How to Turn Around a Bad Day

What starts as a bad day can be turned around with a shift in perspective, or even some wisely-used chocolate. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Did you 'wake up on the wrong side of the bed'? Is it going to be 'one of those days'? Did mama tell you there'd be days like this?

We've all had bad days. And oftentimes, a day that starts out bad just keeps getting worse, snowballing into a really bad day. This is a common experience—the long day's journey into stress and frustration; we've all been there. But why? Why does a bad morning so often lead to an entire day gone bad?

There are actually several reasons for this. Sometimes there's a 'domino effect' with negative events, where one bad thing leads to another. (Example: You sleep through the alarm, so you're stressed while you sit in the bad traffic that makes you late to work, which puts you 'in the doghouse' with your boss, who feels entitled to pile on more work, etc.)

It's also common, though, that a few negative events early on can put us in a negative frame of mind where we create more stress for ourselves. We may snap at people, causing them to be a little ruder and a little less understanding with us. We may notice more of the negative events and fewer positive events that happen to us. A triggered stress response (that doesn't resolve with a relaxation response) can throw off an entire day.

We may miss opportunities for positive experiences because we're busy ruminating about what's happened already in the day.

So what can be done to keep 'one of those days' from continuing on as 'one of those days'? Here are some ideas that have worked for me:

  • Talk to a Good Friend
    • Here, the emphasis is on good. Trying to find support from someone with poor listening skills or who really don't want to support you can make you feel worse, as can someone who will engage in co-rumination instead of trying to help you pull out of things. (The best balance is someone who will listen to your feelings, empathize, and then help you look at things you may be missing or help you get into a new frame of mind in another way. Sometimes even the listening and empathizing can help you pull out of things on your own.)
  • Take a Mini-Meditation Break
    • Meditation can be a great tool for helping people get into a different frame of mind. Even a 5- or 10-minute meditation can give you a needed break from what's stressing you and help you come back with a new perspective and a fresh start. It can also turn off your stress response you're physiologically back to normal.
  • Count Your Blessings
    • Gratitude has some wonderful benefits for stress management and well-being. It's also hard to focus on how bad things are when you're focusing on how good things are! Counting off 10 or more things you're grateful for, or really dwelling on 2 or 3, can get you into a whole different place, and turn a bad day around!
  • Work It Out
    • I love to work things out with a good workout—the burst of endorphins and the ability to blow off steam can take the negative energy out of my day, even if the workout is only for a few minutes. And getting more fit is a good thing, too! 
  • Chocolate
    • Yes, this is a contradiction to the last entry, it may seem, but one small piece of very good chocolate, savored with a cup of green tea and a quiet break from stress, can help me feel a little pampered and do wonders for my mood if all else fails. (It's not for everyone, but, in moderation, this works well for me, so I had to include it! 
  • Accept the Challenge!
    • One piece of perspective that can make an enormous difference in your experience of stressors is your locus of control—whether or not you view your situation as a 'threat' or as a 'challenge'. It may seem clear-cut which you're experiencing, but a mild shift in how you view things can actually help you go from feeling trapped and overwhelmed to feeling invigorated and vital. And the best thing about this one is that you can try it under virtually all circumstances, quickly, and with no additional outside-of-yourself resources needed! 

Today, it was the talk with the good friend that helped me pull out if it. (That and just focusing on getting work done.) Other days, other things work well. What helps you shake the negative energy of an 'until-now bad day'? 

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.