We all have hard days; the ones where things just don’t seem to come together. When our mood is low and we’re irritable, when it feels like nothing we or anyone else does can make us feel better. Sometimes these days are caused by difficult circumstances and other times it’s unclear where they come from. If you’re having a lot these types of days in a row for several months, it may be a sign of depression which should be treated in the context of therapy (see this post for guidance on finding a therapist). However, even a few days of feeling blue can be hard to manage. In this post I will share the strategies that I use when I’m having a hard day and hopefully they will help you make it through yours with grace and awareness.
One common thing that happens when we are having a few bad days is to start believing that our low mood will last forever. If you look back over your life I’m sure you’ll find this is not true but in the moment it can feel true. One metaphor that helps me to keep perspective when I am having a hard time is thinking of difficult thoughts and emotions like they are storms in the sky; we are the sky in this metaphor. No matter how torrential the rain or strong the wind, storms always pass eventually, and when they pass, they leave the sky unharmed. Storms never overtake the sky; no matter how big the storm, the sky always contains it. So when you are having a hard day remember that the difficult emotions you are experiencing are like passing storms in the sky that cannot overtake you or harm you.
Ride the Wave
During hard days we can get pulled to analyze what’s causing our low mood because we hope that understanding will lead to relief. While this is sometimes true, picking apart everything that has been happening and trying blame someone or something for our mood can increase our suffering. An alternative to engaging in over-analysis is called riding the wave. Riding the wave involves being present with, and accepting, your experience. If you’re in the water and a wave is heading towards you, you can stand upright facing the wave in a brittle position, or you can jump onto the wave in the direction it’s already heading, which enables you to ride the wave to the shore. If you use the first strategy you will most likely be knocked over and get a bunch of salt water in your nose mouth. The second strategy allows you to go with the energy and momentum of the water instead of fighting against it. When you’re having a hard day, see if you can accept your experience as it is. Acknowledge how you’re feeling without judgement. If it is difficult to identify your emotions start by paying attention any physical sensations you notice and see if you can just allow them to be there.
One thing that makes it easier to take perspective and ride the wave is meditation. Mindfulness meditation has numerous benefits including reducing anxiety and stress, increasing awareness and acceptance, and helping us to spend more time in the present moment. Often, when we are having a bad day our mind is either pulling us into negative thoughts about the past or causing us to worry about the future. Meditation helps us to let go of unhelpful thoughts and allows us to focus on something in the present. Mindfulness meditation typically involves sitting and paying attention to your breath. Meditating is usually challenging at first but after practicing it for a while (and sometimes after doing it just once) you should feel more calm. So if you’re having a hard day consider taking some time out to meditate. I really like the Headspace meditation app; it’s great for beginners and offers 10 free, 10 minute guided meditations.
Remain Like a Log
Remain like a log aka don’t blow up your situation. I learned about remaining like a log from listening to the teachings of Pema Chödrön who is a Buddhist Nun. Remaining like a log is similar to riding the wave in that it involves using self-awareness to acknowledge and sit with difficult emotions and reactions that arise. It takes riding the wave a step further by guiding us not to engage in potentially destructive behavior in response to feeling badly. When we are having a hard day we can be easily pulled to behave poorly towards others from being rude to strangers to picking fights with loved ones. Afterwards, we usually regret this behavior and guilt makes us feel even worse. The alternative to this is remaining like a log, which means not doing anything. When you are having a bad day try to be still and avoid creating further problems. Bad days are not the time to bring up an issue with your partner, friend, or boss. Bad days are not the time to make major life changes, or tweet and comment on annoying people’s social media posts. Hard days are a time to be still and wait for the storm to pass.
I hope you these strategies will help you make it through your hard days.