How to salvage a bad day

April 20, 2016
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Some days are just awful. You wake up feeling like you’ve been hit over the head, and it just gets worse from there. Maybe you failed an exam. Or you had a massive fight with your partner. Perhaps you can’t quite put your finger on the reason, but everything just feels bleak.

What can you do to salvage a day like this? The (totally understandable) temptation is to write it off and go back to bed, preferably with a large packet of Tim Tams for company. But what if you want to turn the day around? Here’s how to salvage something good out of even the worst of days.

Give yourself some compassion

On a really bad day, try to pause and acknowledge that you’re suffering. Painful feelings make us feel cut off and alone. We add to our unhappiness by being hard on ourselves with critical comments like, “That was dumb”, or “Why did I say that?”

Try replacing your harsh internal voice with a kinder and more compassionate one. It might help to memorise a mantra that you can use at such times, like this one from Dr Kristen Neff: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. May I be kind to myself.” Say it out loud or just think it to yourself. You can also say the word “yes” whenever you find yourself feeling down. It’s a way of recognising the hard time you’re going through and showing yourself some support.

Take a small step to feel better

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed on a difficult day. In his book The Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris recommends identifying the smallest and simplest thing you can do to improve the situation, and then doing it.

The smallest and easiest thing might be getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, attending your uni lecture, booking in for a massage, or cuddling up with a pet. Focusing only on the next step prevents you from feeling flooded by negative emotions. Once you’ve accomplished one thing, you can think about what comes next.

Do something kind for others

One way to salvage a bad day is to do something nice for another person. It may sound counterintuitive when you’re already feeling crappy and don’t have much to give, but being altruistic and kind-hearted has been proven to make you feel better about yourself and the world.

Next time you’re facing a rough day, try engaging in one or two random acts of kindness. Buy a coffee for the person waiting in line behind you, or feed the ducks in the park. Donate some money to a charity you care about, or cook dinner for your housemates. Acting on your values is a powerful way to change how you feel.

Reach out

Although it can be tempting to avoid other people when you’re feeling crappy, try to reach out if you can. Writer and researcher Brene Brown explains that telling the right friend about what you’re going through is the best way to break out of feeling shame and loneliness.

Find the least judgmental, most compassionate friend you have, and give them a call. Ideally, it should be someone who can listen without needing to give advice; a person who gets you and tries to feel what you’re feeling.

Sometimes, the right friend is hard to find. It might be worth seeking out a counsellor on campus or calling a helpline.

There's always tomorrow

If nothing works to turn your day around, remind yourself that this is, after all, only one day. Tomorrow will eventually turn up. 

Melinda Cooper

Melinda loves reading on rainy days, drinking cups of tea and making things. She is doing a PhD in English at the University of Sydney. 

Image: Justine ReyesFlickr Creative Commons license

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