Having a bad day at work happens to all of us. Some days, things just don’t click. We got into a silly, meaningless bickering match with our kids or our spouse. The coffee tastes bad and won’t do the trick. The car won’t start. We can’t get our heads around a certain assignment. Whatever’s causing your bad day, when you’re in it, it feels like it will never end. The world seems like a dark, dismal place, and all you want to do is drown your sorrows and go to bed.
But although it doesn’t seem like it when you’re in it, a bad day is just a day. If you’re wondering how to get through a bad day at work, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll share eight helpful strategies that will help you turn a bad day around.
Having a Bad Day at Work
When you have a bad day at work, it can feel endless. The toxicity in your thoughts and feelings permeates through everything. Everything you enjoy gets turned on its head and seems useless and repugnant. You feel all alone, as though no one can possibly understand what you’re going through.
It’s important to remember that everyone feels this way sometimes. Bad days happen to everyone. They’re as reliable as taxes and sunsets. That’s why it’s so important to be understanding and empathetic in the workplace. You never know what someone else is going through. Just as you have bad days at work, so do your coworkers.
There are a million causes for a bad day. It could be a fight with your family, an argument with a manager or coworker, a challenging assignment, or a stressful commute. Or maybe you don’t even know why you feel the way you do. You just snapped at a coworker for no apparent reason, shocking yourself and them. You may be stuck wondering, why am I in a bad mood today? And if you don’t even know why you’re in a bad mood, how can you solve it?
Bad days and bad moods make you feel powerless, hopeless, and alone. And if you feel this way, how can you possibly turn things around?
But you’re in the driver’s seat. While things can feel hopeless, they very rarely are. Let’s talk about how to turn a bad day into a good day. It is possible if you follow the eight strategies we’ve laid out below.
How to Turn a Bad Day Around
1. Remember a Rough Day at Work is Only One Day
Bad days happen, but it’s important to put them in perspective. It’s only one day, and tomorrow, another day will begin. We get 365 of them a year, and each day we get to start anew.
Remember the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray wakes up and repeats the same day over and over again? Ostensibly, every day is exactly the same, but he gets to decide how he can improve and make the day go differently. Even if he makes a mistake one day, he can take what he learned and apply it to the next day. He’s not doomed to repeat the same mistakes or the same actions over and over again.
Okay, so we don’t live in a fantasy world where every day is the same, but every day you wake up again, and you have a fresh chance. It doesn’t matter that you had a bad day yesterday or that you might have a bad day tomorrow—what matters is what you do with the current day. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and you can’t change what happened yesterday; all you really have power over is today.
If you have a really bad day, that's okay. It's only one day out of the week, one day out of the month, and one day out of the 365 day year.
2. Practice Breathing Exercises
Your mood is connected to your breath, which means breathing deeply and intentionally is one of the most natural ways to improve mood swings.
Anger triggers our fight or flight response, which causes stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to speed up our heart rate, causing us to take quicker and shallower breaths. This deprives our brains of oxygen, which makes it more difficult to control our emotions. We perceive our environment or the things that people say to us as threats to our wellbeing—even though they’re not.
Intentional breathing and breathing exercises get our brains that much needed oxygen, calming down our fight or flight response and enabling us to see things more clearly. No, our coworker wasn’t calling us old by asking if we were tired; they wanted to know if we were alright and if we needed anything.
When you breathe deeply, focus on expanding your stomach. If your shoulders rise and fall with each breath, your breathing is still shallow. Find a quiet space or just close your eyes at your desk and practice some intentional breathing. The Box Breathing technique is one that’s practiced by US Navy Seals. If it works for them, it will work for you.
3. Break Your Day Into Parts
Breaking your day into quarters can help you focus on one section at a time. There’s your morning, afternoon, evening, and night. If something goes wrong or not how you planned, it’s not the WHOLE DAY that’s ruined—it’s only one quarter.
If you have a terrible morning, that’s okay; it’s only one quarter of your day. Take some deep breaths and refocus. How can you make the next quarter (your afternoon) better? If your morning went smoothly, but your afternoon poorly, that doesn’t diminish the fact you had a good morning. How can you make your evening better? If three quarters of your day went well, then on the whole, that’s a pretty successful day!
4. Vent in a Journal
Sometimes our negative thoughts and feelings need to be released. Instead of unloading on a coworker or family member, put that negativity in a journal. Don’t censor yourself. Be honest about what’s really bothering you. The more you hold on to those feelings, the more likely they’ll explode at a less than opportune moment.
Once you’ve released the toxic bile, take a deep breath, and read over what you wrote. Try to understand where that negativity is coming from. Letting these angry and sad thoughts out in a journal promotes mindfulness, and it can sometimes be enough to calm us down and help us to see things from a different perspective.
