Tricks for Turning Around A Crappy Day

Photo: FailNation

It's not exactly an original observation that the reaction we have to the events in our lives often cause way more misery (or joy) than the actual events that occur. Thus one of the most powerful tools you can use to make your life blissful rather than miserable is to learn to manage those reactions.  So while life may toss out bouquets or brickbats, the thoughts and feelings you have about them are under your control.  (Though my first thought at the moment is: what the hell is a brickbat and how did that expression even get into my head?)

But how do you create your own happy universe on bad days? What about when you wake up to the sound of your dog barfing on the new couch, discover the car won't start, get a call from your day care center announcing they're going to be closed the rest of the week because of a sewage leak, receive a terse memo that your company will "rightsizing" again soon, and spill a cup of coffee down the front of your favorite sweater right as you walk into an important client meeting?

Photo swiped from Healblog

Well, suppose some vaguely magical sage were to suddenly appear out of the mist, clad in robes and smiling a mysterious smile and kindly offering these wise words? "Relax! It's all a matter of how you think about things. YOU have the power to remain calm and happy right now, no matter what has happened!"

That's right: you'd want to smack that know-it-all sage upside the head with the nearest brickbat.

When you're over-the-top frustrated, advice to chill is strangely unhelpful.  We have these stubborn cavewoman/caveman parts of our brain that are hard-wired to get PISSED OFF and territorial and nasty when things don't go our way.  Back in ancient days, we used  rocks and clubs to settle our differences, not performance reviews or parent teacher conferences, so a quick temper and an invigorating sense of outrage were often quite useful.

 Work Up PowerPoint Presentation?
 Or Just Beat Enemy to Death With Sticks?

However, there are tricks to handling godawful days, though you have to practice and work on them.  Progress comes gradually, but I swear some of these ideas may eventually help! Recently I had one of those days that ordinarily would have generated torrents of curse words, slammed doors and tantrums... but I found myself strangely philosophical instead.  Go figure!

1.  Triage

When something upsetting or annoying happens, it's going to take a minute or two to get your bearings and get a sense of perspective.  And if it's a series of unfortunate events, it's going to take even longer to get your mind around the fact that it's not, in fact, the absolute worst, most unfair thing that ever happened to anyone in the whole history of time.

It's often worth investing a little time to take care of yourself when this happens, even if it's just two or three minutes.  If it's practical, take a minute or two to do some deep breathing, picture something happy, or invent a reason to walk somewhere--outside is nice, but even a trip to the bathroom or to go make yourself a cup of tea or something can help.  Pick up your knitting needles, or crayons, or other comforting physical/psychological distractions, call a friend, pull out a handy voodoo doll and stick pins in it, do a few squats or push-ups... you get the idea.

Often, even just a couple of minutes away from a sabre-toothed stressor can defang it until your perspective naturally returns.

2.  Game Theory

No, I'm not talking about geeky mathematical modeling of strategic outcomes, I mean...  Picture your life as a game or a sport, rather than a punishment.  You just got bumped up to a whole new level of difficulty you thought your stress management skills weren't up for, and yet imagine how awfully darn smug you'll feel if you stay relatively sunny and calm even one the shittiest day.

Perhaps you love to ski... picture yourself negotiating a double black diamond mogul trail with grace and ease, even if you thought you were going to taking the bunny hill when you woke up this morning.  (Note: if you enjoy sports like tennis or golf, it is not helpful to picture yourself as the ball.)

3. Pity The Poor Assholes

If your frustrations are due to the clueless, reckless, selfish, or even malevolent actions of someone else, it can be easy to get caught up in a sense of grievance and injustice. However justified, a sense of outraged unfairness is not pleasant to sit with for long.

Keep in mind that people who are habitually clueless, reckless, and malevolent may often end up in charge of large companies, governments, and empires, but they rarely lead happy lives. If they are stirring this kind of chaos or resentment up wherever they go, then no one really likes them and they will (eventually) feel the negative effects of this.

And if the party responsible for your misery does not always have his head so far up his ass? Then perhaps you can forgive the occasional transgression, as there are probably times when you've inadvertently been the lamebrain who hosed up someone else by doing something clueless. Don't spend all afternoon nursing your grievance when you could be stealing office supplies or checking your friends Facebook status updates.

