You’ve heard the standard advice about getting through a bad day—breathe deeply, meditate, be mindful. But some days just suck the life out of you, and no amount of cleansing breaths are going to change that. Plus, how can you meditate when you’re ready to run out the door screaming?
“It’s a symptom of the happy work culture that we all strive to work in—we feel that on the flip side of that is that any negative emotions are instantly something that needs to go away. That can color how we react to any challenge that comes along,” says New York City therapist Melody Wilding, who works with high-achieving people to overcome anxiety and self-doubt.
When the day is going downhill and you feel like it’s only going to get worse, try these six ways to turn it around.
When you see the day going horribly awry, note how you’ve labeled it. It’s time to change the story you’re telling yourself. Once you’ve declared the day “bad,” cognitive bias can kick in and leave you seeking out negativity to prove your thesis about the rotten day. Before you know it, a snowball of mishaps, mistakes, and miscommunication can become overwhelmingly large.
Change the story from, “It’s a bad day,” which is sweeping, and look at what you’re really feeling, Wilding says. Perhaps you made a mistake and feel like a bad team player. Did something happen that is triggering self-doubt or feelings of unworthiness that can reflect on how you’re seeing your environment at the moment? When you isolate the feeling and name it, you can help prevent it from infecting the rest of your day.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be 10, but grab a pen and refute the “bad-day” premise by making a list of everything that’s going right, says therapist and coach Cara Maksimow, founder of Maximize Wellness Counseling & Coaching LLC in Summit, New Jersey. Did you make it to work okay? Check. Did you get your morning coffee? Add it. It’s not exactly the traditional gratitude list, but it’s “written proof that there are some things that are going right,” she says.
Having a good laugh can snap you out of a bad mood and make the day seem better, says licensed psychologist Pauline Wallin of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. You know what amuses you—that funny friend, a hilarious cat video, or an episode of Drunk History—so find a way to get your giggle on. If all else fails, she suggests thinking about how this will seem funny someday. “On days when everything seems to go wrong, consider that sometime in the near future, it might make a great story,” she says.
If you have the option of calling it a day and starting again tomorrow, take it if the day’s really going nowhere good. But another way to bail is to stop what you’re doing and redirect your attention to an easier or more enjoyable task.
“You’re probably not as effective if you just you plow through. But if you get up and go to another project that’s really easy or mindless or you can do with your eyes closed, do that instead,” she says. You’ll return with a small victory under your belt, which can change the course of the day. (Don’t forget to add that to your “going right” list.)
On truly bad days, you may need to call in the reinforcements. You probably know what you need to feel better, whether it’s a friend or colleague who will let you vent and just listen or who will help you find solutions. Grab that person and be upfront about what you need. After all, there are few things more annoying than needing a good vent and being peppered with solutions that don’t work for a variety of reasons, she says. Get it out or find an answer and move on.
If you can get out of the office, head for the closest patch of greenery or natural beauty you can find. A June 2015 study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that people who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting compared to a walk in an urban environment decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative emotions. Convening with nature can help you feel better—even if you need to head back to the office afterwards.