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How to Overcome a Bad Day

Photo by Vanessa Paxton
Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it. ~Groucho Marx

One day a few weeks ago, my alarm failed to wake me up, which sent me rushing around the house. My day suddenly put into fast-forward.

I decided to take one last sip of coffee before I left for a meeting and ended up spilling it all over my clothes. I changed and ran out the door only to realize later that I left my grocery list in my other pants.

This was quickly turning into “one of those days.” You know the type. Nothing seems to go right, no matter how hard you try.

And one of the hardest parts of those days, at least for me, is keeping my chin up. It’s so easy for my outlook to go south when a few chips are stacked against me. It’s like a chain reaction of mood dominoes.

When my husband and I first started dating he called me out on this. I knew it was true, although it took him bringing it up a few more times before I finally did something about it.

Now I’ve got an arsenal of tricks to change “one of those days” into a regular ol’ day, and sometimes even a fantastic one.

Before I share the “7 ways to turn around a bad day”, I want to stress that what I’m talking about is your one-off, run-of-the-mill bummer times.

If you’ve been struggling with these for weeks or months, the tips may help, but you might also want to chat with a counselor. No shame in that game.

But for those times when it’s just a bad day in the making, these tricks can really change the course of your ship.

1. Get Grateful

So often we can forget how good we have it. I’d catch myself riding my bike past the ocean while the sun was shining with a bit of a scowl on my face and think, It’s seriously time to recalibrate my gratitude meter.

I’m literate. I can ride this bike. I have a bike. My house is equipped with hot water, electricity and indoor plumbing.

My neighborhood is in a relatively peaceful part of the world. The grocery store nearby is filled with organic food.

I could go on and at great length. I bet you could too.

Stop what you’re doing and take 30 seconds to list what you’re thankful for. You can write them down or just list them to yourself in your head.

This one is quick, easy and you can do it whether you’re at work, in the car, grocery shopping, anywhere really. I find it easily changes my perspective and erases many of problems I think I have.

2. Take a Break

Oftentimes when things start to get hairy, it’s because we haven’t allowed ourselves time to breathe.

Think of yourself like a computer for a minute. When you try to do too many tasks at once, things tend to slow down.

I know I get frustrated when my computer gets wonky, and I’m even more irritated when I’m not working properly. :)

Nothing is so important that it can’t wait. Shut the door to an empty room and sit for two minutes.

Take a walk around the block. Read a magazine article or a listen to a favorite song and doodle.

For me, knitting for five minutes provides me the moment I need to recharge, and suddenly my mountains turn back into molehills.

3. Prioritize

Not always, but more often than not, I find that part of the reason I’m struggling is that I’ve got a lot going on and tend to get overwhelmed.

Deadlines loom and obligations abound and yet I’m sweeping the floor and fretting over a home improvement project that’s best saved for a rainy day. And I wonder why I’m stressed!

When things don’t seem to be going our way, sometimes it’s because we’re getting in the way. —Click here to tweet this

This is when it’s time to put on the brakes and ask, Is this important? Like, “right now” important? If yes, focus and work through it. If no, move on and leave it for later.

Just because it’s on the to-do list doesn’t mean it has to get done today.

By prioritizing and getting the most important stuff done first, the rest of our day (and week and month!) gets lighter. It’s a beautiful thing.

4. Exercise

I know; I get it. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, especially on the days when we’d rather be throwing a pity party, but getting our heart pumping and our blood flowing is proven to improve our mood and by extension, our day.

It’s late afternoon and I’m grouchy. I’ve hit the mental wall after pushing through a particularly difficult morning. I’ve written in my gratitude journal.

I’ve finished all the big things on my list, and I’ve done my one-minute meditation. But somehow I still can’t shake the blues. I call a friend to vent.

“Have you worked out yet today?” she asks.

Sigh. “No.”

“You know that’s what you should do, right?”


An hour later I’m sipping some water, feeling bright after a good cardio session.

