Some days just start wrong. You can’t get out of bed with your usual energy, the routine feels all mucked up. Annoying things happen, and you face an onslaught of things that are determined to make things worse
“I can’t find my sports shoes!”
“The dog threw up on the carpet and I stood in it”
“Mum, there is a strange man at the door asking for you!” (just as you try to leave the house)
Then the printer jams, and you are late sending a report. You are feeling a bit overwhelmed so you grab a huge bowl of cereal … for lunch. And you wash it down with cookies. Then you start beating yourself up; “I just should have got earlier, got my exercise done, been more organised”.
So you get cross and push on. “I just have to focus and get something ticked off my damn list”. You try even harder to assert control and structure over the uncontrollable.
It starts to feel like a vicious cycle. Cross starts to become angry. Loved ones are snapped at. Negative self-talk is at its peak.
Stop. Just stop.
Pushing through isn’t working, so it is time to slow down. Look through the list below. You don’t need to do them all, a couple of them might be all it takes to pause, reset, and start afresh. These small activities focus on resetting your body, your brain, your emotions and they incorporate practical aspects too. Some of them are not possible in an office, so you will need to improvise.
MOVE YOUR BODY
Start by walking away. Go outside. Do something that distracts your body, and calms your brain. It will only take a few minutes, but close your eyes, breathe deeply, and feel the wind on your face. You might do a few stretches or yoga poses. If it doesn’t feel like it is working, step it up; climb some stairs, bounce on a trampoline, walk around the block, play some ping pong, take a 5-minute run. Anything that moves your body, and distracts your mind. Turn off your phone and appreciate the silence while you move.
AND DISTRACT YOUR MIND
If your mind is having an especially tough time calming down, sit still for a bit. Play a favourite song on your phone and luxuriate in it for a few minutes. Enjoy it, and stop thinking about what needs to be done. Do a quick guided meditation. Read one chapter of a good novel. Definitely don’t look at social media. If all else fails, take a short nap. Set the alarm on your phone for 20 mins and relax.
Take a shower, a bath. Go for a swim. Getting wet has a magical way of resetting your system. You never regret a swim. Sometimes the 30 minutes needed to get wet, is a very wise investment of your time. The benefits are huge, it is like a happiness reboot.
Naturally, this doesn’t work for office days. But you could possibly squeeze getting wet in after work.
FORCE YOURSELF TO FEEL GRATEFUL
Look at a favourite photo, read your old gratitude journal, make a list of good things, anything that triggers you to think about the things in your life that are going well. It will feel forced, but it works.
Send a quick message to someone you love ‘thanks for checking in on me yesterday, much appreciated’ or ‘thinking of you’. And you will feel more connected and less alone in your miserable day.
A small dopamine and oxytocin hit can be stimulated just by feeling grateful.
LOOK AFTER YOUR INNER CHILD
When your toddler loses it, you immediately ask yourself if they are tired or hungry. Are you? Or maybe you just need a hug? Treat yourself like a much-loved small child and give yourself permission to go to your room for time out.
GET OVER YOURSELF
Stop beating yourself up. Accept you are not perfect, everyone has bad days, it doesn’t ‘mean’ anything. Stop the self-judgement and self-recrimination. Nobody likes a moaner. But they completely respect someone who owns their moods, and steps in for themselves and stops a downward slide.
PHONE A FRIEND
Reach out to a loved one. Not someone who will tell you how to feel, but someone who will empathise and lift your mood. Even better, you might have someone who can make you laugh. They are a good friend indeed.
CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Sometimes a fresh environment is all you need to kick your brain into gear. Pick up your laptop and move to a different space. Go to a café with good WIFI. Go to the library. Find a different space at the office. The space you are working in might be triggering bad habits (I always check social media when I sit in this chair), so actively change your space. Being in public (in a café) triggers good work habits because you are aware people might be watching. Go with it.
PLAN A REWARD
Take 2 minutes and schedule something fun. Not necessarily for later today, it could be for the weekend. Schedule a bike ride with your spouse, book some friends to come for dinner tomorrow, arrange a play date after school with a mum who will stay for a rewarding chat. Make the arrangement, smile, and move on.
TAKE THE SMALL WIN
You know that tiny thing you have been putting off doing? Cut the kids finger nails. Book the rug clean. Send the one-line email. Find something really small that has been hanging around and annoying you and not getting done. It has to be something that can be done in less than 5 minutes, so that you can then get back to your real work. But do it, then congratulate yourself, and if possible share it with someone ‘this has been annoying me for ages, but I am so happy to have it done’. Cue nice dopamine hit. Then tackle something that is bigger and harder.
GET IN TUNE WITH YOUR NEEDS
Once you are calm, ask yourself some questions
- What do I want?
- What do I need?
- What really needs to happen today?
- Right now I am feeling …. And I want to feel ….
Dig deep and find some answers that feel true. Maybe all you actually want right now is some peace and rest. Maybe you need to cancel tonight’s plans, which will give you the headspace to focus on work better, maybe you need some connection, and should shelve work for a few hours.
As you ask ‘what do I want?’, keep digging, ‘is that what I really want? Really? Why?’ until you get to the magic answer.
MAKE A PLAN
What can I fit in with the rest of today? And do I think I am capable of it? Make a plan, what needs to be done. An old fashioned to-do list that is truly achievable. In the next few hours, I will clear my email, and that’s all. Tomorrow I will make those 5 phone calls, then start on the report.
There is no magic formula for tricking your mind into resetting itself. But a few of these activities will definitely change your brain chemistry and set you on the right path. Don’t let your bad day take over. Get serious about stopping this bad run in its tracks, and taking control back. It may feel forced, and a bit artificial, but it works. Good luck!