I woke up this morning knowing it was going to be one of those days.
“Screw this,” I pretty much said to myself almost immediately upon waking.
In fact, my inner voice has said those words probably at least a hundred times today and it’s only 2:31 pm.
“Screw these emails.”
“Screw today’s workout.”
“Screw these edits I have to do.”
“Screw being productive.”
“YOU KNOW WHAT? Screw even talking to ANYONE today.”
Pardon me for being so disgustingly negative to start, but I need to get the point across that everything seemed like complete trash today, and this is usually not how I really am at all.
“You need to just snap out of it. Like, c’mon. Grow up already.”
I feel like that’s something that my parents or someone a lot older and more successful than me would say.
Positive thinking ain’t gonna get me nowhere today.
The trouble with having a REAL off day is that you can’t just snap out of it.
It’s like trying to tell a clinically depressed individual to just stop being depressed.
It doesn’t work that way.
In my opinion, a real, legit off day is completely different than just bad management of your own psyche (although it might be hard to tell the difference if you’ve made a bad habit out of acting like a victim for everything).
To me, a real off day is when there’s a physiological disruption in brain chemistry.
Oh, I dunno, probably anything and everything — bad eating habits, bad sleeping habits, excess stress, too much or too little exercise, environmental pollutants, genetics, trauma, and the list goes on.
Back in my previous post about brain fog, I explained that for me (and for many other women too), it’s the rock bottom hormonal drops that coincide with the ebbs and flows of the female Crimson Tide.
I hate that I’m even susceptible to this.
You can tell you’re having a real mind-altering off day when you become aware of this uncontrollable voice inside of you that’s very angry, frustrated, or sad — just stomping down on everything that’s usually good and positive.
It takes a higher level of awareness to notice these crazy thoughts and emotions as something separate from you.
I’d say the majority of people really don’t do this.
This leads me to my first point about what you should do when you’re having an off day.
1. Increase your awareness about what’s going on inside of you, but don’t try to control it.
I’d say that the most important part of tackling an off day involves not letting all your thoughts and feelings become you.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when you let yourself really give into all those bad thoughts and feelings, it tends to snowball and make things worse.
Instead, you have to work on separating yourself from those thoughts and feelings so you can just watch them float through your mind.
This is called mindful awareness.
People who operate on a much lower level of consciousness often aren’t truly aware that they’re not themselves on these off days — even when they straight up tell that they’re having an off day and they’re not themselves.
It’s sort of like those people who know on some level that smoking is terrible for them, but ignoring it and still smoking a pack a day anyway.
Now, a point about being mindfully aware of what’s going on inside you’re hard…
You won’t be able to sustain it all day long, especially if you’re busy and distracted at work, at home, etc.
At the very least, periodically check in with yourself for a few minutes when you catch a break.
Just heighten your awareness when you stand up from your desk, when you go to the bathroom, when you make yourself a cup of coffee, when you’re on your commute, or whatever.
Short increments of mindful awareness throughout the day will help you out more than trying to maintain it the who day through.
The other really difficult and annoying thing about becoming more aware of what’s going on inside of you is that you’ll probably want to try to get it under control.
“Hey, this isn’t me,” you might say.
And then your negative voice will start talking negatively to itself, running around in circles, probably even making your even angrier, or more frustrated.
Don’t try to control it.
Just let it be, and watch what it does.
Easier said than done, I know, but it gets better with practice.
This, my friend, is the right first step to take in improving how you handle things in life.
2. Give into your emotions if you feel yourself trying to resisit them.
This sounds like some stupidly standard type of advice you might roll your eyes at after receiving it from some kind of overly positive therapist or counsellor or something.
As corny as it sounds, it goes hand in hand with awareness.
Most people try to suppress their emotions, especially when they’re around other people, because they think emotions are gross and it makes them weak to show them.
I’m not suggesting you should let loose and have a total meltdown in the middle of a team meeting at work — no way.
