The 3 Worst Ways to Cope With a Bad Day

Do you react, or respond, to trying circumstances?
The Worst Ways to Cope With a Bad Day

OK, you’ve had a lousy day. What do you do with your anger, frustration or resentment?

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Your choices can positively or negatively impact not just the rest of your day, but your relationships, life and peace of mind.

Here are three behaviors to avoid when struggling with your day:

1. Reacting impulsively

Spouting off in an email to a coworker. Raging at other drivers. Lashing out at an innocent loved one.

Knee-jerk reactions to a challenging day may help you let off steam, but you’re likely to regret them.

“The worst way to try to lift your spirits on a bad day is to react immediately to your feelings,” explains psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. “My motto is, ‘respond, don’t react.’”

Acting out on aggressive or angry feelings brings those emotions into your interactions with people who had nothing to do with your day, says substance abuse counselor Denise Graham.

“They say ‘those who anger you, conquer you.’ Don’t let negativity get the best of you,” says Ms. Graham.

“Try to decompress before you get into your car, or change hats from worker to family member. Meditate, hit the gym, or call someone and vent.”

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Give yourself time to respond to the upsetting situation, Dr. Albers advises.

2. Self-medicating with substances

“One of the worst ways to cope with a tough day is to seek out ‘numbing’ substances — namely alcohol and drugs — for instant gratification or peace of mind,” says Ms. Graham.

At the end of a stressful day, “alcohol and/or drugs may provide a temporary escape from reality,” says sleep psychologist Michelle Drerup, PsyD. “But once the effect wears off, things often look worse than before.”

It’s fine to have an occasional drink with friends, but alcohol should play a minor role, says psychologist John Vitkus, PhD.

“The worst way to lift your spirits is to lift your glass,” he says. Drinking may dull the immediate negative mood, but alcohol is a central nervous system depressant.

Over time, heavy drinkers start feeling worse and become more depressed. “Counting on substances to improve your mood will lead to more problems than it solves, including poor life habits and addiction,” says Dr. Vitkus.

Instead, try to disconnect from the day by doing something you truly enjoy, like catching a sunset or watching a favorite movie.

3. Comfort eating or oversleeping

Some people don’t turn to substances to escape from a bad mood. They turn to food.

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“Avoid comfort eating and other unhealthy behaviors after a difficult day,” says Dr. Bowling. “They may offer a temporary escape from your feelings, but you’ll feel blah and regretful after the fact.”

Others turn to sleep to hide from reality. But napping won’t solve the problems that bother you.

“Taking a nap to escape from negative thoughts or feelings is likely not the best solution,” says Dr. Drerup. “Long naps will also interfere with sleep patterns at night.”

And you’ll want seven or eight hours of good sleep to gain a fresh perspective in the morning.

Meanwhile, talk to a partner or friend about the day’s events. You’ll appreciate another point of view (and the human connection).

“Avoid being alone with your thoughts. That gives them time to swell and grow,” says Dr. Bowling.

Allow yourself time to see the situation objectively. Then you can respond with healthy choices that lead to better days ahead.

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