You don’t have to go full-on, but getting the heart pumping, whether it’s with a quick walk or bike ride, will never steer you wrong. It’s an adrenaline shot for your mood.

5. Take Your Own Advice

If your friend called with your problem, what would you tell them? Start with that. Or have you faced this problem in the past and gotten good advice on how to change things? Give that suggestion a try.

After calling my friend to vent a few times, I stopped. It would always go the same way, so why waste time?

I started playing the conversation out in my head. I skipped the long conversation and went straight to the advice. It worked, and now we have more satisfying talks when I’m not in crisis mode.

6. Spend Time Outside

Nature has amazing healing powers, and you don’t need to venture deep into a forest to find them. Sit in a park, listen to birds, walk next to a river or around a lake; each has its own special way to give perspective.

Often I’ll take the long way next to the ocean when I feel a day turning sour.

The planet has been around much longer than I have, and to see that this shore and these bluffs have endured thousands of years of erosion from the waves helps me understand that no problem I have is really that bad.

7. Remember, This Too Shall Pass

This is one of my husband’s favorite sayings, and I’ve adopted it with greater understanding each day. I often get upset simply because I don’t feel happy. I would think, I was in such a good mood yesterday. What happened?

But like the tides and like the seasons, moods change. Life changes. It’s up to us to appreciate each moment for its uniqueness.

Understand that tough days, great vacations, injuries and goals achieved all shall pass. Each will be a memory that fades like spring flowers, so savor each one for the special opportunities it brings.

No two people’s experiences are alike, to be sure. But we’ve all been given this one life on Earth, and no one escapes the occasional hard day.

If you can recognize them and use these few tools to thwart the worst of it, life might not be perfect, but it will be far sweeter.

** What about you? How do you handle when life throws a bad day your way? Share your stories and lessons with us in the comment section. See you there!

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. Magic and creativity are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog, follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks. Check out her new book, Change is Easy & Other Novel Concepts: Short Essays on Changing Your Life, One Step at a Time.

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7 thoughts on How to Overcome a Bad Day

  1. Great tips!

    I listen to music, write, design and workout when life feels a bit out-of-control. Immersing myself in creative activities works for me because my focus in on creating. I become focused on designing and or writing and before I know it, I feel much better. This is why I believe it’s important to have “the arts” in school. It’s a healthy outlet for kids to get anger and frustration out of their system. Plus, dancing, painting, writing, drawing, acting, etc. are a lot of fun too.

  2. Maria

    Gah! I had such a bad day yesterday; all I could do was just wait until it was over and it was today. So, I should remember those tips. I did try some of them, such as #6 (I sat outside and just breathed and was alone for a while), but I missed my exercise routine because I was feeling so blah. So, hopefully, today will be better! Thanks for the article; perfect timing!

  3. Hi Rebecca, thanks for the suggestions and tips. We all have an “off” day now and then but it is those of us who can bounce back and be resilient that can weather any storm the best. In fact I wrote a blog post that I call, “Resilience–do you break, bruise or bounce when stuff happens?” that your readers might find helpful. For anyone who is interested they can find it at: Thanks again for your reminders….

  4. raouf

    Hi, first thanks …i close my eyes and thing about somethings good happened for me in the past …and i say this is a part of life

  5. I’m happy the tips came at the right time Maria. And Amandah! I couldn’t agree more about dancing and creating art as a way out of a bad day. Nice point!

    Raouf, that’s a great tip. And Kathy, I love the idea of resilience. I don’t often think of it like that, but it’s true isn’t it?

  6. Great advice! I often use the first tip to help keep myself grounded and appreciate what I have in my life.

  7. This was lovely to read. I remember that on a recent workshop we did an exercise where we had to look into the eyes of another. I felt distinctly uncomfortable going into the exercise.

    Myself and most of the others found it very moving and I wondered why. I think you have just made it clearer to me why I, and others, kept wellng up.

    Thank you – and you have inspired me to write a bog on this topic myself!

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