 4.  Frustration as Fuel for Kick-ass Revenge. Or, um, Wholesome Growth. Yeah, That's It.

Anger can gets your nervous system all aroused--it can make your face flush, your pulse quicken, your fists clench and your breath get fast and shallow. Plus, it gives you that riled up, hair-trigger feeling that you could explode any second with the right provocation.

But hey... isn't that autonomic nervous system arousal very similar to what happens when something totally exciting and exhilarating happens?  If you checked your lotto ticket against the winning numbers match, would you feel your heart pound and your breath get shallow and your chest expand with the sudden urgency to run to wherever you need to go to redeem that sucker and get that cash?

Anger is energy. Anger, properly channeled and used strategically, can help you set boundaries, assert yourself, have difficult conversations, write compelling prose, or hurl heavy water bottles through glass partitions if that seems to be the most effective way of communicating.

If there are reasonable, appropriate positive actions you can take with that anger-energy, then take one, you'll feel better!  Or write down some things that you'll do when the time is right to keep this from happening again.

But what if there's nothing you can do about the situation and you want to start getting rid of that icky upset feeling?

If you have a few private minutes, try this goofy visualization or invent one of your own:

Feel the anger in your body, and picture it as something dark and nasty. (I use a nest of dark grey razor-fanged serpent-like creatures, that look sort of like moray eels but creepier and with bigger teeth). Each time you exhale, picture a part of that darkness leaving your body.  And if you've got some privacy, make it a forceful exhalation.  Then picture those dark and nasties being transformed as they leave your body into something beautiful but still powerful. (My scary serpent-eels turn into brightly colored dragons, still fierce but also quite sensible and fair and loyal to me). This swarm of dragons will now, I imagine, be a source of energy and positive action and fight for me in the future.  When the time is right and I want to summon them,  I can recall this feeling of outraged energy and willpower and use it for action, rather than self-torture.

Note: if you, like me, have a very reactive nervous system, you may not calm down completely, but so what? I just picture the remaining feelings in my body as either the beginnings of positive energy, or alternatively, as a few poor weak serpents left behind in my chest, wishing they could leave to become beautiful dragons. Then I feel sorry for them, give 'em a pat on the head, and move on.

5.  Break a Few Rules

If you're in an unexpected jam and life has thrown a bunch of those mysterious brickbats, then you may need to relax some of your usual "rules." Perhaps you might end up paying someone to do something you'd normally do yourself, or you might skip a workout, or ask a friend for help with something. Don't try to pretend everything is normal if it isn't! Shitty days deserve respect. Lower your standards, cut yourself some slack, and know you'll get back on track with your usual priorities tomorrow.

6.  Shake Up Your Life

Are you having a LOT of crappy days? Sometimes this may mean you need to look at making long term changes. Have you ever noticed how often some of the most treasured things in your life grew out of times of disappointment or unfairness or frustration?

Rather than suffering on "simmer" for days, weeks, or years at a time, sometimes a really awful day starts the boiling over process... which allows you to figure out you need to turn off the freakin' stove! Sometimes a terrible day is really a gift in disguise. Um... a really ugly disguise.

I'm Your Dream Come True!
Photo found at: zippydogcreations

Anyone have frustrating days sometimes? Or have any other ideas for transforming ugly days into inspiring ones?


  1. "...frustrating days sometimes?"

    OK, great article. I could probably comment on each point. However, I do agree that this is a process you need to practice (and be OK when one idea fails) and in my case I am in a shake-up and looking forward to what comes of it.

    I am literally just starting to get that what works for you a few years ago (or sometimes much shorter) may not work for you anymore. Whether it is because I have changed or the stress has changed (most likely both).

    I hope other people comment with their recovery tips! I get a lot out of that.

    1. Great point about being ok when a tactic fails, because on the most frustrating days most of them probably WILL fail but so what? You just need one coping method to help a little bit to better off than completely capitulating to frustration.

