How to Feel Better on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

Apr 4, 2011 by

How to Feel Better on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

This weekend was the first weekend I had off since Christmas. It was much needed, given the excruciating past three weeks at work. Not only have the hours been long, but the media coverage of the work we do has been brutal and excoriating, leaving me crying at my desk at least once and declaring to sympathetic friends that I was having at “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” and that I thought I was going to move to Australia. Bonus points if you get the reference for that without looking below.*

I could write a whole article on those three weeks, and the media coverage and the partisanship apparent within it and the misrepresentations on both sides. On politics itself and the issues ripping our country apart right now, but for the moment my “day job” requires my silence.  I have opinions, but I do not express them, because I serve both sides, and I serve the people in a nonpartisan capacity. I do my best work no matter which party asks it of me.

And this isn’t a political blog, anyway.

But it is a blog about living a life you craft, and choosing to live life the way you want to see it. So how do you do that when everywhere you look, life seems to be throwing things at you determined to twist up all you’re trying to vision into being? How do you shrug off the criticism that may not be aimed at you personally, but feels like it’s scoring nails down your soul?  How do you keep your head up and actually smile when you feel like the mob is trying to tear your hope to shreds?

How do you get through your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days?

I would suggest five possible ways.  Some of these may seem simple, but feeling better when you’re down in the dumps isn’t about going from misery to elation in one fell swoop. That is very likely unrealistic unless you are incredibly more skilled than most of us.

But if you can just manage to feel a little bit better, and then a bit better from there, and then a bit better from there; if you feel like you’re in the well of despair and then you can rebuild one brick of hope, and then another, and then another; if you can lift yourself from exhaustion and get one night of rest, and then another, and then another it gets better.  You get the drift?

One step at a time. One day at a time.  These may be small steps, but one at a time, one piece at a time, and I promise they add up and all the negativity out there will start to wash off of you and the world will seem a little better, a little brighter.

1.  Have a playlist that’s your “happy” or “inspirational” playlist. Better yet, have a theme song on there somewhere.

Music has been shown to have a direct effect on the brain and body. Some studies have even shown that it can lower levels of cortisol (associated with high stress levels) in the body. In a study reported in the AORN Journal in February 2003 researchers posited that listening to music can even lower blood pressure.

Beyond that, I’m sure almost all of you have felt the positive effects of having your favorite song come on the radio, or know how hearing a song from your past can evoke those memories–good or bad. Science may not be able to explain all of it, but the effects of music are visceral. So why not use them to your advantage?

I have a playlist on my iTunes on my computer and on my iPod and iPhone (so I have it wherever I go) entitled “Inspiration” and on it are my favorite uplifting songs–the ones that never fail to make me smile.

Beyond that, ever since Ally McBeal had her search for a theme song, I’ve been looking for mine. It changes as I change, and as my circumstances change. For the past year or so it had been Christine Kane’s “Virginia” (you can get a copy at her website!), but the past couple of weeks, it switched to Katy Perry’s “Firework.” I keep having that on loop when I get down at work.

And I feel instantly better.

No one said your theme song or happy playlist had to be particularly deep music.

So go through your music collection. Find the songs that make you smile. Don’t just let them be random and out there, but gather them together in one place that you can find them whenever you need a pick me up, and when that time comes, listen. You may think that perky music is the last thing you want to listen to. In fact, the temptation may be to find music to match your mood, but don’t give in to that. Instead, listen to the happy music, and watch as your mood shifts to match it instead.

2.  Go do something outside. Go for a walk. Go to the park. Go roller skating. Go swing on the swings.

Any form of exercise will probably make you feel better, so this could read “go to the gym” or “exercise,” but sometimes when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or stressed, or angry, or whatever has pressed down on you “exercise” can feel like yet another chore.

So don’t make it that. You don’t even have to break a sweat on this expedition. You don’t have to time yourself, or go walk for a mile, or make it a big thing. Even just ten minutes around the block at lunch will help. Just a meander around the park or five minutes at the local playground will make a difference.

Fresh air and sunshine are imperative for happiness.  The lack of it can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder in some people–its own form of depression, which says just how important the sun can be in our lives. We need it for the production of Vitamin D, as well.

