How do you turn a bad day around?
September 29, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to get better at recognizing negativity gremlins, but I still have trouble circumventing them. Your tricks and tips, please.

My life has been enormously stressful lately. I used to be good at letting little things roll off my back, but something has changed - maybe it's just that I have no extra energy to deal but little things seem to set me off and real crises cause me to just melt down. I just started crying at an airline desk because of a minor disaster, which at other points in my life I would have been able to deal with competently and efficiently. I yell at people now. I am completely horrified by this.

The question is two-fold:

1) What are the little things you do, mantras you repeat, easy/quick tricks you have, for helping you to stay present in a bad situation and deal with it rationally rather than emotionally?

2) How do you recognize that you're in a bad mental place, and what do you do to bring yourself out of it? I'm talking about those days/circumstances where everything seems to just make things worse - even if objectively speaking there's nothing bad going on, just spiraling negativity. Easy mood boosters, I guess, to give some perspective or at least a new outlook on things.

And how do you do all this in a way that leaves you feeling peaceful, rather than exhausted by the effort?
posted by peachfuzz to Human Relations (25 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Time outs, they're not just for toddlers anymore.

If possible, I take 5 minutes - either go outside, walk away or read a book. If that's not possible, I make myself stop. Just stop. Let the feeling wash over me and then once it's gone, regroup.

Over the long haul, I find that I get this way if I haven't had enough time to myself or not enough sleep. I first forgive myself for these shortcomings, and then I schedule some time for one or both ASAP.
posted by Leezie at 12:39 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this! I have some negativity prone genes, so I understand what you're dealing with. I've gone through short periods (usually 4 days to 10 days) where I just feel miserable and cloudy, and the feelings lift. I just remember that things always improve, either on their own or with effort. Try to pinpoint exactly what you need--more rest, vitamins (B vitamins, D-3 vitamins, and Omega 3s are all good for stress/depression), exercise, or just more time with friends or a hobby.

Maybe you can give yourself a feel-better deadline, such as, "If I do not feel better in three weeks, I will seek counseling or therapy." That holds yourself accountable to feeling better and helps to ensure that you don't continue to wallow in the drudge endlessly.

I also like to make sure I always have something to look forward to within a week's time--dinner with friends, a hike, a camping trip, a ritual with my favorite show, a hip hop dance class--something fun and rewarding JUST FOR YOU to commit to, just for the fun of it.

Finally, I am starting to state literally, "I am done with work for today. I can relax. I do not have to work or think about work until tomorrow," when I leave for the day. Just started this, but it has been nice.

Good luck! You can message me if you want to talk or vent.
posted by shortyJBot at 12:42 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, a time out. Either physically or mentally removing myself for a few minutes. Walk around the building, do some breathing exercises, do something I love to do (for me is some photography, gets my mind focused onto a positive thing).
posted by rhapsodie at 12:45 PM on September 29, 2010

I recommend Richard Calrson's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff book. They're short little vignettes with LOTS of great ideas for not getting stressed. My favorites (which could be used as little mantras):
My in box will never be empty.
Will this matter 1 (or 10 or 100) years from now?

When I'm stressed, I'll pull out the book and read a few favorites I have bookmarked. It slows me down and reminds me to chill out.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2010

I'm still struggling with this exact issue myself, so I'm no expert. But I think I'm getting better...

What's working for me is making a committment to not take my stress out on anyone else - work colleagues, fellow commuters, airline check-in clerks, anyone. And reminding myself of that committment whenever I start feeling like I'm losing control.

Alongside that, trying to be more aware of how I'm feeling, when I'm feeling it, before it turns into tears or anger. If you can catch yourself early, you can choose to change your reaction.

And if you don't manage to catch yourself beforehand, apologise at the time. "I'm so sorry, I know it's not your fault, I don't know why I'm crying" to the airline clerk / "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you, it's not about you" to a work colleague. Hopefully it makes them feel better but it also makes you feel better and removes some of the guilt.

And finally, I keep a journal to capture general things about my day and also when I've snapped / got teary. That helps me to start identifying the situations that make me prone to stressing out, so I can try harder in those situations to not get stressed (or even better, avoid them). Which then lessens the frequency with which I need points 1 and 2!

