Dealing With a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at Work

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
— Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

You might not be familiar with one of my favorite children's books, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but you're probably familiar with the second half of the title—the bad day part.

Yes, work is called "work" for a reason. But sometimes, nothing seems to go right. You're stuck in traffic, spill coffee on yourself, get grilled at a meeting unprepared, and get a whole bunch of negative feedback—all in one day!

Yeah, it sucks. But letting negative events derail you isn't productive or healthy. While it may be tempting to spiral down into a black, swirling cloud of negative emotions, there's a few things you can do to diffuse a bad day:

Take a Breath

I'm a big fan of meditating, but it doesn't have to be something formal. Find yourself a quiet space and literally breathe (or, ok, have an ugly bathroom cry. You're only human, after all.) Pausing and de-stressing, even if it's just for a moment, can help you reset and face the rest of the day.

Maybe to be able to breathe you need to walk away. If that's the case, walk away. If that means leaving your desk and driving away from work, do it, if you can. Maybe it's just a 5 minute walk around the block, or maybe you spend the rest of the day working from home. Physically removing yourself from the situation can help you cool down—and prevent you from exploding at one of your colleagues.

Change Your Mindset

I love this quote from Levo League. The best way to diffuse a bad day is to change your mindset. This can be really challenging to do, but once you make the pivot that failure isn't the end, but the beginning, you'll be better off in everything you do.

Related: The Power of Optimism In The Workplace

Though, fair warning: Be genre savvy enough not to invite additional misfortune with "At least it couldn't get any worse." It probably can, if you let it.

 Instead, frame the day as a challenge, once you're ready to meet—and come out swinging. When things aren't going my way, I remember this quote from the brilliant Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
— Teddy Roosevelt, "Man in the Arena" Speech

Rise From The Arena

If you've just received a piece of negative feedback or just in a bad mood, you may not feel like being productive. You probably feel like throwing your laptop out the window. Instead, remember this great sports mantra: The best defense is a great offense.

Bounce back. Put your head down and work. Accept that regardless of how the feedback you received was delivered, there's probably a grain of truth in it. Use it as a kick in the butt to be better. Show up.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.
— Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Show your teammates and your boss that you're thick skinned by doing what you're there to do—your job. Picking yourself back up is the most challenging thing you can do when you're down. Rather than letting them see you sweat, they'll see that you're dedicated, resourceful, and tough.

And while it may not make your day the best day ever, you'll come out of a challenge not as a failure but as a conqueror—and every time you do it, you'll be a little braver, a little better, next time.