, says “negative emotions spread like wildfire.” We hurt ourselves and those around us when we don’t choose happiness.
So how do we turn a crappy day around and appreciate the time we’re given? Barring depression or other mental health issues, here are some tricks to turn that frowny day upside-down.
Identify the problem
Don’t be vague when pinpointing the reason for a bad day. Simply calling it bad doesn’t leave us with many options for solutions.
Annie McKee says we need to know what signs indicate we’re about to go off the rails so we can figure out why. They may include being irritable or feeling physically tense.
McKee says that starting with “I’m upset because…” is better than just saying how we generally feel. When we identify that our bad mood comes from a missed deadline, too many obligations, or unresolved issues with a friend, we can begin the process to fix the problem. This helps us reset the day, or at least let go of the parts we can’t repair, and move on.
Driving to the emergency room for the second time in four days shattered my nerves. Croup was the culprit, and the problems that come along with this particular childhood ailment caused my child breathing issues that couldn’t be helped at home.
Sleep-deprived, scared, and totally out of the routine that I love, I unexpectedly found myself sitting in the ER giving thanks. I was thankful for health insurance and a nearby children’s hospital. I was thankful that my daughter was old enough to come get us when she was having problems. I was thankful that my older kids likely wouldn’t catch croup, meaning the infection period for our household would be a bit shorter. I was still in the emergency room with a sick kid who might be admitted, but I felt better.
Researchers wouldn’t be surprised by that outcome. Psychologists performed an experiment where they split people into two groups. They asked one group to write down what they were thankful for while the other group was told to write down daily aggravations.
At the end of the study, participants who wrote down what they were thankful for had a more positive view of their lives. They were more physically active during that time, and they didn’t visit doctors as much as the other group for ailments related to stress. Other studies have also shown that there seems to be a connection between thankfulness and contentment.
Think of a reason to be content. Better yet, write it down, maybe in a thank you letter to someone else who needs a brighter day.
Choose wise treats
We often think treating ourselves for a rough day will make us feel better. Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project”, says the problem is that we choose treats that often make us feel worse. Eating unhealthy food, buying items we don’t need, or consuming too much alcohol do not generally make the day any better. We actually end up feeling worse due to our lack of self-control.
Choose treats that are both enjoyable and helpful. Taking a walk is a great indulgence in the middle of a bad day, and it’s a proven way to increase endorphins that help us feel calmer. Walking for 20 minutes can be as effective as taking a tranquilizer but without any of the side effects.
When in doubt about whether or not a certain treat is a good idea, ask yourself, does this line up with my goals or values? Will taking part in this make me feel better when I think back on it tomorrow?
If the answer is no, skip it. It’s not a treat; it’s a trap.
Don’t write off the whole day
There are 24 hours in the day. Most of us have bad minutes, maybe hours, but usually not bad entire days. Don’t write off the day too quickly. There’s plenty of time to hit the reset button. Getting all of the kids out of the house on time may have turned into a disaster of epic proportions, but it was only one part of a day that still has loads of potential for good.
A simple change in perspective can help put your day back on course. You can even restart your day right in the middle. Apologizing for being snappy, as I’ve had to do with my kids, and asking for a do-over can be powerful and revitalizing. Let past mistakes stay in the past instead of in your head.
This will free you to move forward.