Tips? Being in the moment. Eat well, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. My mantra is the line from Desiderata "accept the things I cannot change" - and focus on what I can do, given the situation rather than focussing on what I would have liked the situation to be.

Good luck.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to just stop thinking about the things that stress you out and focus on something that makes you happy. Give yourself permission to take a break and look at pictures of cats on the internet (if that's your thing), take a relaxing bath, watch a comedy, read a happy book. If you only have a few minutes, you'd be amazed at how much a 10 or 20 minute session of meditating can help you re-center. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just set a timer and then focus on what your breathing sounds like or practice letting your thoughts just go out of your head.
posted by Kimberly at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and talk to your friends when you're feeling particularly stressed. Vent. Cry. Ask for a hug. Your friends are people that want to be there for you when you need them, not just people to have fun with when you're feeling great.

I made a pact with a friend who'd just had a baby and was struggling that we would both do that (we're both rubbish at asking for help). Because we're both doing it now, when we need to, it doesn't feel like an imposition, and it's actually made our friendship a lot stronger.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2010

I get super cranky or depressed when I don't eat and don't eat much when I'm depressed, creating a vicious cycle. I'm trying to learn to ask myself "Am I hungry?" whenever something starts to get me angry or sad, and then eat something if I am. It helps.
posted by NoraReed at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

One question I like to ask is, "Self, be honest, how are you making this worse?" Because I'm negatively inclined, and I almost always make a bad situation worse with my reaction. So if I want to yell at someone, for example, I try to fast-forward and determine if that will actually help. I imagine how much harder it'll ultimately be for me to calm down if I let myself start yelling, I think about how yelling will up my stress levels and that will leak out on my loved ones and anyone else around me whether I intend it to or not. I still find it really difficult to change my default attitude, but one thing that motivates me to keep trying is that there really is an increasing sense of peace each time I succeed at it. I feel a greater sense of compassion for both myself and others, which brings a certain calm and connectedness.

Another thing: If your life is especially stressful these days, are you getting the support you need? Sometimes I lash out, or just get stuck in the blues, because I'm too embarrassed or proud or whatever to ask for a hug or a listening ear.
posted by spinto at 1:07 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

A nap or an extra hour of sleep can sometimes change EVERYTHING.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:07 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a few things. If I have a lot of big deadlines meeting up with big family events, plus maybe some heavily scheduled stressful days etc, I just keep telling myself "I just have to get to next Thursday" or "I just have to get to November 5th" whenever it will all be over. I think I picture that date shining bright white over on the other side of the stress. It keeps me aware that this level of stress is temporary.

When I get afraid or nervous about a situation, I repeat "Millions of people do this every day. I can do this. Of course I can." In your airline scenario it would have been "People get screwed up at airports every day all over the world. They still somehow get to their destination. I'll get to my destination too."

And on preview: Yes - eat and sleep! There's no coping without them.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:10 PM on September 29, 2010

Make sure you're getting enough good sleep and that you are eating correctly. For me, those are the two biggest things that fall by the way side when I am stressed. Along with that, avoid alcohol like the plague. I finally had to realize that those cocktails at the end of a stressful day were merely rolling the stress over into the next day. If you have any tendency towards perfectionism, nip that now. Sometimes you are just going to barely get things done well enough, and that's fine. Save the mega-focus for the mega-important. Find a friend to commiserate with. A 2 minute phone call or even a text of "WTF!" can renew your good humor. Finally, remember that every day is a day of your life. Make it as good as you can. Don't suffer through one day to get to the next. Good luck, I know how you feel.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:14 PM on September 29, 2010

I try to do some combination of Eugene Gendlin's Focusing and Byron Katie's The Work pretty much every single day at the end of the day (somewhere between ten minutes and two hours). That's a lot, but I was pretty miserable and didn't feel like paying for more therapy. It's not a quick fix (and there's a learning curve for each) but it's made a huge difference in my quality of life. (Fiddling endlessly with sleep, diet, and exercise didn't even come close. And therapy is so slllllloooowww and expensive.)

