13 Tips for Dealing with a Really Lousy Day

Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin on creating your own personal happiness

We’ve all had terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. A bad work evaluation, a disappointing grade, a potential crush who turns out to be interested in someone else, a fight with your mother, a worrisome report from a doctor, a broken resolution … lousy days take many forms.

Here are some strategies I use to cope:

1. Resist the urge to “treat” yourself. Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few beers…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself – will it REALLY make you feel better? It might make you feel worse.

2. Do something nice for someone else. “Do good, feel good” – this really works. Be selfless, if only for selfish reasons. A friend going through a horrible period told me that she was practically addicted to doing good deeds; that was the only thing that made her feel better.

3. Distract yourself. When my older daughter was born, she had to be in Neonatal Intensive Care for a week. I spent every hour at the hospital, until my husband dragged me away to go to an afternoon movie. I didn’t want to go, but afterward, I realized that I was much better able to cope with the situation after having had a bit of relief. Watching a funny movie or TV show is a great way to take a break, or I often re-read beloved classics of children’s literature.

4. Seek inner peace through outer order. Soothe yourself by tackling a messy closet, an untidy desk, or crowded countertops. The sense of tangible progress, control, and orderliness can be a comfort. This always works for me – and fortunately, my family is messy enough that I always have plenty of therapeutic clutter at hand.

5. Tell yourself, “Well, at least I…” Get some things accomplished. Yes, you had a horrible day, but at least you went to the gym, or played with your kids, or walked the dog, or read your children a story, or recycled.

6. Exercise is an extremely effective mood booster – but be careful of exercise that allows you to ruminate. For example, if I go for a walk when I’m upset about something, I often end up feeling worse, because the walk provides me with uninterrupted time in which to dwell obsessively on my troubles.

7. Stay in contact. When you’re having a lousy day, it’s tempting to retreat into isolation. Studies show, though, that contact with other people boosts mood. So try to see or talk to people, especially people you’re close to.

8. It’s a cliché, but things really will look brighter in the morning. Go to bed early and start the next day anew. Also, sleep deprivation puts a drag on mood in the best of circumstances, so a little extra sleep will do you good.

9. Remind yourself of your other identities. If you feel like a loser at work, send out a blast email to engage with college friends. If you think members of the PTA are mad at you, don’t miss the spinning class where everyone knows and likes you.

10. Keep perspective. Ask yourself: “Will this matter in a month? In a year?” I recently came across a note I’d written to myself years ago, that said “TAXES!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I dimly remember the panic I felt about dealing with taxes that year; but it’s all lost and forgotten now.

11. Write it down. When something horrible is consuming my mind, I find that if I write up a paragraph or two about the situation, I get immense relief.

12. Be grateful. Remind yourself that a lousy day isn’t a catastrophic day. Be grateful that you’re still on the “lousy” spectrum. Probably, things could be worse.

13. Use the emergency mood tool-kit. For an emergency happiness intervention, try these tips for getting a boost in the next HOUR.

What other strategies have you used to deal with a lousy day? It’s helpful to have a lot of options from which to choose.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. Each Wednesday is tip day on her blog.

9 comments so far.

  1. avatar D C says:

    A good cleansing cry helps for a truly lousy day.  Get into the shower, let the water run all over you and cry for a while.  Your tears run down the drain along with the dirt of the day.  Then when you get out, dry off, and move on. 

  2. avatar Lila says:

    You know – what helps me is to be able to come home and vent to my hubby (he also sometimes comes home and vents to me). I find that it helps to have someone listen and understand. We have had similar job situations and deal with the same traffic all the time, so it’s very easy for us to understand each other’s situations. And that helps.

  3. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Dark chocolate always helps….

  4. avatar Rho says:

    Nothing is going to help this lousy day, my nephew 21 yrs. old passed away yesterday.

  5. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Interesting article and I agree with all this common-sense advice.  However, as to Number One–Uh, yes, that drink, those jeans and for sure the pint of Haagen Dazs makes me feel better. 

    And so does does Bette Davis, suffering and suffering in “The Old Maid.” 

    What?—I call myself Mr. Wow.  You want deep, read Proust.