You didn’t get much sleep because your toddler was up half the night. You woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Just because. You got to work way too late, and it feels like nothing has been going right since. You had a misunderstanding with a friend that you still don’t understand.
And so, you feel frustrated or tense. You’re upset and annoyed. You have a hard time focusing. Or you just feel off.
Self-care coach Tara Pringle Jefferson noted that her clients have blah days simply because they’re human. And that extends to all of us. That is, she said, when we’re having an iffy day, it isn’t because of some personal failing. Rather, it’s part of the human condition.
We are complex beings who feel a range of emotions on any given day. Sometimes, there’s a specific reason. Sometimes, there isn’t.
Where we can occasionally falter is in how we handle our blah days. For instance, we use social media to numb and escape, said Megan Gunnell, LMSW, a psychotherapist, speaker, writer and international retreat leader in Grosse Pointe, Mich. “Social media often takes us down the path of comparison, envy, jealousy and shame.”
In other words, it makes a blah day a whole lot worse.
We also completely gloss over our feelings. We either try to push through without acknowledging our emotions, or we minimize them, telling ourselves: “Well, other people have it worse so let me stop complaining,” said Jefferson, also a writer, speaker and founder of the Self-Care Suite, a multicultural and intergenerational community dedicated to easy living through the lens of self-care.
And, sometimes, the opposite is true: We wallow in the frustration. We hyper-focus on why we’re feeling this way, and what’s not going right. And we quickly spiral downward, staying in this emotional space for too long, according to Denise Sumbry, Chief Energy Officer and Reiki master of Positive Life Haven.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to turn a tough day around. Even tiny tweaks can have terrific results. Here are nine tweaks to try.
Keep a list of mood-lifting activities. Jefferson stressed the importance of acknowledging that you’re having a blah day and asking yourself what would help you to feel better. She keeps a list of 20 mood-lifting activities in her phone. This way when she’s not feeling great, she scrolls through to see what she needs in the moment. Her list includes everything from watching an episode of “Scrubs” to cooking her favorite meal.
Reach out to kind-hearted others. Sharing our struggle with close loved ones helps us to feel less alone, said Gunnell. The supportive people in our lives “can validate our feelings and act as an encouraging and uplifting reminder that a blah day isn’t our baseline. They can remind us of who we really are and what we’re really capable of.”
Sharing also shrinks shame, which is vital because shame flourishes in secrecy, Gunnell said. “When we share our struggle, it automatically feels smaller and more manageable.”
Create super specific playlists. “Music always helps me get my mind right, which is why I have playlists for several different—and oddly specific—moods I’d like to feel,” said Jefferson.
For instance, she has a playlist called “Take Me Back to When I Had No Bills,” which includes 90s songs and 90s R&B. She has another playlist called “I Need to Reset with A Dance Party,” which is basically all Beyoncé. A third playlist called “Feeling Like I Need Some Spiritual Guidance” features late 90s and early ’00s gospel. A fourth playlist is called “I Procrastinated and Need to Focus,” and has a lot of Amel Larrieux.
Jefferson noted that our favorite music can transport us to a time when we felt light. What kind of music does this for you? What unique-to-you playlists can you create? Because you can use music to meet your specific needs.
Tweak your perspective. When we’re having negative thoughts, it’s all-too easy to get wrapped up in them. It’s all-too easy to let them dictate our day, and, as Sumbry mentioned already, to spark a downward spiral. Instead, the key is to shift our perspective.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has a powerful metaphor for this, which Gunnell writes about in this post: Think of yourself as a bus driver. You’re driving your bus and focusing on what’s in front of you, such as the trees and other cars. As you begin making stops, you pick up “thought” passengers, and these passengers are quite noisy. They’re so noisy that they hijack your attention, and you start feeling frustrated, distracted and tense.
Do you stop the bus, and go back to engage with the thoughts? Do you get the thoughts off your bus (even though more might come)? Or do you acknowledge the presence of the noisy thoughts and keep focusing on what’s in front of you?
As Gunnell writes, “this week as you go about your business, try to keep driving the bus—stay mindfully in the moment of what you’re choosing to focus on and don’t allow yourself to be too distracted or upset by anxious, fearful or distorted ‘thought passengers’ who hop on for a ride every now and then!”
Redirect your attention toward joyful moments. According to Sumbry, one way of doing this is to create a photo album or Pinterest board with all your favorite, memorable photos. This might include photos of family vacations, birthdays, holidays, pets and natural surroundings. The key is that these photos “bring you joy and happiness as you reflect and replay the moment back in your mind.”
Turn to water. For many of us water is grounding, calming and rejuvenating. For Jefferson, it’s all these things and more. “Once I’m done I usually have a better appreciation for how I’m feeling,” she said. In the summertime and fall she heads to the lake; year-round, she takes a bath or shower.
Sumbry suggested taking an “aura cleansing shower,” which can help you wash away “anything that doesn’t serve you physically, emotionally or spiritually.” An aura, she writes here, is “the magnetic energy field that can be sensed, felt, or even seen around the physical body.”
Begin by dry brushing your body in a circular motion, starting at the top of your toes, and moving to your shoulders. Express gratitude for the body part you’re brushing. Next step into the shower, and tell yourself that you’re cleansing the layers of your aura. Close your eyes, and visualize a waterfall. “Take four deep breaths in and out, holding for 3 to 4 seconds as you inhale and exhale and envision a bright white or gold light embody your whole body and aura.”
As the light envelopes your body, see the frustration, burdens and negativity going down the drain. Then consider three intentions you’d like to embody, such as vitality and peace. As you wash each body part, mention again why you love it (e.g., “I love my feet because…”). Finally, as you finish up, set your intention for the rest of the day or night, and give thanks.
Savor the sun. “Sunlight is a natural mood lifter, so finding 5 to 10 minutes to stand in the sun will perk you up,” said Jefferson. Maybe you can get outside during your lunch break. Maybe you can take a walk around the block after you get home. Maybe you can eat your breakfast on the balcony, or sit and sip a cup of tea by an open window. (Jefferson drinks two cups of tea a day, “first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and those are the two most peaceful times of my day.”)
Practice a simple body scan. Gunnell suggested closing your eyes and scanning your body from head to toe. “Pause where you feel bodily tension and bring your breath to that area to loosen and soften.” You also might try a guided body scan, such as this 3-minute meditation or this 11-minute meditation.
Expand your gratitude. Journaling about what we’re grateful for is a quick and powerful way to shift our energy, Sumbry said. She recommended finding a quiet place, closing your eyes and taking four slow, deep breaths. Then consider these questions to expand your gratitude, she said: What made me smile or laugh? What surprised me? What did I learn? Who did I help today, and why? Who helped me, and why? What special connection did I make with someone today?
Blah days happen to all of us. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’” Jefferson said. “Knowing that, it’s crucial to be a student of yourself and understand what gets you out of those funks so you can rest in that knowledge when you need to.”