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Heading off a Bad Day

Handling negative emotions

Here’s part of a novel opening I’ve admired since I first read it, the fifth paragraph of Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash:

The Deliverator’s car has enough potential energy packed into its batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteroid Belt. Unlike a bimbo box or a Burb beater, the Deliverator’s car unloads that power through gaping, gleaming, polished sphincters. When the Deliverator puts the hammer down, shit happens. You want to talk contact patches? Your car’s tires have tiny contact patches, talk to the asphalt in four places the size of your tongue. The Deliverator’s car has big sticky tires with contact patches the size of a fat lady’s thighs. The Deliverator is in touch with the road, starts like a bad day, stops on a peseta.

One of the things that always resonated with me in that confident, attitude-laden bit of writing was the phrase “starts like a bad day.” Maybe you know the experience, the feeling that just waking up in the morning, things are already stacked against you, that the day has chosen to be a mess without ever asking you what you thought of the idea. If so, you may have begun immediately reacting to that sense that things were going wrong, giving in to irritability or anxiety or depression out of a sense that a bad day was unavoidable.

I’ve certainly had that experience, but in the past year or so, with the topics from this site so often on my mind, I’ve realized the opportunity that those first moments of the day offer me. If I can use one of the many tools at my disposal to turn the day around right from the beginning, then the world seems to transform to a much kinder place. I may wake up feel harassed sometimes, but by the time I eat breakfast I usually feel serene or enthusiastic or cheerful. Here are some of the ways I’ve been able to take control of my mood first thing in the morning.

  • Meditation. If we’re am uselessly dwelling on bad experiences or concerns we can’t affect, some types of meditation can help us relax, let go, and find some peace of mind.
  • Emotional antidotes. Negative emotions can often be washed away by deliberately conjuring up memories or ideas that make us feel love, hope, joy, etc.
  • Mindfulness. Moods like anxiety and irritability often feel like they’re coming from nowhere when they’re really reactions to some specific situation or worry. Reflecting on what our biggest worries of the moment can often bring those worries right into focus. Simply acknowledging those concerns can be a relief: the bad mood no longer seems to be coming from nowhere, and in being understood has done its job of bringing our attention to the problem. If more effort is needed to make headway against the reaction to a particular thought, idea repair can be very helpful.
  • Journaling. Writing out thoughts, feelings and hopes for the day can help improve awareness of what’s going on with us while providing direction and helping make emotional reactions more understandable and manageable.

For more on turning difficult times around, see “How to Stop Having a Bad Day“. You may also be interested in reading my article “How emotions work“.

Photo by tombothetominator.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Doctor K  •  Aug 17, 2010 @3:04 am

    There is some research (can’t remember where I read it) that shows journalling is much more effective when you feel down, than when you feel up.

    I can personally attest to the power of writing down what you’re feeling when things are going “badly”. It’s an excellent way of expressing and releasing negative emotions.

    PS I’ve returned to this blog after a long break from reading blogs, and happy to see you’re still as thoughtful and committed to learning as you ever were!

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