What ever happened to Daniel Powter? ‘Bad Day’ was a bop. But unlike the eponymous 2005 classic, nobody likes a bad day. And if you’ve suffered from mental health problems, the setback of a bad day can feel like a world-ending calamity.
They take on an ominous quality—not like a ‘I’ve missed my bus and spilt coffee down my top’ bad day. They can feel world-ending. Some can be predicted—I know I usually feel fairly crap on certain significant dates. Some come out of the blue, which is almost worst. One of the hardest things to come to terms with is knowing that, unfortunately, they’re likely to crop up throughout the rest of my life. This is incredibly annoying, as I’d like to be able to say I used to have anxiety, put a tick next to it and move on with my life. But sadly not.
Whether you’re suffering/recovering from anxiety or depression, or are just a human being living a life, there’s always going to be bad days. In my experience, you can’t outrun them—but you can sometimes manage them.
5 tips for a bad day
1. Touch things! This sounds a bit weird, but one of the side effects of my own anxiety is feeling a bit… unreal. Like I’m not quite connected to the world around me. (This is called derealization and is a THING). A solid way to counter this is to touch things, preferably something living, although a great fluffy blanket is also a solid shout. People are good, dogs are better. I’m allergic to cats so I can’t confirm on that front. Whether it’s a hug, a squeeze of a hand, or even just physical proximity to another living thing, I find physical touch to be really grounding—it brings me ‘back into reality’.
‘But what if I haven’t got anyone to touch?’ I hear you say – and I feel you on this one. I lived alone for about a year and a half, and it was during this period that I was seriously unwell, and pretty lonely to boot. I was advised to ‘touch myself’. Not like that – (although: live your life). Squeeze your fingers, run your palms over your arms. I find it weirdly soothing to make a deep pressure on my palms. Give it a go!
2. My PhD supervisor always used to beg me: please, be kind to yourself. This is key advice. Do something nice and self-indulgent. If you’re already having a terrible day, don’t beat yourself up further by depriving yourself of things that might bring you pleasure. Get a hot chocolate, buy yourself a treat in your lunchbreak. Leave work on time, and refuse to feel guilty about it. Put your pyjamas (or better yet, your pants) on the radiator and enjoy having a warm butt. Cancel on your gym class and go to the pub with your mates. Cancel on your mates and go to yoga. I don’t condone being selfish all the time, but when you’re having a bad day, just do whatever you know feels good for you.
And if you have a date which you know is triggering for you, book something! On my Dad’s birthday and the anniversary of his death, I like to make sure I’m doing something a bit self-indulgent, preferably with somebody who also knew and loved him. It’s a ginormous help, even if it’s just something small.
3. Leading on from this: food. This brings a whole host of issues, which I’ll discuss another time; ‘comfort eating’ can obviously be a negative thing. But when I was at my most anxious, I couldn’t eat at all—I legit once threw up a spoonful of scrambled eggs back onto my plate in a restaurant. (Gross, sorry).
I wailed to my therapist that I couldn’t eat—even that I was trying to eat good, nourishing food. Turns out, healthy food wasn’t what I needed. I needed ice buns dunked in Earl Grey, and plenty of them. This weird diet slowly got my stomach used to food again, so I was able to start eating broccoli and all that other good stuff again. In my opinion, if you’re having a horrible day, treating yourself to something yummy and not beating yourself up for it is a win-win.
I repeat: do not beat yourself up. Don’t even allow yourself to say the negative words, ‘I’m being bad today’. Food does not have a moral quality. You are not failing for enjoying a chocolate bar on a shitty day.
4. I’m very loathe to put exercise as a tip for battling a bad day because I know when many of us are having a dark day, getting out of bed at all is a big ask, let alone hopping to the gym. So, this is really annoying advice. But if you can, get out of the house—preferably during daylight—and walk for at least 15-20 minutes. Or just dance around in your underwear for a few minutes.
It’s silly, but it’s seriously important. I hate that this a thing (I am naturally a sloth) but unfortunately, it’s a truth you can’t argue with. Exercise endorphins are good shit.
5. Tell someone! The simple act of saying it out loud often gives me a huge cathartic ‘woosh’. I get very ‘in my own head’ when I’m having an anxious day, and then I start to get paranoid that I’m acting weird and everybody thinks I’m a fruit loop. Now, as soon as I’ve identified a ‘bad day’, I try and tell somebody. A friend, a family member. Just a text to a mate who understands, or a workmate who can give you a bit of support for the day. I’ve been very lucky to work with sympathetic colleagues, who are understanding—and I do really believe that, if you’re brave enough to be honest, many people you work with will be more compassionate than you know.
If you don’t have anyone, tweet me, and I will send you my stash of puppy gifs.
These sound trite, and of course, these are tips for down days, not when you’re undoing a serious mental health incident. If you’re having serious thoughts, please always seek the appropriate help.