7 Ways to Conquer a Bad Day at Work

Photo of frustrated worker at desk having a bad day at work.

It happens to the best of us. You find yourself at work with your head in your hands, unsure if you want to pound your fist on your desk or run screaming.

So, what’s wrong?

Quite simply, it’s a bad day on the job. Unfortunately, you're at the office, and you don't have the luxury of climbing into bed and pulling the covers over your head. Your boss and coworkers are counting on you to be productive. And you feel the pressure to maintain your professional game face, at least as much you can manage.

Many things can trigger a stressful day like this. Maybe you feel overwhelmed with assignments. Perhaps your boss or coworkers have infected you with their own bad moods. Or maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

Are you angry or just hangry?

Sometimes we get so busy that negative feelings just kind of creep up on us. When we finally notice, we may chalk them up to generalized stress or a bad mood, then attempt to power through the day without investigating what’s actually going on.

But it can really help to identify your feelings. Are you angry? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Disappointed or sad? Just by naming the emotion, you have taken a big first step in releasing its grip on your mind and mood.

Once you've figured out how you're feeling, you're in a much better position to understand what caused it. Did your boss criticize your work or fail to appreciate an achievement? Was it something your significant other said that morning, or something you regret saying yourself? Are you hungry or sleep-deprived?    

Once you’ve figured out the cause(s) of your grumpy mood, you stand a better chance of correcting it. And correcting it doesn't have to mean confronting the issue directly. Maybe all you can do for the moment is vent your feelings to a trusted friend — or officially take the issue off your plate until you have the resources to tackle it.

Whatever the cause, here are some techniques that can help make a hard day bearable — and maybe even a wee bit fun:

1. Use the magic of music

Few things can wipe away the frustrations of a horrible commute or help you through a heavy workload like a favorite song. If you’re free from meetings for a little while, slap on a pair of headphones and let the music take you to your happy place.

2. Go viral

If you can, take a quick break to watch a brief, uplifting video. That hilarious clip circulating online, a motivational message or a moment from your last vacation can help to flip your mood around in a few short minutes.

3. Fight it with friends

When you're feeling good, you probably have no problem picking up the phone and venting to a friend — or strolling down to chat with a colleague. But what about when you're feeling down? Then it can be a lot more difficult. Wallowing in isolation is unlikely to make you feel any better, whereas a conversation with a sympathetic friend can change the entire dynamic of your day. It can be hard, but the effort is so worth it.  

4. Run away (momentarily)

We often feel pressure to look productive at all times. But regular breaks can actually make us be more productive. Checking social media at your desk doesn’t count as a break, especially if you spend all day sitting in front of a screen already. On the other hand, you don't have to attend a 90-minute yoga class to feel better — and you may not have that luxury, anyway.

That said, a break of 10 minutes or so can make a big difference in your mood. Do stretches, head outside for fresh air, walk around the block or brew some coffee in the break room. You may be surprised how a small reprieve can make a significant change, even on the worst of days.

5. Set ’em up, knock ’em down

When your morning looks like it could quickly turn ugly, a little forethought can stave off the nastiness. Maybe all the tasks on your plate are overwhelming. Or perhaps personal issues are distracting you. Before diving in, take 10 or 15 minutes to create a list of the things that must get done today.

Getting all those tasks out of your mind and onto paper can provide relief in and of itself. You may even find everything is more doable than you imagined. And as you work through your list, you have the satisfaction of checking off the boxes as you go.

You may find that you really do have too much to do. If so, you know it's time enlist help from your boss or a colleague — and you can show them exactly why you need their help. 

Check out more time management tips that can make your workday easier.

6. Bring the happy to others

When you're in a bad mood, you may close down and think only of your own problems. Break the cycle with a simple act of kindness.

It doesn't have to be a big deal, either. When you go for a coffee, ask a colleague if you can get them one too. Compliment a coworker. Write a thank you email to a customer or member of your team. The person likely to benefit the most is you.

7. Eat for energy

Start your day off with a decent breakfast. You may save a few minutes by skipping a meal, but your empty stomach might come back to bite you. Some people get irritable when they're hungry. Others lose their ability to concentrate or suffer from fatigue. However it affects you, hunger is bound to weigh down both your mood and your productivity throughout the day.

Sure, a healthy lunch isn't going to solve all your problems or suddenly make a bad day fabulous. But it can give you the stamina to meet challenges with greater ease. Or promise yourself a favorite food stop after work — looking forward to a great dinner can easily lift your spirits.

Have you had too many bad days at work lately? Ready to search for a new job? Register with Robert Half to gain access to a wide range of job listings, career tips and professional development courses!

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Tags: Stress