There's a downloadable worksheet for the Byron Katie stuff, and I made my own worksheet for Focusing based on the "short form" in the back of the book.
posted by zeek321 at 1:26 PM on September 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Find an album (not a song) that goes all Calgon and takes you away.
posted by milarepa at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2010

1. Think of someone you love very much and go into a private space where nobody can hear you - your car is good - and vent as loud and hard to that person as you can. Dead or alive, doesn't matter; you are basically venting to yourself but picturing that person or saying their name helps.

2. When stress has built up for awhile, extremely vigorous exercise for at least a half-hour - running, burpees, jumping rope, etc. - can make you physically exhausted which gets the tension out of your body. Alternately, sometimes I realize I need to go home and wail and cry pretty hard; depression is, for me, a sense of grieving something, and it can include your own sanity, patience, schedule, or frustrations.

3. If you feel yourself going down the path but want to stop it, try hugging someone. HARD. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, several times, until you are calmer. Then imagine you are actually a friend going through the same thing and rationally tell yourself why you're okay. Write down things you have to be grateful for; if this doesn't work, I find calling a friend or family member long-distance that I haven't spoken to in a long, long time snaps me out of it. I'm so grateful to get back in touch with that person it snaps me out of my bad mood immediately - and if the friend is going through a crisis as well, it puts me into problem-solving mode, thus taking the focus off myself.

4. If this is becoming a cycle, why not start up a "downer" jar? By that I mean, agree with yourself that every time you lose control you'll put a dollar in a jar or box that's visible to you every day at home. Hopefully it won't get too full, but when it gets to be more than $20, donate it to charity. And don't write a check or do it online; take the cash to a charity location and actually give the money there, so you can see you're doing better than a lot of other people are right now. A homeless shelter, battered women's shelter or the ASPCA are great options.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:57 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ice Cream.

seriously though, when I am having a bad series of days I will put something concrete and definite in the future so I have something to look forward to. Usually I do this with another person who is also having a bad series of days. For instance, I go to Friend X and say "we should go out for ice cream on Friday (being today Monday-Wednesday). Or We should see a Movie on X day.

The psychology is that it helps me get out of the "horrible moment" and say... "you know what, no matter what bad stuff happens right now, I'm still gonna have that ice cream (or see that movie) on X day with a good friend"

Be careful though, it has to be someone who you trust, and don't make it a BIG reward so you are crushed again if it doesn't happen, just a little treat that can get you to think about the future instead of just this right now that sux a bit.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 2:03 PM on September 29, 2010

If I'm having an especially horrible day I try to do something nice for someone: hold a door open, offer to help carry heavy packages, give up my seat for someone who looks tired, give someone money who is panhandling. I will also call up a friend and tell them that I'm having an awful day and then change the subject and make them tell me about their day. If your work environment permits it, listen to music on headphones while doing your job.

The non-quick answer: get a regular exercise routine, find someone to talk to (professionally or non-professionally) about your stress/depression, find someone to delegate some of your work to, and if the stress is temporary - just wait it out.

Good luck. Your situation doesn't sound easy to deal with, but remember that there are a bunch of people here who are cheering for you.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Natural Stress Relief Meditation
posted by muckster at 2:30 PM on September 29, 2010

I think when you're living in a stressful period and feeling generally crappy, you have to take care of yourself the most aggressively. I learned this from camping in more concrete scenarios: when you're cold and hungry and tired, the way to feel better is to do a bunch of things you really don't want to bother doing. This applies to real life too, I think. When you're in a bad, stressed-out mental place, it's easy to skimp on the basics, but I think it helps to make a deliberate effort to eat well and get enough sleep, hugs, sunlight, etc.

Also, I think pick-me-up routines are really individual things. Are there foods, pieces of music, or activities that remind you of really good times or feelings? I've realized recently that a lot of the stuff that makes me feel better when I'm down comes from points in my childhood where I felt well-loved and well-taken care of, which we can probably categorize as one of those horribly obvious conclusions that it took me a long time to reach, but maybe it hasn't occurred to you yet either.
posted by colfax at 2:51 PM on September 29, 2010

Whenever I get caught by a Sneaky Hate Spiral, there are a couple of basic questions I ask myself. It goes something like this. "Hey, self, are you hungry? When was the last time you ate something substantial? No, having a soda doesn't count." If the answer is "uh, maybe yesterday" then I can have my aha moment (usually more like a oh yeah dumbass moment, I admit), shake my head at how silly I am, and tend to that. If that isn't it, or if I find myself snarking and growling at myself in reply, I'll ask "hey, self, what's really got you so pissed off right now? What are you angry about?" Just identifying the actual root cause of my anger helps me to not spill it all over the place, so to speak.