      And also I totally agree about how "what works" can change over time, so it helps to be open to trying new things--even if they might have seemed too darn weird at an earlier age.

      Thanks Quilting Doberman :) !

  2. Replies
    1. "Forced calmness..." hmm, does that involve restraints of some kind? :) I hope it's not too harshly enforced!

  3. Oh, I so wish this had been published last week. I had the week from hell. Amazing that I didn't kill anyone. Sure was cursing up a storm, however. I think what got me through the week was being able to vent freely to a couple of trusted friends as well as my husband.

    I've bookmarked this for the next time the universe decides I need a challenge.

    1. Well, I hope the universe doesn't oblige any time soon! But life being what it is...

      And venting to trusty friends/partner/family sounds like an excellent strategy, that should definitely be on the list!

  4. I will try and remember to come back to this page next time the cat pukes on the carpet just as I'm about to leave for work... happens way too often!

    1. Cats sure have a way with timing don't they?

      We had a cat once that used periodically pee on our down comforter... always when we were about to leave for somewhere. Sigh. Gotta love 'em anyway!

  5. No wonder you became a life coach, you give great advice.

    Breathing. Exercise. And next time, i'll try the visualization technique. It sounds like just the thing to turn the dark mass into something bright and pretty.

    1. Thanks messymimi! And I bet you can probably come up with some awesome visualizations yourself as you are the creative type!

  6. Man that last pic took me by surprise!!!! :-)

    Me, I have different ways but many times my workouts help me thru alot - especially the weights! :-)

    I love all your strategies cause they give me options!!!

    With losing so many loved ones & another fighting stage 4 cancer, I just remind myself how lucky I am.. yes, some days it is harder but I am really trying to do this!

    1. You always have such inspiring ideas on your blog, I tend to forget how much loss you've had to deal with. Your positive attitude really shines through!

  7. Nice post!
    Most of the time I am philosophical about most things, and when I get irritated I just let it roll off my back. Negative energy just makes you tired.
    However, even I reach my limit sometimes...
    Whenever I TRULY get angry at work (I work in a busy ER and deal with idiots all day)-- I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. The 2 minute break usually helps.
    And, damn, I have really clean teeth!

    The "pity the poor assholes" approach works pretty well too.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

    1. Love this idea, it sounds like a perfect quick way to "brush away" the negative energy that idiots can bring, and love the bonus of having awesome dental hygiene!

  8. Last night I was cleaning the house...not out of frustration but I realized I forgot to add that it is one of my favorite redirects or work-through! Sometimes a little intense (especially when I have to turn it into a huge project because I am so frustrated), but not the worse thing I could do

    I loved the brushing teeth a strange way that is a little like cleaning the house, although much shorter duration.

    1. God I wish cleaning was MY response to frustration, our place would sure look a lot nicer! My multi-colored dragons, sadly, have little interest in channeling that energy into anything so constructive, and the serpent/eels are notoriously bad housekeepers.

      Maybe my next visualization I'll have to equip the dragons with brooms and sponges and bleach!

  9. I find exercise helps turn around a good day. Braziliand Jiu Jitsu and weight lifting ate especially good. Cardio doesn't do as well at calming me down.

    1. Excellent advice! And hey Jiu Jitsu could also be extremely effective for stress relief if the stressor happens to be someone who could use a good ass-kicking!

  10. The problem I have with these (undoubtedly wonderful) methods of reacting to stressful situations is that I rarely remember about them until I've already calmed down anyway... Then I think something like "Huh, that would have been a lot less unpleasant if I'd visualised fanged serpents turning into dragons and / or treated the day as a level-up in the game of life!"

    Guess I'll just carry on (figuratively) head-butting the nearest (metaphorical) wall until I feel better!

  11. Ah yes, the "shoulda woulda coulda" problem.

    Sounds like you don't get pissy often enough to need a reminder system. But if similar annoying situations recur often, these can be used as reminders to catch signs of frustration early and implement whatever weird outrage-avoidance strategies work the best.

    But sounds like you calm down pretty well on your own!

  12. I think I will try out this reminder system, now I'm just using the old Seindfeld trick, "Serenity now"...."Insanity later". :)


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