But I’d encourage you to let yourself feel every emotion as deeply as you need to when you’re alone or at least when you’re around someone who you feel it’s safe and comfortable enough to let see that part of you.
This part kind of sucks, mainly because getting emotional reminds you of how much of a messy, flawed, egoic person you really are.
Cry your way through an entire box of pillows, punch a pillow until it’s almost unpunchable, or drop as many F-bombs as you want.
Researchers have found that cursing actually offers great psychological relief, so even though it sounds awful and you really shouldn’t do it in front of children or people you respect, this is one of those times when it’s more than okay to just go nuts.
If you can maintain a high level of awareness as your blubbering into your glass of wine or F-bombing the place up, then that’s especially powerful.
That’s when you really get to see the two parts of you — your higher self (the conscious, omnipresent watcher) and your lower self (the flawed, blubbering mess).
This is the type of thing that helps lead you down the road toward more conscious living and better control of your mind.
3. Allow yourself to indulge in anything that might help lift your spirit a little, while maintaining enough awareness to avoid going overboard.
Sometimes, my hormones are so off that almost nothing works to lift me up, not even a little bit.
No favourite song, decadent dessert, beloved TV show, afternoon nap, walk in the woods, whimsical book, or friendly get-together is enough to make me feel any different.
It’s like I literally experience a very temporary condition of clinical depression — at least, it’s the closest to what I can assume it might feel like.
But other times, it does work.
You never know until you try.
There are times when I find I can crank up the music an old favourite band I loved as a teenager, and I can feel some of those feel good hormones start to kick in a bit.
Or sometimes you can just call your mom or meet a friend for coffee, and a few minutes of chatting can make a world of a difference.
And for those times when you just need to be alone, watching an episode or two of a sitcom you really love can even cheer you up.
I can’t find the study I wanted to reference, but I remember reading somewhere online that our favourite sitcoms bring a comforting, illusionary social aspect to our lives — because the familiarity of the characters grow on us and we end up sort of feeling like they’re actually our friends.
Don’t use a show like Friends or Seinfeld to replace real relationships, obviously, but don’t discount this idea either.
Now, awareness ties into this point too.
I can’t tell you how many off days I had when I decided to just gorge myself with fatty carbs, drink entire bottles of wine by myself, and watch 17 episodes of Sex and the City in a row.
Keeping your level of awareness intact will prevent you from going past that tipping point where your favourite indulgences can actually backfire and make you feel even worse.
4. Whatever you do, don’t pick at the scab by trying to distract yourself with stupid crap.
Here’s what not to do.
- DO NOT go on Facebook and start taking note of all the super hot people all your exes are now dating and/or married to.
- DO NOT remind yourself of all the overwhelming junk at work you you need to deal with at some point.
- DO NOT get so caught up in so many nostalgic memories of how young you used to be and how simpler life was and start creating such a painful sense of loss and longing for it.
- DO NOT obsessively start focusing on all your flaws, past mistakes, failed goals, etc.
- DO NOT drive yourself crazy comparing your looks, your career, your relationship, your money situation, or anything else to what other people appear to have.
When you let your mind run amuck, it gains more momentum and builds up into this horribly powerful force of negative mental energy that can make you spiral out of control if you’re not careful.
That’s why, as I’ve said in every friggin’ point so far, that AWARENESS, is key.
5. If your friends/coworkers/family members don’t get you, go and find a dog or a cat you can hang out with and pet a lot.
As a really introverted person who is not naturally much of a social butterfly, I find that being around other people on my off days kind of fuels the fire.
There have, however, been several exceptions to the case when I’ve found that a good talk with my parents or my closest friends can actually make me feel so much better.
The thing about other people is that they have their own egos to protect, and their own agendas to deal with.
Some of them will feel uncomfortable or even threatened by your mood, and others will express opinions that only serve themselves and their egos rather than offer you any insight or relief.
So, that sucks.
