by Andrea M. Darcy
From having a bad day where little things go wrong from the second you get out of bed, to the doomed days bad news comes and you temporarily lose your footing, we all have difficult days.
9 Tips from therapists to handle bad days better
How can you best help yourself when a day goes wrong?
1. Breathe differently.
When you experience stress, your body goes into fight or flight mode and you are likely to breathe in a short or held in way. Unfortunately, this just increases feelings of tension.
Consciously breathing deeply into your diaphragm, however, can actually counteract the affects of the stress response on your body by awakening the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. This means you can think more clearly and make better decisions.
(Not sure where your diaphragm is? If you put your hand just under your ribs, that space should rise and fall with each breath, and your stomach should fill and deflate).
2. Lean back.
The natural reaction many of us have when facing stress is to over think and start talking about our issue with anyone who will listen, telling the story again and again until we are either more stressed or have actually talked the problem into more than it is without even realising it.
What is the worse thing that could happen if you stepped back for a minute? And didn’t immediately react? Or even took an ‘adult timeout’, finding a quiet space and turning off your phone and taking five full minutes completely to yourself before deciding what to do or think next?
The next few tips can empower this time out even more…
3. Harness the power of visualisation
It can feel weird at first, but the body takes cues from what images you think of. It’s not just a therapy tool, either – top athletes even use evidence-based visualisation (consciously conjuring up images) to improve their performance results.
Next time stress leaves you legless, take that quick timeout mentioned above then imagine yourself hitting a giant pause button on your head, and your mind draining like a sink of any and all overwhelming thoughts, or stress leaving your body as a colour, flowing out your feet. Some people also swear by imagining roots growing out of their feet into the earth as a way to feel more grounded when dealing with difficult experiences. Play around to find a visual that works best for you.
4. Try mindfulness.
Mindfulness means getting out of chatter in your head and into the present moment, focussing for a few moments on what you are experiencing and feeling right here and now. You can do this by putting all your attention on your breath, or noticing the colours, sounds and sensations currently around you.
You are likely to find, after a few moments of mindfulness, that your dramatic, black and white thinking caused by stress fades and you begin to think more practically.
[Want to know just how to do it? Read our comprehensive guide to mindfulness].
5. Get your body to handle it.
Exercise is now proven to alleviate bad moods. So go for a walk, even just around the block. Or turn on your favourite song, shut the curtains, and dance it out.
Another simple tip is changing your body language. Studies show that something as simple as straightening your posture can help your stress levels.
Need to make a courageous decision? Take a tip from social psychologist Amy Cuddy who found ‘power posing’, such as a few moments spent with your arms flung wide, can lower the stress hormone cortisol by up to 25% and make you more daring.
6. Monitor your muscles.
A technique used by psychotherapists to help clients manage stress and anxiety because it works and is fast and is easy is progressive muscle relaxation. Like a more technical and evidence- based version of the relaxation at the end of a yoga class, it can even work if you just have five minutes.
Want to try now? Read our guide on how to do progressive muscle relaxation.
7. Change perspective if you are having a bad day.
Stress causes our viewpoint to narrow until it can feel like there is no way out or forward. Trick your brain by trying another perspective entirely.
What would the person you most admire think of your situation – would the Dalai Lama be freaking out over a friend not inviting you to a wedding? Would Richard Branson think losing your job was the end of the world or see opportunity ahead?
What about your future self? What would you in ten years think or have to say about what you are going through now?
8. Ask brilliant questions.
The best way to get a good answer to a stressful situation is to learn how to ask great questions. (This is actually the skill that therapists and coaches use most with clients!).
Too often when we face something difficult we ask ourselves ‘Why’ and it is like jumping into a rabbit hole – it just leads to overanalysing and self-judgement.
Instead, try to ask questions that are forward-looking and have concrete answers. These usually begin with ‘How’ or ‘What’. ‘Why did I do that’, for example, becomes, ‘what drove me to do that, what three things can I do today to make myself better, and how can I deal with similar situations in the future so I don’t upset myself’.
9. Dodge advice overload.
We all want support when things go belly up. But the tendency to share indiscriminately can simply raise stress levels, with other people’s advice rubbing us the wrong way or leaving us feeling unsupported when we need it most.
It’s a good idea to know in advance who your true ‘support team’ is in times of need and to be very wary of going off piste when struggling. Sure, the office gossip sitting next to you might seem very accommodating when you need it most, but think long term.
Support on difficult days
Has life thrown a curve ball you can’t recover from? Don’t underestimate the power of a counsellor or psychotherapist to help. Contrary to what you might have heard, therapy isn’t just for when things are really bad, in fact it’s much better to seek support before that point as you might avoid it in the first place. Therapists are trained to help with stress management and decision making, and can offer impartial advice and all new perspective that can mean the bad days get better sooner than you hoped.
Dealing with more bad days lately then good ones lately? We connect you a team of elite, highly experienced London talk therapists who can help with stress. Not in London, or on a budget? Try our therapy listings site for UK-wide registered therapists at all price points.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and personal development teacher with training in person-centred counselling and coaching, as well as a popular psychology writer. She has used all these tools herself when having a bad day! Follow her on Instagram for encouragement and useful life advice @am_darcy