What’s This Thing Called “Having a Bad Day?”

August 24, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

We could write volumes about this topic. You wake up. You’re in a funk, not exactly depressed, just moving slowly as if stuck in slow motion. And as the day drags on, you feel like a dull knife. Why can’t you simply shake it off?


Sometimes a bad day is situational. You have a dentist appointment for a root canal. Ugh! You make your way to your computer and it doesn’t turn on; the server is down. You go into the kitchen and the refrigerator is leaking. You call the repairman. Then you stub your toe on a stool. Ouch. The refrigerator repair guy shows up and fixes it but at a hefty price. You continue your day and when you go into the kitchen later, the fridge is leaking again. You call the appliance place and the person answering the call agrees to send someone over immediately. At this point you think, “Nothing is going right today. I feel like eating chocolate and hiding under the covers.” But whoa. You can’t go back to bed because you’re still waiting for the appliance man to return. 

Perhaps, there is no direct cause for having a bad day. You just woke up, as Margaret’s mother used to say, on the wrong side of the bed. A bad mood can creep up on you like the shingles. Maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before. Perhaps your daughter has been ill and has a serious doctor’s appointment the next day. You’re anxious. Or you watched a disturbing movie or political TV show that got you riled up. Some of our friends report that they’ve been in a bad mood since Donald Trump was elected President and that was more than 1 ½ years ago, a long time to be stuck in frown mode.   

Are more off days and bad moods related to being over age 50-plus? Someone shared that rationale. Could be.  As we age, our illusions of “we are going to live forever” vanish like our once collagen-tight faces. Are we trying to hang on to what we have, or do we remember too often what we have lost since we still have most of our memories? On the other hand, we forget words occasionally, sometimes ache all over, lose things more easily and can’t remember where we put our keys and cell phones. We notice a sag here and there, a new wrinkle around the mouth, thinning hair, turkey necks, sagging boobs, spotted hands, aching knees and the list goes on.   

But let’s keep a bad day in perspective. A bad day is fleeting. It is very different from depression, which is a much greater level of pain that can be due to chemicals or come from losing a loved one, getting laid off from your job, or finding out you or someone you love has a serious illness. Depression hangs around like an uninvited guest. It can go on for weeks, months and even years if untreated. You might not eat or sleep, have constant feelings of worthlessness or guilt, headaches, backaches, and frequent thoughts of death or suicide. Dealing with the subject of suicide is timely considering the recent tragic suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. Someone wisely compared it to wanting to escape from a burning building and seeing no way out except to jump from the closest window—and without knowing if there is a safety net. 

On the other hand, a bad day will get better. As one wise person once told us, “As long as we’re all alive, it’s nothing more than a bad day.” Here are nine tips to help you mitigate when it happens: 

  1. Acknowledge what’s causing your bad day. Sometimes it’s obvious—that huge bill that just arrived, the conversation you had with a friend that became quite disagreeable, the extra pounds you realize you put on because your clothing is now fitting quite snuggly. Other times, you’re not quite sure, and you may even take it out on a loved one. Sit, try to find the root, that’s half or almost the entire battle.
  2. Take one step at a time to reboot your bad day. Try to do something that makes you feel good, and it doesn’t always have to be eating chocolate or quaffing a glass of wine. Perhaps watch a funny movie or TV show, read a book that helps you understand the root of your off day, go the extra mile at work to make you feel like you’ve been productive, do something nice for someone else, call or meet a friend who is compassionate, upbeat and fun to be around.
  3. Treat yourself to small touches of pleasure. Don a chic dangly pair of earrings, get a new haircut, buy a great pair of shoes, set an elegant table and make a home-cooked meal or if you hate to cook bring in good take-out, put fresh flowers on the table or spend some time in your garden or take a walk through a public garden.
  4. Put your bad day into perspective. Is it as bad as you think it is? Take into consideration your neighbor who came up to you in the garage earlier to tell you that her mother just died. Or read the news; that’s a sure-fire way to know it could always be worse.
  5. Count your blessings. In other words, focus on the good in your life; most of us rarely do. You have friends, family, a job or enough savings and we still live in a democracy.
  6. Rethink the bad. Political spin doctors do this all the time. We can master the way they recast a scenario, too. The bad news: Perhaps your basement flooded. Now the spin: At least you were on the first floor of your home, you’re dry and safe and your good furnishings weren’t damaged. And more: The basement can be drained, cleaned and remediated in time. It’s just money, even if a lot. And next time you won’t use carpet; you’ll just paint the concrete floor a great color.
  7. Much like exercise, push through the pain if you can. If you seriously cut your finger making a veggie omelet for breakfast, go to the ER, get the stitches needed and suggest to your family that you go out for brunch or ask family or friends to bring in the goodies and have someone else cut the bagels. You’re off duty.
  8. Take deep breaths. Go to a safe and peaceful place in your head. Physically, retreat to your bedroom or favorite chair or if at work shut the office door to be alone and clear your head. Maybe, even play some music, not too serious but fun so you might even want to dance. Picture Hugh Grant as the British prime minister dancing through the rooms in the romantic comedy, Love Actually. Now, how can you not be smiling?
  9. Say the following several times so you really believe it: It will get better. It will get better. Don’t cave. Once you go into action to remedy whatever is causing your bad day, you’ll feel empowered to move forward.


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