With animals, though, you don’t have to worry about dealing with any of that.
Dogs, in fact, have evolved to love humans no matter what.
There’s something amazing about a dog’s or cat’s very simple state of existence that can have such an effect on you.
It doesn’t even matter that they don’t speak our language and can’t offer us advice the way other humans can.
It’s just their presence that helps, really.
Animals aren’t as intelligent as us, so they aren’t obsessed with deriving their self-image from their past and protecting their beliefs and values in preparation for their future.
They just live in the moment, and they help to remind us delusional humans that we really need to come back to focus on what’s happening now — not yesterday or last year, and not tomorrow or six months ahead.
Wouldn’t you agree?
They don’t call them therapy dogs for nothing.
I personally prefer dogs, but I love cats too, even though I’m slightly allergic, and there’s quite a bit of research out there suggesting that petting cats help relieve stress and anxiety.
If you don’t have a pet, ask your friends or family members who have pets if you can come over, and be as honest as you can without sounding like some animal-crazed, freeloading freak by telling them you’d like to hang out with them first and foremost… and also you’d just really love to pet their dog or cat to help relieve some stress while you’re there.
(Pro tip: Really make it clear you’d like to chat with them a bit or bring over a snack or something — because obviously your relationship to them should be more important than free dibs at hanging out with their pet.)
I have a neighbour kitty who comes to visit me almost daily, and I call him (or her, I have no idea) my therapy cat — because that’s just what he does.
He meows and lets me pet him and I just become immersed in the calmness of the present moment, and the connection to this sweet, simple animal that likely thinks I’m just another really big, ugly, weird-looking cat (though friendly and trustworthy) with a never ending source of awesome-tasting food.
I don’t have an office space and work from my kitchen at the moment, where the sliding doors to the backyard are, and he tends to show up at the right time almost every day when I need a break.
Here he is just looking chill as all heck on the lounger, a.k.a. his new fav spot to hang out when he’s sick of me petting him.
Note to self: Find a pet-friendly place next time I move so I can get one of my own.
6. Forget the important stuff you wanted to do today that can wait, let everything just be as it is, and remember that this too shall pass.
Guess how much work I did today?
(It’s no longer 2:30 in the afternoon as I took a huge break between writing this and now it’s 11:40 at night.)
Not as much as I had hoped, because today was WHACK and I haven’t felt it this bad in a while.
I knew right from the get-go that it was going to impact my whole day, so I decided early on I’d get the essential stuff done, and then allow myself to forget the other junk until whenever I felt more like myself.
I felt awful this morning.
So awful that I could have easily let it consume me.
I used to let it consume me.
When you really practice to maintain that level of mindful awareness though, when you commit to working hard at maintaining that true state of conscious mindfulness, you get real good at realizing this disaster of your psyche is fake and not you at all.
Not only that, but you’re also completely aware that it’s temporary.
Sure, it sucks balls right now, but you’ll be back to your old, normal self before you know it.
Imagine how much of a better place the world would be if people knew this, and actually practiced it.
Imagine how many self-destructive people would be helped, possibly cured, and how many suicides would be prevented.
It all starts with opening your mind just a little bit — and working on improving it all the time.
Photo via Dennis Hill
- 30 glorious snippets of wisdom worth knowing by the time you’re 30 (or any age, really) - December 31, 2016
- The divided self: Why we care way too much about what other people think - August 14, 2016
- What everyone gets wrong about “being authentic” - July 3, 2016
- 7 eye-opening ways to forget about your goals so you can let happiness flow - June 20, 2016
- Why you won’t do all the things you want to do this summer - June 13, 2016
- 50 everyday things you can give up to make time for more important stuff - April 30, 2016
- How to go from waking up miserable to exhilarated every morning - April 18, 2016
- How to align your mind to get exactly what you want - April 3, 2016
- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016
- 6 useful tips for dealing with an all-around bad day - June 30, 2015