Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Ten Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a bad day. It’s natural, I would even say healthy, for our mood to fluctuate in response to whatever is going on around us. On the other hand, no one wants to stay stuck in a rut.

Here are ten techniques I use when I’m having a rough day. Several of them feature in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).

It’s worth saying these are not fixes or solutions for anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions although they might form part of a person’s wellness toolbox. They help me weather the ups and downs of life and I offer them on that basis.

1. Go for a Walk

I’ve written elsewhere about how important walking is to my wellbeing. It’s my go-to strategy when things are getting me down. Walking allows me to acknowledge whatever feelings are present for me, experience them, and then let them go. I sometimes use the “hot coals” technique I learned from Fran. I close my hand at my chest, taking hold of whatever feeling I wish to release. I extend my hand to the side and open it, palm down as I walk on. As silly as it might sound, it works. Try it next time you are feeling stuck.

2. Talk with a Friend

I’m fortunate to have a small number of friends I can turn to if I need to share what’s going on for me. I don’t find it easy to be vulnerable but with these few people I feel safe enough to be myself, knowing they will listen without judgement. There are few personal skills more important and healthy than the art of listening.

3. Write It Out

Writing features prominently in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). Apart from our two books and my blogging I’ve kept a daily journal since I was fourteen years old. For most of that time I wrote my diary each evening for the previous day. More recently I’ve started capturing my thoughts in the morning and at various times throughout the day. This means my diary is more of an in-the-moment account of how I’m feeling than an historic account of “how I felt yesterday.” Although journaling is an important part of my wellness regime I occasionally find myself trapped in an unhealthy cycle of introspection. To break the pattern I might challenge myself not to write any more about a certain person or situation until something specific changes.

4. Distract Yourself

Distraction is a core strategy of Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT); others are self-soothing, improving the moment, and pros and cons. My friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson has written extensively about distraction in a DBT context on her blog I’m NOT Disordered. According to Aimee,

Distraction can include writing and other creative activities, reading, beauty treatments, really anything that can take your attention away from what is bothering you. It is important not to overuse this or it can become avoidance.

I find distraction techniques help when I’m feeling stuck or overwhelmed, especially if other approaches aren’t working. Recently I’ve distracted myself by listening to the BBC News channel when I’m at work or at home in the evening. I can understand that for many people the barrage of world affairs might be upsetting or triggering but it stops me obsessing about things that are troubling me. Music can have a similar effect although I’m careful what I choose to listen to in case it exacerbates how I’m feeling rather than providing relief.

5. Escape for a Bit

Escape is similar to distraction except that the intention is to consciously set the difficult situation aside and find comfort and solace elsewhere for a while. Movies and television shows work well for me, especially when Fran and I watch DVDs or Netflix together online. For an hour or two we can put everything on hold and immerse ourselves in whatever we are watching. This doesn’t fix things but it allows time for my emotions and thoughts to settle and for fresh ideas to emerge. Taking a break from social media can have the same effect.

6. Reward Yourself

I’ve written elsewhere how important it is to recognise and celebrate our successes. That said, when I’m low or upset it’s hard to believe I’m worthy of reward because my default is to blame myself for whatever’s gone wrong. My friend Jen reminded me that no matter what’s happening I can take responsibility and reward myself for that.

What about playdates, Marty? Do you have playdates with yourself? Take yourself to a movie, or to dinner, or to a good bookstore?

This doesn’t work too well if my underlying mood is very low; rather than celebrate I’m likely to spend the time brooding. But if I’ve begun to shift things using some of the other techniques, treating myself can help move me forward.

7. Find Solid Ground

When I’m overwhelmed it can be hard to find a stable point of reference. Paying attention to my day-to-day routine helps but it’s not always enough to get me to a place where I feel grounded and secure. When other techniques fail I sometimes attempt to “jolt myself” back to a time or place when I felt more stable. Music from a particular period in my life can work, as can looking through old photographs or reading my journal from years ago. The aim is to get my feet under me again and then return to the present to face whatever is going on from that place of stability and safety.

8. Change Something

Changing even one small aspect of your situation can affect how you feel. When I’m low or stressed I take less interest in my appearance. Sorting out a nice shirt and my favourite tweed jacket in the morning can be all it takes to shift my mood in a positive direction. Get out of the house if you’ve been stuck inside. Try a different café or even a different table at your regular place. Drive or walk an alternate route to work or to the store. Talk to someone other than the people you usually turn to.

9. Accept How It Is

Despite having all the techniques at your fingertips, sometimes nothing can turn the day around. Processing, talking, escaping, distracting, rewarding — they all take time, energy, and focus and sometimes you just can’t. All you can do is accept you’re having a rubbish day and handle it as safely as you can. Cry, scream, grumble, isolate — whatever it takes to get you through. The very act of “giving up” can help shift your mood. It may not, but it’s worth a try.

10. Go to Bed!

If you’ve made it to the evening — or even the middle of the afternoon — and things are still looking grim, sometimes the best option is to turn your back on the rest of the day and turn in. Tomorrow is a new day and maybe things will look different in the morning.

I’ve shared some of the techniques I use to turn the day around. What works for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and ideas!

 

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