A favorite bedtime story in my family is called “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. The book is about a little boy named Alexander who has one of those tough days when everything seems to go wrong. “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” is how the book begins. A recent reading of the book got me thinking about how challenging it can be to turn a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day around. Often, an argument with your spouse, a criticism from your boss or a disagreement with a friend can make us feel like everything is bad, and it can feel impossible to change our mood. In my practice with clients, I spend a lot of time teaching them strategies to restart their day when things go wrong or how to find a positive aspect of a day that seems really awful. Here are a few of the most helpful techniques to turn a bad day around:
- Complete a task: When you’re feeling unhappy and are having a generally crummy day, try tackling a task on your to-do list. You will likely feel good about accomplishing something, even if it’s as simple as cleaning up your e-mail inbox or folding the laundry. These activities require minimal, if any, interactions with other people, which can be helpful if you aren’t in a good mood, and will give you a sense of satisfaction that you were lacking before you completed this task. Focusing on a task is also a way to distract yourself from whatever is on your mind.
- Learn a lesson: Take a moment to reflect on the events of the day and try to identify a lesson. What can you do differently to avoid situations like this in the future? While you likely didn’t have control over everything that went wrong, there might be some action that you could have taken to change the outcome. For example, if the challenge you encountered was a conflict with your boss over a late assignment, perhaps you could you have managed your time better in order to get it done on time, or if you overslept and had to rush to get to work, skipping breakfast, could you have turned the TV off earlier the night before to ensure a good night’s rest? It’s important not to take on the role of the victim, so acknowledging and owning your role in the way the day played out is important.
- Practice self-care: In my experience, people tend to experience rough days like this when they’re burnt out and aren’t taking good enough care of themselves. Life can be busy and hectic and many of us have lots of other people relying on us for various things, but taking some time to yourself on a regular basis is important to ensuring a healthy mindset and overall good mental and emotional well-being. It can be as simple as a 15-minute walk with a friend, indulging in a manicure or waking up before the kids to enjoy your coffee and paper in peace. Engaging in an activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel good can not only help turn a bad day around, but can help you avoid those days altogether.
- Look at the bigger picture: While this can be hard to do while we’re not in a good mood, trying to put things into perspective is very important. Try thinking of one thing that you are grateful for and focus on that for a moment. It can be small or large. Thinking this way helps shift our attitudes and can be helpful in moving past a difficult moment in the day.
We all experience days like the one Alexander describes in the book. We know how hard it can be to resist crawling into bed and avoiding those around us until the next day. Many who don’t learn to utilize tools like these turn to drugs, alcohol or other harmful and ineffective ways of coping with life stressors. But doing so will only make you feel worse and you’ll likely regret this reaction. The tools outlined above are effective techniques that are simple to implement. They take practice, but will be worth the effort once you master them. Clients I see in my practice have expressed feeling proud of their ability to restart their days and live their lives to the fullest, despite the inevitable challenges that confront us from time to time. Having the ability to turn a bad day around and remain focused on the good in our lives is a step towards an overall happy and meaningful life.
By Kira Batist-Wigod
Kira Batist-Wigod is a social worker with a wide range of experience and training in cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma work and stress management. Kira specializes in treating people with chronic illnesses, depression and anxiety. She sees clients in her private practice on the Upper West Side and in New Jersey, where she also holds workshops on various topics. Kira also works at a medical center in the Bronx. Contact Kira by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 917-765-4743. You can also visit her website at www.batistpsychotherapy.com.