Don’t take your phone or anything where your problems can reach you–just get out and away  and walk for a bit. Move your body . Breathe deeply (which can also reduce stress) and just feel and be as you move.  A lot of people suggest just walking with yourself without any distractions, but I always feel better if I walk with music, so if you’re like me–go walking with your happy playlist. It’ll distract you from your upset thoughts and you can kill two birds with one stone and double up on the happy-making.

Movement gets us out of our heads and makes us aware of our bodies. Doing something fun like roller skating or swinging reminds us of more carefree times. Sunshine and fresh air help our bodies heal themselves. If you can combine all of them together, even better, but give any one of them a try and I guarantee that you’ll feel a lift in your mood.

Personally, my favorite thing to do is to take my iPod (I did say I took it everywhere) and walk to the local park, which is about a half mile away, and hit the swings for a while. Depending on how much I have to do, or how much time I can spare, I’ll stay there until night falls, if need be, or until I’m just laughing with the exhilaration of flying through the air. It was my favorite thing to do as a kid and it never fails to make me smile and make things a little bit better no matter how bad they seemed when I left the house.

Find your thing, and give yourself the gift of doing it in the fresh air, especially now that spring is in the air.

3.  Keep a success journal.

It’s easy to lose sight of all we’ve accomplished when everyone is trying to tear us down. When the voices all around us are telling us everything we’re doing is wrong, or how much of a failure we are, it’s all too easy to believe them. Our own inner voice can lose some of its power without reinforcement.

So we give it something to back it up.

It’s easiest to do this when times are good, but if you haven’t already started one, you can find that wise inner voice and begin one even in the hard times. Do suggestions one and two first. Go for a walk, listen to your power music, clear your head of the negative voices for a bit, and breathe. Find that inner you and have a smile on your face, then sit down and write.

Write out everything you’ve done well in your life. Write down everything you’ve succeeded at. Write down everything you feel you’ve accomplished. Big. Small. I don’t care if you got a certificate or public recognition or if you did it in the silence of your locked room and no one knew but you–if you felt a thrill of pride, of achievement inside your heart, write it down.

Turn the page, and write down every good thing that’s happened to you, for you. Every thing that’s made you smile. Immerse yourself in goodness. Immerse yourself in smiles. Go back as far as you need to, as far as you have time. Don’t let a hint of negativity creep into this writing. No nostalgia, either. This is a record and a reminder, but it isn’t something to beat yourself up with, because here’s a solid truth:

Everything in life goes in circles. Challenges come into the brightest lives, but we surmount them.  We succeeded before.  We were happy before.  We will be again.

Now, every time something good happens, every time you achieve something, you write it down–you keep a record of it, and when you’re feeling like you’re nothing, or you’re no good, or you’ll never rise up; when those voices are beating you down and your own can’t seem to rise above them: you pull this journal out, and you read. You read each success, you pull each smile into you, and you let them strengthen your inner voice until you can hear you over all of them.

Because we are stronger than all of that noise out there. But even the strongest of us needs a reminder of that sometimes.

4.  Set a window for indulgences.  But go ahead and indulge.

Sometimes we need to indulge.  We need to cry to a friend or we need to shop or we need a bowl of ice cream or we need a drink or we need some macaroni and cheese or we need a glass of wine while in a bubble bath with a trashy romance novel.

I’ve always been mildly suspicious of people who say that you shouldn’t indulge when having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. People who say they are stronger than that, or who say that they feel better for having some super healthy dinner of brown rice and greens and go to the gym and don’t want ice cream.  Maybe they do.  Maybe honestly being that healthy really does make them feel better.

But it really doesn’t work for me. I mean, I’m healthy–I work out 4-5 days a week, and I enjoy it. I don’t do it because I “should.” I really enjoy moving. I like eating healthy, too, and if I eat too much junk, I don’t like how I feel.  And I hate how I feel after more than 2 or 3 drinks, even on a night out with the girls for someone’s birthday party.

