It doesn’t take much to ruin your day – an argument with your spouse at breakfast, pressure from your boss during the day, or a driver who cuts you off in traffic on the way home. There’s a thousand ways your day could derail. However, you can turn a bad day around.
In fact, promptly getting back on a positive track is the best way to prevent lapsing into a downward spiral of negativity. Once your brain is primed for fight or flight, it’s likely you’ll have more powerful negative reactions to the myriad of other challenges that typically arise. Once you’re caught in this state of over-reactivity, your body continually produces brain chemicals that heighten your stress level, blood pressure, and anxiety.
Some folks still think they’re supposed to express their emotions due to the mistaken belief that holding in bad feelings will harm your health. Research has unequivocally disproven this old wives tale. In fact, because emotions are contagious, spreading your negativity will only contaminate your relationships with those around you, alienating the very people you need to support you when confronting challenges.
“Studies show that when you’re positive, you’re 31% more productive, you’re 40% more likely to receive a promotion, you have 23% fewer health-related effects from stress, and your creativity rates triple,” says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. Here’s some strategies for salvaging a bad day.
Develop an Early Warning System
The sooner you catch yourself lapsing into a bad mood, the easier it will be to change it. Some signs will be obvious – a flash of anger or a crying spell, for instance. But others are more subtle: disengaging from people, procrastinating, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, or difficulty concentrating. Think back to times you were stressed and note the signals that indicate you need to manage the buildup of negative emotions.
To become proactive, it pays to know your strengths – those character attributes that enable you to be at your best. (If you haven’t done so, take the free Character Strengths test at viacharacter.org) If one of your strengths is appreciation of beauty, go out and walk in nature. If it’s kindness, then go do something unexpectedly nice for someone. Using your strengths is like deploying your superpowers.
Take Time to Be Grateful
Ok, so something bad has happened to you. But there are still many other aspects of your life that are wonderful. Neuroimaging studies show that it’s nearly impossible to be unhappy and grateful at the same time. Bad moods are exacerbated by the feeling that we’re losing control. Focusing your mind on those parts of your life that are working well will give you a proper perspective. Writing down 3 things that you’re grateful for can instantly improve your mood.
Change Your Mind
You may not be able to immediately fix whatever is stressing you out. But you can picture what you’d like it to look like once the problem has been resolved. Neuroscience research reveals that when we’re able to see a positive outcome, our brain stops dwelling on what’s wrong (and how it could get worse).
Learn to slow your racing mind down by taking deep, slow breathes. Perhaps you need to take a short walk. Getting control over your breathing is a prerequisite for getting control over your brain. After calming yourself for a few minutes ask, “What would it look like if this situation worked out well?” Just leapfrog over the obstacles until you can actually see yourself feeling good again.
Apply the 1% Solution
After you’ve calmed your mind by picturing a positive outcome, ask “What could I do today to take a step that would get me 1% closer to that outcome?” Accomplishing a very small step will give you a minor victory, but provide a major restoration of faith that you’ll be able to turn the situation around
Keep your expectations realistic about what you can actually achieve in just 1 day. It might be to just write out a plan for the steps you’ll take in the future. Having a checklist can give you a sense of control.
Ask Someone to Help You
Studies show that 75% of the time people have good days it’s because someone helped them make progress toward a goal. Who can you count on, even if it’s for advice or encouragement? Step into your courage and ask for help to achieve your 1% task for the day. Because it’s a small step, it should be a small request.