Bad days are not something we wish upon ourselves, we do not get out of bed in the morning with the intent to have one, yet we know there are more of them in our future. Bad days seem to come out of nowhere, but there is a pattern to them and once you know that pattern you can better predict when you may have a bad day and take steps to be compassionate with yourself in the midst of it, supporting your well being. Bad days (as I am using the phrase here) are those days when your well being ends up in the toilet and you need to spend a phenomenal amount of energy to keep going during the day (and/or trying to get yourself to sleep at night). Bad days are soul-sucking experiences that leave us unsettled (maybe even angry or upset) and exhausted.
Understanding how bad days happen is useful in helping to see them coming and be able to meet them head on (rather than getting caught up in their drama). They begin from two sources, the first is “life”, like when you are stuck in an unpredictable traffic jam (making you very late for work) or your kid throws up on your only clean suit (on the day you have a big presentation). Life happens and when a lot of life happens we learn from it and come up with ways to lessen it (like finding an alternative way to work or putting on the suit after the kiddos are safely on their way to school). The second source of a bad day? Ourselves. How we respond to what happens to us directly determines the kind of day we will have; sometimes we rise to the challenge of our day (and it doesn’t make the day “bad”) and sometimes we don’t (and it puts a dent in our well being). Waking up with a pit in your stomach because you have to give a big presentation can impact your whole day if you let it (then add in bad traffic or a soiled suit and voila – you are well on your way to the worst day ever). How we “stack” our day in our minds makes a big difference; as an example if the prevailing thoughts in your mind are concerned with your ability to do something (like a presentation), then that will follow you through your day like a bad smell, cancelling out other positive things that may sustain you, like having lunch with a friend or interesting work. When vulnerability, fear and concern are the first emotions “stacked” in your day these become the “lenses” you are looking through, putting at risk your well being as they colour everything else about your day. Sometimes we wear these colourful lenses on purpose and sometimes we don’t know we are wearing them at all.
The second component of a bad day stems from our beliefs and values. On it’s own a work item, like giving a presentation, can often be managed so it doesn’t impact your whole day. You may give yourself a pep talk on the way to work, or speak with your manager about your concerns; in other words, you mitigate it by finding ways to manage the emotions you are experiencing (therefore taking off the colourful lenses). In order for you to do those things for yourself you would have beliefs about a number of things. You would believe your manager was there to support you, not judge you. You would believe that any stumbles in the actual presentation would not be career limiting for you. These kinds of beliefs can help you to continue, even though what you need to do is awkward and unfamiliar. The other component in this is values, which work hand-in-hand with our beliefs. Continuing with our example, the opportunity to present would need to fit in with your personal values; you would need to feel that doing the presentation was important (i.e. value of communication, and/or transparency through sharing information). Beliefs and values source us, meaning they provide us with energy when we need it. This energy allows us to continue with something that may not feel comfortable, but that we know in our hearts is right. When our values and beliefs are being represented or upheld we can often make it through the event with our well being in tact (we may still feel exhausted at the end of it, but it is an exhaustion steeped in accomplishment). However, if you had to present data you felt was misleading or false (not aligning with your values), and failing to do so would cost you your job (your belief), where would that leave you? Yup, that is a soul-crushingly bad day that strips away your well being leaving you vulnerable, unhappy and stumbling against any other challenges you may face.
There is no “magic bullet” that will prevent you from experiencing bad days, but there are simple things you can do to recognize the pattern of a bad day and help yourself get in front of one. Make it a habit to check in with yourself over the course of your day, just gently look inside and note your thoughts (be compassionate here, there is no such thing as a “bad” thought even if you may not like what it says). Then, note the emotions that are tagged to those thoughts. Most of us would rather not feel anything, emotions can be pesky energy suckers…but know this, emotions will steal that energy anyway so better to feed them once and be done with it – note your emotions. Then, with deep self-compassion, look to understand the beliefs you are holding that give life to these thoughts and emotions…and finally, look to see what values they represent. With this beautifully real picture of what is happening for you in this moment spend a few more moments to understand what the most compassionate thing you could do for yourself right now would be? Maybe it is to call in and let work know you are going to be unavoidably late, buying yourself some time and peace of mind. Maybe it is to express concerns to your manager or a trusted colleague, sharing the burden carried makes it much lighter to hold. We can’t always prevent bad days from happening, but we can be kinder to ourselves in the middle of one, listening to what we need. When we are able to do this for ourselves we respond (rather that react) to what is going on for us in our day, nourishing our well being in the midst of chaos.