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70. How to Handle a Bad Day

We all have bad days. Here are some ideas for dealing with them, ideas that can make you feel much better on average days as well.... There are two kinds of bad day. There's the type where, for example, you're 86 and you're having a celebration of sixty years in your job and you end up standing for nearly four hours on a river in horizontal rain and unseasonably cold weather. Without a coat. Then your husband, no doubt as a result, is whisked into hospital with an infection, leaving you to face an evening of Kylie Minogue and friends the following day, and lunch with every last Commonwealth dignitary the day after, alone. Then there's the type where you wake up feeling lousy for no apparent reason. Maybe you were really looking forward to the day, or it's a day when it's important that you're on top form, but now that you feel so rotten you know it's going to be ruined. That fills you with disappointment. You can't think why you feel like this, and that makes you furious, although a little concentrated thought in that direction does in fact reveal a surprising number of people and circumstances who are undoubtedly contributing to your misery. But however unreliable, annoying, unfair or unreasonable these other people and circumstances are, there is none, you realize, that is such a useless waste of space as your pathetic self. And that makes you feel even worse. If you are really skilled at this you may go on to extrapolate from this one bad day to the likelihood that you will feel the same tomorrow, and next week, and quite possibly for the rest of your life. As a result no-one will like you, you will lose your job and you will end up in the gutter with nothing but a dirty carrier bag and a can of Carlsberg Special Brew. And if you think this is absurd then, trust me, you do not appreciate how creative people can be. In both kinds of bad day, there are two elements: the facts of the matter (eg it is raining and cold and the pageant doesn't end for another two hours, or I have woken up feeling low this morning for no apparent reason), and how you react to it. We think it's the former, but actually it's the latter, which has the greatest power to make or break your day. There was no better example of this than how the Royal family handled their wet river party. Most people would be fretting with umbrellas and macs, sitting down on the thrones, then trying standing behind them, going down into the cabin for a hot drink, shivering, rubbing themselves, commenting regularly on the conditions. But the Royal family just stood there, not a twitch and barely a comment. And about the crowds that were there to see them, Boris Johnson remarked that the resolve to celebrate despite the heavy rain was 'one of the greaest aquatic triumphs of the British people since Trafalgar'. So there's one piece of advice modelled by our esteemed royals and their followers, whatever you were plannning to do, do it anyway. Gretchen Rubin, founder of The Happiness Project, has a practical, no nonsense approach to getting upbeat on downbeat days. I've included some of the things she recommends for lousy days below, along with a few of my own. Try this: Think of a bad day that you've had in the recent past. What do you think triggered it, and how did you respond to it? How did you feel that day, how did you feel about how you were feeling, and what did you do about it? Did your feelings and/or actions make you feel better or worse? The next time you have a bad day, try one or more of these: 1. Instead of fighting it, try to accept that you're having a bad day. Everybody has bad days, without them we wouldn't appreciate the good ones. 2. Be kind to yourself. Gretchen Rubin warns against 'treats', and she's right in that some 'treats', such eating a whole box of chocolates, vegetating on the sofa all day, drinking a bottle of wine, are unlikely to help your mood other than that brief period before you start feeling bad about yourself. But being genuinely kind and nourishing to yourself is helpful. Have a kind attitude towards yourself first of all, think about the things that you know help you when you're feeling low and plan to do them. Some of them will be tasks, some rewards. 3. Do something nice for someone else. You won't feel like it but it will make you feel better. ' When I'm having a bad day I serve God, when I'm having a good day I am God.' Ram Das 4. Do something useful, maybe something you've been putting off. Again, you won't feel like it, but you may well enjoy it when you get going and even if you don't, at least a useful task has been done. Housework is surprisingly therapeutic, as are administrative tasks, filing, tidying, cleaning something, doing an errand. 5. 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.' Gretchen Rubin 6. Keep perspective. Ask yourself, will this matter in a month? A year? Remember what you were feeling bad about on that last lousy day of yours, does any of it still matter? 7. Do something that brings your attention away from your brain - meditation, yoga, mindfulness practice, Tai Chi. Peace is to be found inside, not outside. 8. Remind yourself that a bad day does not have to be a catastrophe. It's only a day, and you'll get through it. I hope you have lots of good days this week, but if you have a bad one, have fun experimenting. Anita