Before you lose your temper with someone, take it to your journal. Don’t jump to a confrontation straight away. Let your thoughts out, sit with them, and analyze them. How can you turn those negative emotions into actionable insights?
📝 Learn more about The Benefits of Journaling and How to Keep a Work Journal.
5. Understand What’s Inside Your Circle of Control
Our circle of control is something we write a lot on our Blue Summit Supplies blog because it’s such an important thing to reflect on.
There’s a lot about our lives and our work that we have no control over. We expend a lot of energy worrying about things that are totally outside of our control. For instance, other people’s choices, what they say, how they feel, whether or not they like you, and the weather are outside your circle of control.
We may want someone to feel a certain way about us. We may wish that someone shared our beliefs. But at the end of the day, we can’t change other people, and if it’s going to rain, it’s going to rain.
What we do have complete control over is our own actions and decisions, the words we choose, the food we eat, and who we spend time with.
Knowing what is inside our circle of control allows us to focus on what we have the power to change, which combats stress and gives us a sense of purpose. It also helps us to let go of the things we don’t have control over.
If your annoying and overlong commute often puts you in a bad mood, is there something you can do to change that? Since teleportation doesn’t exist yet, what can you do to improve your commute? Is there a book you want to read but don’t have the time? Why not listen to it as an audiobook? Is there an interesting podcast that can help you advance your personal or professional goals? Time enjoyed isn’t wasted time. What can you do to change your situation?
📚 Learn more in our guide: Circle of Control: Combating a Lack of Control at Work.
6. Listen to Happy Work Songs
Music boosts the brain’s production of dopamine, which helps to relieve our feelings of anxiety and sadness. Music is processed directly by the amygdala—the part of our brain that manages our mood and emotions. Music can also help us focus, so if you’re feeling sad and scattered, music really can make you feel better and get your productivity back on track.
Of course, listening to “happy” music you hate won’t do anything to turn your bad mood around. Choosing songs to boost your mood means listening to music you actually like. And if you like slow, more melancholic music, don’t worry—studies show even sad music can boost your mood.
If you’re having a bad day, put your headphones in and listen to some music you truly enjoy.
🎧 Learn How to Choose a Playlist for Work.
7. Ditch the Toxic Positivity
It’s okay to have a bad day. It simply isn’t possible to be happy and enthusiastic at every moment. If something upsetting happens to you, it’s important to acknowledge how you really feel. Reflect, meditate, journal, or listen to a few of your favorite songs. Do what you need to do to get back on track. Sometimes this means being sad for a little while.
You know what’s not okay? Denying your feelings and pretending they don’t exist. Forcing a good mood can lead to toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is that “good vibes only” mindset. It’s the idea that all you need to do to turn your day around is “stay positive.”
Pretending everything is sunshine and roses when it’s not erodes morale and makes the people around you feel uncomfortable. It’s disingenuous and phony to pretend something’s alright when it’s not, and it can lead people to question your judgment.
If you’re having a bad day, don’t lie to yourself about it. Take some time to regroup and ask yourself why you’re feeling the way you do. Your feelings could be indicating that something isn’t working for you, just like pain indicates your finger shouldn’t bend that way.
Be honest with yourself, and don’t bury your negative emotions under a bright and bubbly facade—the more you push your negative feelings down, the worse the repercussions will be when you finally lose your temper.
8. Listen to Your Body
Sometimes a bad day is easier to turn around than you think. Our body and mind are deeply connected. If you’re grumpy and you can’t quite put your finger on why, you may be hungry, thirsty, tired, or you may need to use the bathroom.
Hunger releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstream and can bring on a state of acute hypoglycemia, all of which spur feelings of stress, anger, and general hostility. Hanger isn’t a joke, myth, or ad campaign—it’s biology. So if you’re feeling angry for no apparent reason, ask yourself when the last time you ate was, and then go track down a healthy snack.
Even mild dehydration can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, confusion, and fatigue. A whopping 75% of Americans are dehydrated, so there’s a very good chance your day is taking a turn into negative town simply because you’re thirsty.
While it’s often embarrassing to talk about, there’s another reason you could be feeling grumpy. Ask yourself—when was the last time you visited the bathroom? Studies show constipated people are 14x more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression than people who stay regular. Regular bathroom breaks relax us, thanks to our vagus nerve, which houses a long set of nerves that run from our brain to our colon. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, such as when we go #2, it can lower our blood pressure and heart rate, leaving us relaxed.
There’s also a very good chance you could be sleep deprived. Studies show a good night's sleep cultivates both mental and emotional resilience. Not getting enough sleep makes us prone to negative thoughts, leaving us emotionally vulnerable and volatile. While it’s tempting to watch another episode of Netflix and discover if love is truly blind, consider how your lack of sleep is going to affect your day tomorrow. It could be the difference between a good day and a bad day at work.
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