Vitality

Me Against The World: 6 Ways To Make It Through A Bad Day, Based On Science

Woman upset
Turn around everything that’s wrong and survive a bad day with these science-backed ways, from going on a 20-minute walk to laughing out loud. Helga Weber, CC BY-ND 2.0

There are many reasons for having a bad day. Maybe you were late to work, or you broke your heel. Maybe you heard your hairdresser say “whoops” during your haircut (hope they didn’t take too much off). It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, sometimes it seems like the world is against you. While it’s easy to let stress get the best of you in these situations, a bad day is only as bad as you allow it to be.

That may be why Peter J. Bentley, author of Why Sh-t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day, suggests it’s our fault when our day goes bad. “The statistics show that people who believe in bad luck will have more accidents on Friday the 13th,” he told Popular Science. “Those who have a negative attitude are more likely to endow normal little mishaps with some mystical significance. Some psychologists even suggest that it's a way of subconsciously avoiding responsibility for our actions.”

In other words, it’s not what happens to us that makes it a bad day, but how we choose to respond to these issues.That said, here are a few scientifically-proven ways to reverse the negative trend, and get yourself in better spirits.

Take A Stroll

A 20-minute stroll through the park helps to lessen stress and improve concentration, which reduces overall fatigue on the brain. It also helps to align your natural rhythm with nature’s rhythm, said Debbie Mandel, inner health and wellness expert, and author of Addicted to Stress. “Powerful stress hormones are shed with movement,” she told Medical Daily in an email. “You change up your energy by shifting to another location, and can think more clearly.”

Mandel isn’t wrong. Research has shown green spaces instill peace of mind in those who feel down. In a 2013 study, for example, researchers had 12 healthy young adults wear portable electroencephalography (EEG) caps while they walked 1.5 miles through three different areas of Edinburgh, Scotland: A historic shopping district, a busy commercial district, and a park. The EEG caps transmitted brainwave information to laptops inside the participants’ backpacks and revealed activity was most likely to transition into a meditative state when participants walked through the park.

Flower Power

Flowers are more than just a gift or decorative piece — they’re also an energy booster. Not only is this because of the variety of colors they come in, but also because of the scent they emit. “Flowers symbolize blooming, optimism,” Mandel said. “Colors emit different energies. Red for boldness, orange for cheerfulness, blue for calmness, yellow for optimism.”

A 2007 study found flowers can instantly improve a person’s mood in the morning. Participants, who reported feeling least positive in the early hours of the morning, reported not only a drop in anxiety, but also a rise in levels of compassion, happiness, and energy.  

To experience the same effects, try incorporating some flowers (or plants in general) to your workspace. Not only will “flower power” make you feel happier, it’ll enhance your creativity as well.

Wear Yellow

As Mandel said, yellow is the color of optimism. A 2010 study found people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray. Happier people, on the other hand, preferred yellow. Although researchers aren’t sure why yellow is linked to optimism, it could be because people associate it with sunshine. Time and again researchers have found exposure to sunlight increases positive moods and lowers risk for depression. We even describe people with positive energy as having a “sunny disposition.”

Jot It Down

Writing can be a purging exercise, which helps to put things in perspective. Whatever your qualms may be, there’s a good chance they’re a bigger deal in your head. Putting them on paper can help reduce anxiety. Writing in third person is the best way to put your feelings in perspective because they’ll add distance, making you the observer, Mandel said.

Writing about your feelings can reduce sadness, anger, and pain. A 2007 study found when you put your feelings into words, you activate the brain’s ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, an area associated with expressing emotions in words, while also reducing activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for emotion, emotional behavior, and motivation. Put simply, writing down how you feel lowers the chances you’ll act on your emotions.

In addition to writing out negative feelings, try “writing a gratitude list to shift your mood,” Kelly Kitley, a cognitive behavioral therapist, told Medical Daily in an email. These lists redirect focus to the positive aspects of life, helping you to realize things could be worse. Keeping a gratitude list can also foster resilience.

Turn Up The Music

Anyone who’s listened to music while upset can attest to the uplifting effect it has. Listening to music you like causes the brain to release dopamine, the feel good chemical. For this reason, music can induce the same burst of happiness people get from eating chocolate or having sex. Even if you’re upset, the melody, rhythm, and organization of a sad song can help to provide a timed outlet for rationalizing your problems. Mandel says this is because the beat of the music likely corresponds to the person’s emotions.  

It doesn’t have to be sad music you listen to, though. A 2013 study, for example, found listening to music could provoke feelings of nostalgia to emerge. And as Medical Daily reported, nostalgia makes us feel physically warmer, better about the present, and more hopeful about the future. Other research, meanwhile, has shown that listening to extreme music like heavy metal enhances positive emotions (despite matching the listeners’ anger energy), while also making the listener feel more “active and inspired.” Other research suggests positive music leads to happiness over the long term, and that listeners should focus less on how much happiness is gained, and instead revel in the journey to obtaining it.

Laugh Out Loud

Comedic relief is perhaps one of the best ways to enhance your mood, even if the laughter isn’t long-lasting. Although temporary jolts of happiness “are not permanent solutions to sadness, depression, or mood disorders, they can help get anyone through a bad day,” Dr. Jacob Korthuis, author and brain researcher at the PMA Institute in Kissimmee, Fla., told Medical Daily in an email.

In a 2008 study, researchers found simply anticipating a laugh can reduce levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, epinephrine, and DOPAC — a major key to happiness, considering chronically high levels of these hormones can weaken the immune system. As laughter suppresses stress hormones, it facilitates the release of endorphins, natural opiates produced by the central nervous system in the pituitary gland. This causes a wave of positive feelings to engulf the body, commonly known as an “endorphin rush.”

These findings suggest humorous experiences benefit not only our moods, but our overall health. But there’s more: 10 to 15 minutes of laughing each day can burn up to 40 calories, too.

While there will always be those days where you just can’t seem to get a break, it doesn’t mean you should let the negativity take control. Focus on positivity and health by seeing which one of these tricks can help you turn your day around.

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