A bad day starts when you spill coffee everywhere on your way to work. Then you space out about the important tasks you had to get done. The icing on the cake? Your boss cancels a presentation you spent all yesterday preparing for. Bottom line: Today sucked.
Even if you love your job, an occasional bad day is par for the course. It can be hard to shake grouchiness when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, are annoyed by at work, or distracted by world events or relationship drama.
The secret to recovering from a bad day is learning how to move forward despite it. How you respond can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a full-blown funk.
Here are 5 steps to help get you back on track so you can come back stronger tomorrow:
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Step 1: Embrace your bad day
You’re human, and like the rest of us, you’re bound to make mistakes or have moments where you’re not performing at 100 percent. As much as your inner perfectionist may be freaking out, forgive yourself. Give yourself permission to feel bad (for a little while at least).
Release any anger, guilt, or self-blame so that you can move on. Take a breather and walk around the block. Scribble out your frustrations in a journal. Call your mom or best friend. There’s no shame in crying in the bathroom, either!
Step 2: Change your mindset
Once you’ve moved through the sorrow, shift your mood by asking yourself, “How do I want to feel right now instead?” Calm? Joyful? Strong? Consciously generate positive emotion so that you can get back to work with a fresh perspective.
Watch for ways you may also be blowing things out of proportion (“I’m not good enough. I always screw up” or “Nothing ever goes according to plan”). Unhelpful thinking is common, but you can unhook from it by reframing your perspective. To do so, first identify those automatic negative thoughts, then tweak your self-talk to be more balanced and realistic.
Step 3: Recalibrate mentally and physically
As you may know, bad days affect both the body and mind. Stress shuts down many normal functions, which is why you may feel anxious or rushed and experience symptoms like tunnel vision or shallow breathing when things are going badly.
Try bringing blood, oxygen, and calm back into your system with a grounding practice, stretching, or a few jumping jacks.
Step 4: Treat yourself — the healthy way
Don’t confuse self-care with self-sabotage. Skip drinking the day away at happy hour. Steer clear of numbing out through food, TV, or another substance or bad tendency. Focus on what restores you and makes you genuinely feel good, even in the tiniest way. That may be giving a calling a friend, going to bed an hour earlier, or saying “no” to a networking event so you don’t overextend yourself.
Step 5: Leave it behind
Emotions are contagious (including negative ones) and when work sucks, unhappiness can follow us home. Draw a boundary with an evening routine to signal the shift and bring closure to a bad workday.
At home, speak up and let your family, roommates, or maybe your pets know you’re having a rough day. Request space to decompress if you do need it, but resist the urge to isolate. Connection with others, even virtually, is an important component of happiness. It helps us realize that bad days are universal and also serves as a much-needed source of support and advice.
No one is perfect. Life rarely works out exactly as planned. Instead of beating yourself up when a crummy day happens, expect them. And remember, you get to decide how you respond when bad days happen. Will you let it derail you? Or will you choose to see it as a tiny bump in the road on the way to achieving your goals?
Ironically, a bad day can be a hidden gift — it’s an opportunity to show to yourself exactly how resilient you are. You have the capacity to do hard things, so go show today who’s boss.
Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. A popular speaker, Melody has delivered talks for TedX and others.
Image by Unstuck artist-in-residence Bridgette Zou (This Feels Nice Series, 2017, © Bridgette Zou)