How do you handle a bad day? Those days when nothing goes right? Those days when old habits and negative feelings rise up out of nowhere? The days where you seriously consider just staying in bed with Netflix and a pint of ice cream?
The road to healing and growth is never a smooth upward path with every day better than the last. Usually, it is more like a jagged-line-in-a-general-upward-direction kind of a thing. But, if you are having a tough day, don't be discouraged (or surprised), you aren't losing ground on all your hard work, it is just a part of the process. So, why do we have these setbacks and how do we handle them and turn them into another opportunity for growth?
1. Expect rough times and accept them without reading too much into it. Have you ever been on a healthy eating kick and had a week where the scale or inches won't budge or (even more annoyingly) go up? This is because our body and our brain are all about maintaining the status quo, even when it isn't healthy. When we make changes to our thought processes, our habits, our relationships, and our self-esteem we fight against homeostasis and can feel at war with ourselves to break out of inertia and create a new path. We are rewiring our brain and strengthening new neural networks.
Imagine it like going on a hike where your old thought patterns and habits are the well-worn path of least resistance. It may be a terrible crummy road that leads to misery, but we have taken it so many times that it has become automatic. The new way of thinking is like a new path that is overgrown with branches from lack of use. We need to make a conscious effort to break from autopilot and take the new healthy path. It feels awkward and we may find ourselves back on the old thought path when we have moments of tiredness, failure, or start to run on mental autopilot. After a while the new path becomes our norm and the unhealthy path starts to get overgrown from misuse. But, it is a conscious process that takes time to become unconscious.
2. Have a meltdown if you need one, but don't stay there. Sometimes it can almost feel comfortingly familiar to feel those old miserable thoughts and feelings. If you need to roll around in them for a bit (i.e. "Nothing ever works out for me!" "Why does everyone let me down?!") then do it for a few minutes, but then make a conscious effort to get the heck out of that dark place. Cry, yell, throw a fit about the unfairness of life...for minutes not hours or days. Then sit down and journal gratitudes, talk to your therapist, say affirmations, and do whatever it takes to get your neural pathways back onto the highway of health. Its normal to find comfort in the familiar. It feels good to roll around in misery sometimes, but be careful to have an exit strategy from this dark place.
3. Make a plan to get back on track. If you know in advance that these moments will come, then you can plan for them and prepare a little emergency kit of hope to get you back on track. Everyone's brain is unique and your little kit will look different from anyone else's. So, explore this and try different things.
- Some people have their empowerment playlist all set for the tough days. In my women's empowerment groups we all share our favorite "bad ass lady empowerment fight songs" with the group and make a playlist for those rainy days.
- Keep a gratitude jar where you put in pieces of paper every time a good thing happens to you. On a tough day, dump out the jar and read through all the blessings you've had and likely forgotten.
- Turn the tough situation around. Look at this struggle and find the good in it. Learning how to fail with grace is the best way to guarantee a life filled with success. If we can't handle the tough feelings that accompany disappointments, we won't be able to do big things that make failure an inevitable part of our process. If you feel like you keep returning to the same negative core belief or same pattern over and over, then look at this as a chance to dig up a weed that has probably been quietly messing up your emotional landscape for a while. This hard time might be the a-ha moment that will lead you to a deeper level of healing. If this negative mood or thought seems to be on repeat a bit too much, then make it your mission to dig up that weed once and for all. It is probably an unresolved hurt, trauma, or false message you internalized long ago.
- Do some good for someone else. Helping out another person can get us out of head and make us feel empowered and useful. Even a small act of kindness can take our focus off of the self and give us some perspective.
- Keep some inspiration on hand for when you need it. Is there a book that inspires you? A movie? A documentary on someone who overcame all odds and kicked some butt? Keep these close at hand (in your desk drawer or nightstand) to remind you that hard days happen to everyone and they can be overcome.
- Practice some here-and-now mindfulness. Most of our misery has more to do with how we think about the hard things than the actual hard things themselves. Grounding yourself in the present moment (with breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or taking a walk where you notice all the color and smells around you) can get your brain out of worry and regret mode and keep you present to all the blessings you have at this very moment.
- Laugh. Watch something funny and get into it. It will release good hormones that will get your brain back on the right path of joy and gratitude.
Tough days will happen. Failure will happen. Part of developing self-compassion is knowing this is common to all of humanity and not a sign that we suck and should quit our efforts at bettering ourselves and our life. So, know they will happen and prepare accordingly. Make your own little "emergency pick-me-up kit" and turn those tough times into days of grace, compassion, and self-care. The sun will come out again. I promise.