My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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This Wednesday: Thirteen tips for dealing with a really lousy day.

DejectionEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 13 tips for dealing with a really lousy day.

We all have really lousy days from time to time. A bad work or school evaluation, a potential crush who turns out not to be interested, a fight with your mother-in-law, a worrisome call from a doctor…lousy days take many forms.

Here are some tips for getting through it:

1. Resist the urge to “treat” yourself. Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few beers…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself – will it REALLY make you feel better? It might make you feel worse.

2. Do something nice for someone else. “Do good, feel good” – this really works. A friend going through a horrible period told me that she was practically addicted to doing good deeds; that was the only thing that made her feel better. However, don’t put too much pressure on yourself now. Don’t start planning an elaborate surprise party; email some digital photos to the grandparents.

3. Distract yourself. When the Big Girl was born, she had to be in Neonatal Intensive Care for a week. I spent every hour at the hospital, until the Big Man dragged me away to go to an afternoon movie. I didn’t want to go, but afterwards, I realized that I was much better able to cope with the situation after having had a bit of relief. Watching a funny movie or TV show is a great way to take a break. It might even be a good idea to have an emergency stash ready by the TV, for bad times.

4. Seek inner peace through outer order. Soothe yourself by tackling a messy closet, an untidy desk, or crowded countertops. The sense of tangible progress, control, and orderliness will lighten your mood. This always works for me – and fortunately, my family is messy enough that I always have plenty of therapeutic clutter at hand.

5. Tell yourself, “Well, at least I…” Get some things accomplished. Yes, you had a horrible day, but at least you went to the gym, or played with your kids, or walked the dog, or read a magazine.

6. Exercise is an extremely effective mood booster – but be careful of exercise that allows you to ruminate. For example, if I go for a walk when I’m upset about something, I often end up feeling worse, because the walk provides me with uninterrupted time in which to dwell obsessively on my troubles.

7. Stay in contact. When you’re having a lousy day, it’s tempting to retreat into isolation. Studies show, though, that contact with other people boosts mood. So try to see or talk to people, especially people you’re close to.

8. It’s a cliché, but things really will look brighter in the morning. Go to bed early and start the next day anew. Also, sleep deprivation puts a drag on mood in the best of circumstances, so a little extra sleep will do you good.

9. Remind yourself of your other identities. If you feel like a loser at work, send out a blast email to engage with college friends. If you think members of the PTA are mad at you, don’t miss the spinning class where everyone knows and likes you.

10. Keep perspective. Ask yourself: “Will this matter in a month? In a year?” I recently came across a note I’d written to myself years ago, that said “TAXES!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I dimly remember the panic I felt about dealing with taxes that year; but it’s all lost and forgotten now.

11. Write it down. When something horrible is consuming my mind, I find that if I write up a paragraph or two about the situation, I get immense relief.

12. Use the emergency mood tool-kit. For an emergency happiness intervention, try these tips for getting a boost in the next HOUR.

13. Be grateful. Remind yourself that a LOUSY day isn’t a CATASTROPHIC day. Be grateful that you’re still on the “lousy” spectrum.

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Happiness guru and radio host Karen Salmansohn has a great post today about the effectiveness of humor in a bunch of different situations. I think she’s absolutely right — although it’s very tough for me to use humor when I’m angry, annoyed, or anxious, when I do manage to do it, it’s always wildly effective. And it makes unhappy situations happier.

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