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October 25, 2023/Living Healthy/Wellness

How To Turn a Bad Day Around

Reflect on your feelings, connect with others and get active

Person playing ball with their dog at a park.

We’ve all had those days where it feels like nearly everything goes wrong. While you were running late for work, you spilled coffee on your new pants. Then, on the way home, your car broke down and you missed your friend’s birthday party. Agh!

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When consecutive “bad luck” occurs like this, it can bog you down and mentally drain you.

Other times, all it takes is one bad event to turn your good day bad. A rough meeting at work can put you in a negative frame of mind for the rest of the day and make you look at everything through negativity blinders.

Whatever the cause, it can be hard to dig yourself out of a crummy day. But it’s not impossible! While there isn’t a “cure” to instantly turn your day around, there are tools you can have under your belt to keep a lousy day from hijacking your outlook.

“I recommend the 3M approach: Being mindful of feelings, moving and doing a mindset makeover,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD.

Dr. Albers, sleep psychologist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM, and substance abuse counselor Denise Graham break down some ways to turn your day around.

1. Be mindful of your feelings

When you’re in the midst of a bad day, it can be hard to stop and reflect on your feelings. Dr. Albers says that being mindful of your emotions is the first step in feeling better.

Sometimes, a bad day is just a bad day. But a lot of times, there may be a deeper cause behind your emotional response to things going wrong. Ask yourself: What’s beneath my stress and frustration: anger, sadness, resentment?

“Knowing — and naming — your feelings is incredibly helpful and soothing,” explains Dr. Albers.

Once you’ve identified your feelings, write them down in a journal. Or talk them out with a good friend. It might not seem like much, but bottling up your feelings will only make them bubble up later.

2. Get up and move

In order to shake off a bad day, you need to do just that. Get active — which we know is sometimes easier said than done. You might feel so overwhelmed by your emotions that you don’t want to move at all.

But if you move your body, your mind will follow. “Sitting still gives your feelings time to fester,” states Dr. Albers.

In fact, exercise and physical activity can actually produce endorphins and serotonin. “Engaging in just 20 minutes of physical activity will increase these natural mood-lifters and give a noticeable boost to your day,” Dr. Drerup adds.

You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Do any activity you enjoy.

“Play fetch with your dog, walk outside with a friend at lunch or take a bike ride through the park,” she suggests.

3. Do something you love

Naming and validating your feelings is important, but you can’t let them consume you either. During a bad day, distraction can be a blessing. “Watch a favorite movie, work on a craft project, read a book or dive into your favorite hobby,” Dr. Albers recommends.

Movement is also a natural way to boost your mood. So, if your passion involves physical activity like hiking, running, kayaking, etc., all the better.

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Avoid judging yourself or having strict standards. “Enjoy the experience — try to lose yourself in it,” she advises. Be present. Give it a 100% of your attention.

If you can’t completely set the anger, depression or anxiety aside, don’t worry. Taking positive action even when your heart isn’t in it will benefit you.

“We are highly motivated to make our inner and outer worlds agree,” explains Dr. Albers. “Doing what we love reduces this ‘cognitive dissonance’ and helps to lift our mood.”

4. Do a mental reset

Take a deep breath and reassure yourself that having a bad day is part of living on the planet.

“Consider the big picture. Will you feel this way for five minutes, five hours, five months or five years?” says Dr. Albers. “Say, ‘This too shall pass.’ Hang in there.”

You won’t feel better instantly. “Give yourself some time to respond to your feelings in a productive way,” she further advises. But remind yourself that what you’re feeling isn’t going to last forever.

You can practice a mental reset in a few ways, like:

  • Doing some breathing exercises.
  • Listening to uplifting music.
  • Going on a walk to your favorite place.
  • Calling a friend you trust for a quick chat.

That’s especially good advice at the end of a bad day, notes Graham. “I always asked my kids for 15 minutes to ‘decompress’ after work,” she says. “Then, if I came home in a bad mood, I come out of my room as mom — not as an irritable worker bee.”

5. Connect with others

OK, your day hasn’t been a raging success so far. But it’s not over yet. There are a couple ways to end it on a good note.

Doing a good deed is one way to lift your spirits (and put the focus less on yourself). “It helps to close a bad day by getting out of yourself and helping someone else,” says Graham.

Volunteer, or offer someone a kind gesture. Help a family member with a task, or even pay a compliment to a stranger. “When you’re feeling kind, loving and grateful, it’s difficult to hold onto sadness, anger and resentment,” she notes.

Another way is to just connect with your loved ones if you can. For example, Dr. Drerup has a dance party to connect with her kids and let off steam after a challenging day. “We choose their favorite songs, blare the music, belt out the words and dance around the house,” she shares.

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6. Get some sleep

The best thing to do at the very end of a difficult day? Get to bed at a decent hour. That means, try not to stay up playing back the day in your head. Oh, and turn off or limit your use of cell phones, computers and tablets for the last hour before bedtime. This may feel like a good distraction at first, but before bed, it will just ruin your quality of sleep.

“Getting seven to eight hours of good, quality sleep is one of the best ways to recover from a bad day,” encourages Dr. Drerup.

A good night’s sleep will help put it all in perspective. And you can start fresh the next day.

The bottom line

Bad days happen to the best of us. You can’t expect to avoid them completely. That’s why it’s good to have a toolkit of behavioral exercises, calming activities and positive affirmations to help get you through the day.

If you feel like you’re having trouble managing your reactions to your bad days, consider talking to a healthcare provider or counselor. They can further help you develop healthy coping mechanisms.

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