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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

5 Ways to Bounce Back From a Horrible Day

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Lousy days happen to all of us.

Even a seemingly harmless wake-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed morning can send you into a funk. No matter how many happiness hacks or positive mantras you try to make it better, it can be hard to shake your grouchiness and glass-half-empty attitude.

And when a bad mood follows you to work, it can amplify all sorts of everyday annoyances and frustrations. Now, perhaps you’re not able to hold it together in front of your boss when she criticizes your report. Or you’re more prone to raise your voice at the intern when he makes copies in black and white instead of color like you asked. And you make absent-minded mistakes, like distractedly sending the wrong version of a document to a client. Ugh.

While none of these are career-ending mistakes, their effects can leave you feeling down on yourself for days. Whatever the situation, you know you need to turn it around as soon as possible.

To help you do that, here are a few tips for turning a really, really bad day into a better tomorrow.

1. Identify the Real Problem

In the middle of a bad day, you’re prone to making blanket statements like, “I feel so stupid” or “Nothing is going according to plan.”

But pause your catastrophic thinking, and take a moment to identify the emotions behind those thoughts. Are you angry with a client? Disappointed with yourself?

It may sound simple, but applying a label to the emotion you’re experiencing can discharge its hold on you and equip you to overcome the negative feelings. When you’re flustered, your mind is cluttered, but research shows that putting your feelings into words can put the brakes on your emotional response and help you process the situation from a more rational, calm perspective. A thought becomes simply a thought; an emotion just an emotion.

For example, “I keep messing up at work, and I’m so frustrated with myself” becomes “I’m having the thought that I’m not doing enough at work, and I’m feeling frustration because of it.” This mindfulness practice has been shown to improve behavior and problem solving.

2. Cancel the Pity Party

When you’re having a bad day, your decision-making skills are hijacked, so avoid rash action. Read: Don’t hit happy hour to drink your bad day away or delete the gigantic PowerPoint that’s been the source of your frustration.

Instead, allow yourself a set amount of time to wallow, be angry, or be sad, and then move on. For example, give yourself the morning to emotionally work through whatever is gnawing at your last nerve, but commit to coming back strong after lunch. If you can’t turn it around that quickly, listen to the advice “sleep on it.” Sometimes, choosing to end one day and start fresh the next is the most powerful cure for a bad day.

3. Find Comfort Through Connection

When you’re having a bad day, it’s easy to self-sabotage—like wallowing alone. But resist the urge to isolate. We all have that one buddy who puts a smile on our face, no matter what, so see if you can arrange a quick coffee date with this person—or, if he or she lives far away, send an email or text. Reaching out to a friend and finding empathy in his or her response can have a comforting effect and help you feel accepted (bad days, grouchy moods, and all). Plus, it can be a great opportunity to ask for advice or a second opinion if you’re facing a thorny situation at work.

If you don’t feel like explaining the situation to a friend, try reading PostSecret or your favorite blog. Even those virtual connections can help you feel understood and reminds you that you’re not alone—other people go through similar things every day.

4. Pay it Forward

Doing something to help others is a win-win—even if your primary intention is to lift your own mood and make you feel better.

Need ideas? Offer to mentor an a new intern at the office, help an elderly person in your building carry heavy bags, or finally donate to the charity you’ve been thinking about getting involved with. Not only will you be helping someone else, but you’ll be able to take the focus off of yourself, which can put your bad day in perspective.

In fact, having this kind of giving attitude is key to being successful. Generosity helps elevate your reputation to multiply other people’s successes, making you indispensible, management expert Adam Grant explains. So, find ways to help your co-workers, put more effort into answering emails, and, in general, make yourself a resource to others.

5. Take Care of Yourself, But Don’t Over-Indulge

In theory, treating yourself sounds nice after a day when nothing’s gone right, but it’s actually the worst time to indulge. When your judgement is compromised, you could end up overdoing it, whether that means eating a few too many sweet treats or buying a $300 pair of shoes that definitely aren’t in your budget. In the moment, it may make you feel great—but when it’s time to pay your credit card bill, you’ll likely be overcome by guilt and end up feeling even worse.

Instead of looking for a surface-level cure when you feel awful, ask yourself what you can learn from your feelings and implement a plan for change.

We’ve all heard the old saying that it’s not how many times you fall down, it’s that you find the strength to get back up. When you find yourself in a deep funk, keep in mind that horrible days happen to everyone—and they don’t make you any less valuable of a person or employee. A little perspective, along with these tips, can help you bounce back next time one of those days happens to you.