But on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

I may go for a walk. If it’s nice out, I may even strap on my skates and hit the trail for an hour with my iPod and upbeat music. But then I’m very likely going to come home and indulge in one of the things in the first paragraph.

Notice the singular up there, though. One of the things. One.

Because that, I think is the key. Our indulgence when feeling bad can sometimes make us feel better. Too much sugar or alcohol and you’re going to have a serious crash on the other side that’s liable to leave you feeling worse. Just a bit, though, and it might be just enough to lift your mood and get the serotonin going in your brain to kick in and help you find some balance.  Go on a bender, and you’re going to wake up feeling worse.  One drink, and you might be able to sleep better instead of tossing and turning in anxiety.

None of these are habits you should form, obviously. (Ice cream every night is a sure fire way to add on five pounds pretty fast) (Well, okay a nightly bubble bath might be a nice self-care routine. Sans the glass of wine.) But as an indulgence, in moderation–don’t feel guilty. Just set a window. Don’t pull out the pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Get yourself a bowl and put the carton away and don’t go back for it.  Pour one glass of wine and put the bottle away.  Get one bowl of mac and cheese and put the rest in the fridge before you can be tempted by seconds. Take out a certain amount of cash from the ATM for a shopping trip that you can afford and do not spend any more than that at the mall.

Whatever your particular indulgence for your bad day–go ahead. I won’t judge you. Because after my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day–I’ll be over here with my bubble bath, glass of wine and the new Sookie Stackhouse novel.

5.  Let go of your “shoulds” for a bit. Be kind to yourself.

If you’re like me, all those outside voices are throwing enough at you.  You have a ton of things you “should” be doing. There are the things you have to do for others. Your work responsibilities. Your family responsibilities. Your community responsibilities.

For me, I have had bills and amendments to draft. I have a committee to staff, research to do, questions to answer. For my community, I have my responsibilities to the theater I work with–bylaws to amend, Board meetings and retreats to attend, issues to weigh in on.  For my family–birthday presents to attend to, things to get in the mail, cards to buy.

None of those are really things I can slack on.  You probably can’t slack on a lot of your responsibilities, either, or feel that you can’t.

But beyond those we put a lot of other “shoulds” on ourselves. We have our goals, our dreams, our ideals. And these are all good, amazing things. I’m here to encourage all of you to go for them, to aim high, to pursue the things that make you happy. I want each person reading this to work toward your ideal, your best life.

Some days, though, days when the world is beating us down, our goals, our dreams, and our ideals can turn into something we beat ourselves with, and that is something they never should be. When the voices outside are castigating us, we do not want to add our own to the chorus. Neither, of course, do you want to use a bad day as an excuse to let go of your dreams–that can become self-fulfilling. You can get caught in a cycle of “bad days” and never move forward toward a goal.

Instead, when you have one of those days when it seems like you cannot win at anything, when you just want to curl up and hide and your to do list is a noose around your neck–let it go. Forget about having to do everything on it. Just pick one thing. What is the most important thing on there?  What is the one most in line with your vision of your life?

Do that one thing.  Even if it’s only fifteen minutes, try and do that one thing that is moving you toward your ideal life, still, because I guarantee you that you’ll feel better for it.

But let go of the others on days like that. And let go of the other “shoulds.” Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get to Spinning.  Don’t yell at yourself if you don’t hit that party with your best friend. Don’t put yourself down for skipping the networking event. There will be other gym classes and other parties and networking events.

Do what you can, do what does not make you feel even worse, do what brings a smile to your face, and write that down in your happiness/success journal. Then call it a day.

Because tomorrow will be a new day full of new possibilities and when you’re in the middle of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day–that’s the best news of all.

[Photo credit: Pedrosimoes7]

[*The phrase “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” is taken from the title/book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day which was one of my favorites as a child and has thus made it into my vocabulary ever since. Alexander declares throughout the book that because the day is so terrible, and he is so unappreciated, he is going to move to Australia, which must be this magical, wonderful place where nothing bad has ever happened. That’s also shorthand in my family and among many of my friends who remember the book–instead of going into that it has been a bad day, we simply can say,  “I think I’ll move to Australia” and everyone knows what the day was like.]

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