Use These 6 Steps to Salvage a Bad Day

Use These 6 Steps to Salvage a Bad Day

Bad moods can have different drivers, but a common characteristic is the presence of your stress response. While the stress response is crucial for getting us in gear to face a threat, if it lingers, it affects the cognitive functions that are crucial for tackling personal and professional responsibilities. Bad moods can also easily spiral you downward. But you don’t have to be at the mercy of your stress response or bad moods — in fact, you can work with them. Here are six things you can do to salvage a rough start to your day.

Change your physiology

There are a whole host of things you can do to influence your nervous system and hormones, which both play a role in the stress response. You can activate your parasympathetic nervous system — the “brake” — with breath work (follow patterns like 4-7-8 or those with a slow inhale and longer exhale), tapping, and literally grounding yourself in nature, all of which have a natural calming effect. Low-stimulation activities like meditation, doodling, and listening to music may also give your nervous system a much-needed reset. You can also actively increase serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins — all of which have a feel-good effect to counteract stress — by moving your body, having sex, or cuddling with a pet (or human).

Change your surroundings

Don’t try to just power through your misery. Change your physical location: go to a different room in your house, move to a common space at your office, or go outside. This may help your brain recognise a mood reset.

Define the problem

Try to build a habit of frequent emotional check-ins so you can catch physical and behavioural symptoms of a bad mood early. Then, be honest and specific about what’s bugging you so you can more easily problem-solve or practice acceptance of your circumstances.

Set (and reset) realistic expectations

Your mood is greatly influenced by whether your expectations are met or unmet. Start with a realistic perspective on how your day could play out. If you get bummed out later by unmet expectations, Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, recommends looking at the progress you’ve already made: write down what you’ve accomplished as well as a few “short, attainable goals.”

Tackle some things, let go of others

Picking the low-hanging fruit — putting away a stack of clean clothes, deleting emails, etc. — may help you get your day back on track by increasing your sense of accomplishment and control. Taking concrete action, no matter how small, signals a victory to your brain.

But sometimes you may benefit more from doing less and putting off the “easy” tasks in exchange for extra time to either rest or focus on the most critical to-dos. You can also delegate or ask for help.

Rest and restore

Ultimately, doing less and leaning into rest may be what gets you back on track. This may seem counterintuitive and hard to practice when the to-do list is long, but you’ll continue digging into a deficit if you don’t deliberately allow your amygdala — which contributes to emotional processing and distress signalling — to reset. This involves both resting and rejuvenating, which means engaging in “effortful downtime” and pleasurable, enjoyable, restorative activities.

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