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Top 10 Ways to Handle a Bad Day

For me the hardest type of “bad” days are the ones that happen all in my head. Nothing horrible or traumatic happened to me today.  In fact, several lovely things happened.

But it just goes to show that what is “out there” really isn’t all that indicative of our internal state of mind.  So often we are chasing the next thing we want, thinking how happy we will be if we get the shoes, lose the weight, grab the guy (or kiss the girl!), land the job or paint the deck.  Often, the wanting is much more entertaining than the having.  And, it helps to notice, no matter what we actually do get, the wanting, the next desire, is always there, it’s own perpetual motion machine.

So anyway, today my thoughts were less my friend and more my critic.  Which is a wonderful thing up to a point.  In the internal world, honesty is currency.  The more compassionate honesty you have with yourself, the father you can journey through the terrain of the inner world.

I have noticed, however, than when my energy is low… I’m a little tired, a little run down, a little sad… it’s oh so easy for that all-important “compassionate” to get left off the compassionate honesty.  And all too easy for honesty to fall off the track and splash around in a swamp of just plain critical.


So what do you do? Because, honestly, that swamp of self-pity and criticism is just not a helpful place.

Although I think that as a culture we are far too quick to hurry people out of discomfort and grief, I make a distinction between tough, self-revealing times and tough, self-destructive times.  Too often we would prefer others avoid their own “dark night of the soul” because it feels so uncomfortable to us.  We have a thriving drug system to cover up all those difficult emotions.  And if you are lacking a diagnosis and a prescription, there’s alcohol, tv, gossip, adrenaline/thrill seeking, procrastination… you name it, there is an activity you can abuse as pure numbing distraction.

But the question that comes up for me is: what does that kind of cover-up change? It takes courage to go against the cultural norm. It’s hard to feel like you are not only fighting your own inner demons but are also, usually, feeling like you are going it alone.  But it’s worth it to find what works for you.  Since you’re going to do something anyway, why not do things that will raise your energy or move your forward or bring you insight?  If something has come up for you, why not dive in and meet it?

Top 10 Solutions For A Bad Day (That’s All in Your Head):

  1. Reach out.  You are not the only one thinking what you are thinking and feeling what you are feeling.  Really.  Reach out to someone with more perspective, or at least a positive bent.  Have you noticed how often we connect around our pain?  The kind of support that breaks the “inner swamp” cycle is empathetic but outside the swamp.
  2. Choose Positive Ritual. Is there something you like to do that always makes you feel better?  Not distraction-oriented, short-term pleasure that you will use to guilt or shame yourself later.  Real pleasure that lifts you out of the swamp and helps you feel more grounded.  For me it’s a walk in nature. (A long soak in a peaceful hot springs also works, but usually isn’t available!) It can be hard to get out the door when you’re in the midst of all those feelings, but the practice has an added bonus — after a while, you know how much better that walk  makes you feel, and you carry that with you even when you feel mucky.  That makes it easier to choose that all-important first step, the one where  you choose to work for yourself instead of against yourself.
  3. Read Something Grand. You can go two directions with this.  You can read something with more positive perspective, something that you find inspiring and comforting.  Or you can read something like “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan.  This is a great book about the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and it is guaranteed to make you realize you don’t have it as bad as your swamp thoughts would like you to believe.
  4. Recognize the Energy.  When you get caught in a headful of bad thoughts, recognize that just like a strong current, those thoughts have their own pull, their own flow.  Once you get caught up in your own negative intent, you also get caught up in your own negative pleasure.  Wallowing in that swamp and listening to those rationalizations will let you feel reasonable being a victim.  You break all your promises to yourself while telling yourself something like, “I deserve this.” Or, “a little won’t hurt.”  Or maybe, “green pickles on everyone else anyway!” Feeding that current of negative intention, however, just makes it harder for you to see the truth — that the greater current of who you are is always positive, always with you, always available.  The more you feed the negative intent, the more you cover your ability to see the bigger picture with blinders of shame and guilt. The good doesn’t get farther away.  But you can make choosing to see it harder.
  5. If you must rampage, go on a rampage of Gratitude. This is a great tool (from the Abraham-Hicks books) for shifting your energy.  Start with what is immediately around you and give it your attention. Appreciate everything you can about it.  The clothes you are wearing, the fingers on your hand, the neurons in your brain, the sky or the ceiling above you.  Anything at all that you can perceive, start a cascade of appreciation for it.
  6. Service. Do something for someone else. Preferably, do something for someone for no reason other than service or kindness.  If we are already feeling swampy, it can be difficult to do something for our loved ones that is really clean – given with no expectations, no strings.  So choose someone you expect nothing from anyway.  The act of service reminds us we are all connected.  It supports the broader perspective that your larger nature is one of well-being and love.  And sometimes, it’s easier to start with positive intent directed outside ourselves.
  7. Take positive action on the thing that’s bothering you. Sometimes we overlook this simple solution. There’s always a trigger.  What did you decide about reality internally that had you jumping into the swamp? Did you get overwhelmed?  Are you ignoring the polite, adult call for rest, but it’s somehow Ok to create trauma or drama to let yourself off the hook?  Are you choosing to feel guilty rather than remorseful, which implies that you actually take action to make the situation right?  If, in the back of your head, you know what this is all about, and you know you really should go apologize, or clean up your mess, or accept responsibility, or take a break… then do that.
  8. Mama Mia. Ok, I am showing my age here, probably.   Still this movie is full of fun and passion, self discovery and failure, humanity and humor.  It’s really hard to feel bad while imagining dancing around a sunny Greek isle in love.  Find some joy and exuberance and shake the swamp gasses right off.
  9. Forgive yourself. Whenever I get into a rotten head space, I manage to tack on some self-disgust for having fallen into this again anyway.  This is just silly.  Again, this kind of energy has it’s own current, it’s own pull.  It’s part of you –  you can compassionately explore what it has to tell you.  But in no way is it the greater part of you.  Forgive yourself for thinking that it is and move on.
  10. Nourish Yourself. Break the circuit.  Re-energize.  Underneath the negative intention and self-pity, there is usually a real need.  Where are you not taking care of yourself? Where are you inviting an experience of hardship into your life by refusing to rest, nurture, or re-fuel in real ways?  Bring yourself back into alignment with the flow of your own well-being by practicing well-being. Nourish your heart, your soul, your imagination. Like an overtired child, you get a very different response with a hug, a soothing voice, and help getting to bed than you do by spiteful critique.  What do you need?  What do you long for?  What if you gave it to yourself?

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7 Comments to Top 10 Ways to Handle a Bad Day

  1. September 1, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    WOW!!! Thanks. Makes you think and go to places within yourself that you thought were closed. Keep it coming…

  2. Rebecca's Gravatar Rebecca
    September 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the excellent advice – I will print these off and put them in my office…
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Faye's Gravatar Faye
    September 4, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Laura – this is excellent! “The swamp of self-pity and criticism”… ah, I know it so well. Couldn’t we just drain the thing and be done with it?? :)

  4. Katheryn's Gravatar Katheryn
    December 1, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Thank you Laura!

    If it weren’t for the swamp we wouldn’t expand. I like the idea of the “flow” of things both good and bad. If we react to both nothing really changes. I guess I like visualizing myself in the middle of a rapidly moving river. The current is everything. I feel the changes in the movement of the current but it just keeps on keeping on despite floaters and stationary objects like me. I find that thought very calming.I know the swamp is stagnant and it’s there but I prefer to be in that river where things move “towards”…..

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