Bad days are like colds; they happen to everyone, at some point, but when you have one, it feels like you are the only person in the universe to suffer such pain. And some of us catch a case of the frustrating day more than others. Of course, one of the major problems with a bad day is that it feels like it is happening TO you, like terrible stuff is coming from the universe and being dumped on your head specifically. But you do have some control over a bad day — mostly how you feel about it. If you can stop the negativity in its tracks, you can stop a bad day from becoming something worse.
Now, the information below is not for those horrible days — wherein you find out a loved one has died, or that your health is seriously compromised in some way. (I don't have advice for that, and I'm sorry if you are going through something like that; I have, and it's just awful.) I'm talking about those days when you spill your coffee all over your new pants, your dog has diarrhea all over your favorite rug, and you find flies in your soup-and-sandwich lunch special. Those days when your boss gives you a talking to, or you have to give one to your kids, those days when all the streetlights turn red as you pull up to them — when you're running late.
1. Laughter really is the best medicine. Reader's Digest was right: The most effective thing you can do when you're having a bad day is find the humor in it (because trust me, if you're having just a bad day, and not a horrible day, it's probably at least a little funny). Imagine your favorite sitcom character having the bad luck that you have just experienced — I relate to Mindy Kaling on "The Mindy Project" — and that might help you see the humor. Or, retell your sob story to yourself as if you were a stand-up comedian—comics always use the pain from their own life to make others laugh; you can too!
2. Vent to a friend. For some people, complaining makes them feel worse, but if you're the kind of person who feels better getting something off their chest, find a good listener. This could be a friend, a coworker or your dad, anyone who will just nod and make sympathetic noises. Give yourself five minutes to just plain-old complain. Bitch, moan, maybe throw in a few good curse words. Just get it out. Do NOT turn it into an entire lunch-hour's worth of tales of woe. Five minutes. And don't forget to be there when the patiently listening pal needs to vent about her own bad day.
3. Meditate. Sometimes this works for me, sometimes it doesn't, but it's always worth a shot. Find a quiet spot (even if that's a toilet stall at the office, though commandeering an empty office or sitting in your car is probably better). Then, roll your shoulders back and forth, slowly, for about a minute, while taking deep breaths into your belly. Part of what makes a bad day worse is our body's stress response to it. We hunch from our shoulders to our ears, breathe shallowly, and deprive our bodies of oxygen, which makes us feel worse. After you have relaxed your body with the shoulder rolls, stand or sit in a comfortable position with your chest open, so you can continue to take deep breaths into your belly. Aim for 10 minutes, but even five can do wonders.
4. Visualize your problems shrinking. This works best combined with the meditation, above. As you breathe in, slowly, and out, even more slowly, create a visual image of the annoying things that have caused you to have a bad day. With each breath in, shrink the size of the thing that's bothering you — literally see it getting smaller in your mind's eye. When you breathe out, imagine little bits of the thing you are picturing in your mind flowing out of your body on your breath. Keep going until the thing is super-tiny, then exhale it out of your body completely. If there is more than one thing bothering you, do this exercise for each thing (don't try to do them all at once). This technique is highly effective for me and I use it all the time.
5. Go for a quick fix. Sometimes life just sucks, and that's a normal part of how it goes. A good-quality cup of coffee, a sweet piece of cake or a carb-filled lunch, or a good, stiff cocktail can all take the edge off (of course, it's a problem when you are indulging in fixes like this every day, save the coffee). If you save these treats for times when you really, genuinely need them, they can work their magic pretty effectively.
6. Go for a long walk. Walking with your arms free and swinging by your sides actually brings the two parts of your brain into alignment, since both halves are stimulated by walking. This induces a calmer state once you are walking for a few minutes. If you move at a decent pace, you will be forced to take deep breaths, which will calm your autonomic nervous system. Fresh air, and even better, walking in a natural area, can rebalance your mind and body and take the edge off. Even if you only have 15 minutes and are in the middle of the city, a walk can improve your outlook — worst-case scenario? You still feel crummy and you've gotten some exercise for the day, which can be put on the plus-side of the equation.
7. Take a nap. Not all of us have the ability to plop down in the middle of the day, but if you can, I've found 20 minutes of shut-eye really balances my mood, and can turn my day from Part A (which sucked) into Part B (which is fine and lovely). Naps are kind of like the best reset button ever.
What is your 'get out of a bad day' trick? Share it with me and other readers in the comments below!