Maybe you got into an argument with your best friend, received negative feedback at work, or found out that your significant other lied to you. For many, the primary impulse when they are having a bad day is to try to escape from their feelings — often through drinking alcohol, emotional over-eating, or by engaging in other self-harming behaviors. However, I would argue that it is much healthier to “lean into” your pain when you are feeling sad than to avoid your uncomfortable feelings.
It is OK — even essential — to experience “bad days.” The problem arises when we attempt to avoid unpleasant feelings. Acceptance and commitment therapy suggests that suffering is caused primarily through experiential avoidance. Psychologist Larry Berkelhammer defines experiential avoidance as “the attempt to avoid unpleasant thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, and emotions.” Here are my best tips for getting through a bad day without employing any potentially destructive techniques to numb yourself.
1. Accept your painful emotions.
Society teaches us that we should fear uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Accept that it is normal to have “bad days” and subsequent negative feelings. Think of your feelings as waves in an ocean. They will come and go, rise and fall. No feeling lasts forever, and anger and sadness are necessary, helpful parts of the human experience.
Larry Berkelhammer said, “Feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, and grief—the emotions we are most likely to try to avoid—are normal and healthy… It is through our inner experience that we interact with our environment. If we tamp that experience down, we cannot live fully, nor can we grow.”
2. Show yourself compassion through self-care.
Often we“beat ourselves up when we're having a bad day, but this is when it’s especially critical to practice self-compassion. Kristin Neff, a psychologist and researcher, stated that to practice self-compassion is, “to treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend, or even a stranger for that matter.” Rather than shaming yourself for having a bad day or for feeling terrible, try to engage in some self-compassion and self-care.
Try journaling your feelings, taking a bubble bath, calling a supportive friend or family member, playing with animals, looking up positive quotes, letting yourself cry if you need to, reading an inspirational book, cooking a fancy meal for yourself, making a gratitude list, practicing yoga, getting a manicure or pedicure, or watching a funny movie. Try to remind yourself that you are coping the best that you can, given your situation. Think about what you’d say to a close friend in this situation and apply those sentiments to yourself.
3. Practice gratitude.
A few years ago, I began a regular gratitude practice and it has truly transformed my life. Even if you are having a “bad day,” there is still so much to be thankful for. Thinking about what you are grateful for can help you tune into the positive aspects of your life. Research shows that having a gratitude practice can have immense benefits including, “stronger immune systems, higher levels of positive emotions, lower blood pressure, and more joy and happiness.”
Looking back on some of the difficult times in my life, I am now able to be grateful for having been through difficult experiences. Trials enable you to grow as a person and discover new strengths and passions. I use a free iPhone app called “Thankful,” which provides me with daily reminders, as well as a space to write a list of things that I am grateful for.
Above all, remember that both “bad” and “good” days are only temporary. You have been through difficult times before and you will get through this, too. Daniell Koepke, the founder of the internal acceptance movement, sums it up best by stating,
“Quiet the voice telling you to do more and be more, and today, whatever you do, let it be enough. Feel your feelings, breathe, and be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can to cope and survive. And trust that during this time of struggle, it’s enough.”
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