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We’ve all had “one of those days.”
Lately, many of us feel especially bombarded by bad news, stressful interactions, and the weight of the disruption of our norms. It may seem those rough days are more frequent over the last few months.
After a rough day, it may feel like the whole world is against us. We may feel angry, sad, and irritable. We may feel like crying. Many of us try to fight the bad day blues by choosing to zonk out on the couch with a movie or going to our phones for shopping or social media. Maybe we eat a pint of ice cream. In most cases, these actions only end up making us feel worse.
So what should we do instead if we’re trying to feel better? What’s the key to help us learn how to recover after a rough day? Is there a quick fix, or does it take time to recover from a bad day?
One commonly searched phrase right now is “shitty day.” It seems that many people are having a tough time, and with the current unrest, there are times when the world feels stifling and overwhelming.
But even in the times before COVID-19 disrupted our lives, we all experienced bad days. Everyone has had a rough day when nothing seemed to go right for us. When we were kids, we may have heard someone say we “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Some days feel off.
So if we’re having a rough day, the first thing we should ask ourselves is, “What’s going on?” Look at the day. What about the day is “shitty”? Are we frustrated or overwhelmed? Did one interaction or situation set us off? Are we tired? Hungry? What is causing the day to feel so crummy?
That’s said with a tongue-in-cheek. Of course, there are days when genuinely terrible things happen to us. We lose our job, a family member is sick, we get in an accident, or our pet dies. Those days are awful. We can’t (and shouldn’t) dismiss our sadness, hurt, anger, or fear that arises during a tragedy.
But most rough days are quickly recoverable. We may have heard people say, “Remember, you’ve survived 100% of your bad days before.” It can help us to get some perspective. Many days are rough, depending on how we deal with tough situations. Once we define what was truly challenging about the day, we can start to break out of our potentially negative line of thinking.
When we think everything sucks, everything will suck. Once we get pessimistic, we go down a rabbit hole. Suddenly the whole day and every situation feel insurmountable. On the other hand, if we pinpoint what happened in the day that was bad, we can look at other aspects of the day as well. Was there anything good in there that we can tease out?
“Well, my boss got frustrated with my mistake and chewed me out. BUT I did figure out a way to fix the problem after, and I’ve learned from the mistake. I finished with work, and there was a huge pile of laundry, but I managed to tackle it. I reached out to a friend, vented, and now I feel better.”
Look at precisely what made the day rough and see if there were at least a few redeemable moments.
One way we can recover from a rough day is to identify our underlying feelings. We often tell students that we can “name it to tame it.” When we name our emotions, they often feel less confusing and overwhelming.
We can take an example from young kids. When they have a terrible moment, they almost instantly feel a range of emotions—they might get angry, cry, or feel upset. But then they get it out and feel better. It’s the emotions we don’t let out and express that eat us up and make us feel crappy.
We can start by asking ourselves, “What happened, and how do I feel about it?” Look at where the feeling is in our bodies. Is it in our chest? Are we feeling it in our stomach? Does our jaw feel tense? Are our fists balled up? Looking at our physical reaction can help us pinpoint exactly what it is we’re experiencing.
We can also look at what we really wanted from the situation. Each of us has deep longings, or as we call them, “yearnings.” Our yearnings drive us. These are significant universal desires. We may yearn to be loved. We may yearn to be respected. Maybe we yearn for security.
Often when our yearnings are denied, we feel emotional. We may feel angry because we didn’t fill our yearning for respect. We may feel fear because our partner is upset with us, and we yearn to feel affirmed. Our yearnings are extremely powerful, and we’re driven to get them met. When our yearnings are overlooked or thwarted, we often feel hurt, frightened, and even angry.
Reframe your experience to identify the underlying yearning. What are we really yearning for right now? We can ask ourselves, what would make me feel optimistic about this situation? Are there other ways I could look at this?
Everyone has bad days, but we all have the power to talk to ourselves about the day differently. When we think we’re the victims of circumstance, or we have no power, that’s when we may despair. We look at the day and feel helpless, hopeless, and out of control, but we really have much more control than we may realize.
As we reframe our bad day, look at what we can do. Is there something we can do differently? Is there a new way of looking at the situation?
A fight with a friend becomes an opportunity to express our feelings and work out frustrations. A critique from our boss becomes a chance to learn a different approach, grow in our career, or learn to stand up for ourselves.
The best way to deal with a bad day is to identify what was terrible and see what we can do differently. In every situation, we can learn something. We always have the opportunity to rebound. Even when we’re in a negative space, and it’s hard to see the lesson, we can examine our reaction. How could we be dealing with this situation differently? What do we need to get through? Do we need more emotional support, and can we reach out? Do we need more training or certain skills? How can we take steps now to change the situation?
Right now, bad days feel worse because we don’t have our usual coping strategies in place. We can’t go out with friends after work to blow off steam. In some cases, we can’t even go to the gym, the library, a coffee shop, or any other places that help us connect with others.
But if we want to boost our mood and feel better about a rough day, we should keep and foster the connections available to us. That means, attend that Zoom party or take the virtual class we’ve been considering. Call a friend and connect with voices rather than texts.
When the opportunities arise to get some face time with others, whether it’s a brief, distanced interaction or a virtual meeting, make the most of it! We can really challenge ourselves to engage, share, and connect. Make eye contact, ask meaningful questions, push the moments to get a little more out of the situation.
Similarly, when we have a joyous moment, really soak it in! Jot down those compliments and save the nice emails and texts we get from family, coworkers, and friends. We can take a few moments after a great phone call with a friend to really savor the experience.
We’ll also find comfort if we practice self-compassion. Use positive self-talk to remind ourselves we’ve got this. We can address ourselves by name and reassure ourselves just as we would with a good friend.
One helpful tip is to write down insights and tactics we find nourishing or helpful. Jot down ways we adapt our typical coping mechanisms to fit the new situation. As the list builds, we have a go-to resource of things we can do to recover after a rough day.
Remember, we are all strong and resilient. We will make it through these challenging times to emerge stronger and even more capable than before. Even if today is rough, we can use it as an opportunity to hit the “reset” button and move forward with hope.