My most easy mood boosters are kind of abstract - perspective and distance. I will sometimes try to physically distance myself from Bad Stuff (tm). I'll go for a walk or get in the car and drive to a park or go take a hot shower. Anything to actually remove myself from the situation that's bringing up the negativity. If I can't do that - like, I'm at an airport, being told that something lousy has happened (my luggage was eaten by a grue, my flight delayed and I'll miss my connection, what have you) - I'll give myself mental distance instead, to create perspective. I start telling myself the events as though they're in a story - I play with different styles. Hardboiled detective mystery, epic fantasy. Hell, I've made up some pretty funny haikus standing in lines surrounded by screaming children. It can also actually turn something that's wretched and stressful into something almost fun. When I'm the heroine of the story, vanquishing the dragon (or the person who screwed up my utility bill) with grace and style and my sword forged out of purest wit and detailed record keeping, I'm not as likely to go off on the poor schmuck who's stuck talking to me. Dragons are just doing their part for the ecosystem, after all. So yeah, I suppose I'm suggesting doing a lot of playing pretend. If you're occupying your mind by observing the situation as an outsider and reframing it, you disengage enough that the freak-out is that less likely to happen. And along the way, things are assigned the proper levels of triviality and importance - things that have to get done get done, but it's much more play time than stress time.
posted by lriG rorriM at 4:18 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've struggled with depression for years, so this is coming from that perspective: sometimes I get negative thoughts and bad moods that absolutely refuse to listen to either reason or positive self-talk. When that happens, the one thing I tell myself is "I am fighting this, I am hanging on, I do not want this awful feeling to win, and I will not let it win." It doesn't instantly make me feel happier, but as long as I can tell myself that and believe it, I know I have a grip on things and will get through eventually.

In other, more famous words: When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. Then I say, "Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.”

You're not Lady Gaga (or are you??), but you are still awesome and you can still walk the walk.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

There are a lot of good ideas here, especially the recommendations to eat well and stay rested. 

There are two clues that let me know that I am making a situation worse and that I need to change my approach:
1. If I start feeling that everyone around me is stupid/crazy/incompetent, that's usually a sign that my expectations need recalibration. 
2. If I find myself mentally tallying the day's irritations and indignations, I know that I need to change course and start putting my energy toward improving the situation rather than simply making a list of grievances. Listing the ways that I feel I have been wronged just reinforces a bad belief that I am a helpless victim. For this reason, beware the urge to vent a lot: I find that if I have an established pattern of venting to someone, I spend more time/energy dwelling on how people and events have irked me and less time/energy actively trying to improve the situation. 

Go, you, for working on this issue!
posted by TEA at 12:22 AM on September 30, 2010

I talk to God. It's the only time I ever remember to talk to Him, but there's something about laying my pain and my frustration & my sadness at His feet, that just helps. Maybe it's just putting it into words with no editing on how I feel & what I want. But it helps. YMMV. For the committed non-religious person, some of that feeling can be achieved by pouring it out in a journal.
posted by Ys at 9:54 AM on September 30, 2010

When I am in my worst, most this-will-never-end state, I say to the universe: "Universe, I give this situation and all that goes with it to you. I want to move forward. I want to be free so that I can go on to other things. I know that whatever happens is what happens, and all I can do is pick up the pieces and go forth. Your will be done. Help me move forward."

Good luck to you! :)
posted by patronuscharms at 8:19 PM on September 30, 2010

Response by poster: I want to thank all of you for the advice, strategies, stories, commiseration. It was useful on my no good very bad day, and I'm sure I'll come back to it again and again. AskMe is the best!
posted by peachfuzz at 1:18 PM on October 6, 2010

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