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Having a Terrible Day? Do these Five Simple Things to Turn it Around

As adults, we all still have terrible days. It happens. Here are five simple suggestions for what to do to shift your day from bad to better:

  1. Change your geography.

Of course, it would be lovely to be able to say, "I've had it! I'm heading to Bali!" (And if you can make that happen, more power to you.) But changing your geography doesn't have to be that dramatic-- or expensive. If you're in bed ruminating about the day ahead, get out of bed. If you're sitting at your desk feeling overwhelmed by the influx of emails, stand up and stretch. If you're hunkered down on the sofa feeling hopeless, go outside and get some air and sun on your face. And don't underestimate the power of a brief walk to improve your mental and physical state.

  1. Distract yourself.

Research shows that purposeful use of distraction techniques can help us cope with challenging emotions. Think about what you used to do (or still do) to distract yourself when you're feeling physically sick, and adapt that for your mental health. It could be a rest, a snack, a book, a movie or television show, a favorite game, a favorite song to listen to, etc.

  1. Recognize and challenge your secondary emotions.

It's hard enough to feel disappointed, angry, or overwhelmed. But our secondary emotions--the emotional reactions we have to other emotions-- can make things even worse. For example, you might be feeling overwhelmed by work, and also be resentful that you're overwhelmed by work. Or you might feel guilty that you're feeling sad. That's now two challenging emotions to deal with, rather than one.

Rather than get sucked into that spiral, challenge your beliefs about how you "shouldn't" feel. If you believe that you shouldn't feel overwhelmed at work, ask yourself what's behind that belief. If you believe that you shouldn't feel sad, see if you can dig down to explore how you learned to think that way.

  1. Facilitate a small win.

On difficult and tiring days, this can be as simple as checking email and sending out some follow-up messages. The emails typically don't require a whole lot of cognitive capacity or creativity, and getting them checked off can feel like a relief. For you, it could be getting some exercise in, finishing the book you've been reading, or declining a bunch of meeting invitations you don't need to attend. Whatever will make you declare victory, large or small, counts.

  1. Pick the right partner to talk to.

When I am having a down day, I have a few choices to make: do I want to talk to a friend who will listen and empathize? Or with a family member who will try to cheer me up? Or should I reach out to a coaching colleague who will help me move from self-awareness to self-improvement? Or do I just want to talk with my unofficial emotional support dog Isabella, who won't talk back but will gaze at me with affection and expectations of getting a treat? Knowing what you need-- and what you don't-- is critical to getting the kind of support that works for you. And knowing from whom you can get what you need is just as important.


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