Some mornings you just wake up in a crappy mood with a pounding headache. Or you get some tough feedback from your boss that sends you into a downward spiral. Or it just feels like nothing is going your way — from your alarm not going off, to your car breaking down when you’re running late, to getting into an argument with your partner.
We all have days like this from time to time. Even therapists — mental health professionals who seemingly have all the right tools in their toolbox — aren’t immune to them.
“We also have ups and downs and are human,” said Anabel Basulto, a marriage and family therapist based in Orange County, California. “The only difference is that we have been trained to manage stress maybe a bit better on a good day but perhaps not on a bad day.”
We asked therapists to share the tips or tricks that help them feel a little better when they’re having a bad day. Here’s what they do when they’re down:
1. Take a shower to press the reset button
“When I’m having a bad day, I don’t feel like doing anything. And then — surprise — lying on the couch and withdrawing from the world makes my day worse. Taking a shower is my way to reset. After, it revitalizes me so I have the energy to rescue my day.” — Marisa Franco, psychologist and friendship expert
2. Tell someone else how they’re feeling
“I share how I’m feeling and what’s causing me to feel this way to either a friend or loved one. Letting out how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking helps me to feel better. Instead of me carrying the weight of what I am feeling alone, externalizing it and sharing it with someone else takes some of the weight off.” — Rebecca Leslie, psychologist at Living Fully Psychological Services
3. Log off social media
“When I’m having a bad day, the last thing I need is more negativity. So I intentionally stay away from social media and the news, which can be pretty negative and sensationalized — neither of which I need after a tough day. It’s easy to overwhelm ourselves with things we have no control over. So on hard days, I narrow my exposure and focus to what I can control.” ― Kurt Smith, therapist who specializes in men’s counseling
4. Practice self-care
“I allow myself to enjoy some time for me without feeling guilty. For example: taking a barre class, watching a movie, going out with a friend or simply doing nothing. Recharging is important for all of us in order to replenish energy and continue going.” — Basulto
“Instead of me carrying the weight of what I am feeling alone, externalizing it and sharing it with someone else takes some of the weight off.”
5. Get outside
“Going outside and taking a walk has such an impact on my mood. It’s incredible the mood-boosting powers that sunshine and movement have. The change in scenery can also promote a change in mindset and mood.” — Leslie
6. Find something that will stop the catastrophizing
“When I have a bad day, I try not to catastrophize. Just because the morning was rough doesn’t mean the day will be rough; just because today is going bad doesn’t mean my life is bad. What helps me more than just saying this to myself, though, is finding ways to access joy, and experiencing these truths more viscerally. I do that by spending a few minutes petting the dog.” — Franco
7. Walk the dog
“This is a chore I do almost every day anyway, but when I’ve had a bad day I definitely make sure I do it. Pets are very therapeutic and getting outside refreshes and energizes me. This is a win-win-win. I get a necessary chore done, distract myself from work and am able to shift gears into personal life mode, and of course my dog loves it and me.” ― Smith
8. Look through old texts that make them smile
“I have a photo album on my cell phone of screenshots that make me feel good. When I get an email from a patient or co-worker, or text from a friend that makes me feel particularly good about myself, I will take a screenshot and save it to this album. If I am having a bad day, scrolling through this album tends to always boost my mood.” — Leslie
9. Meditate and pray
“I do this daily every morning, but I’ll add it at the end of rough days as well. As therapists, we go through a lot of pain with people and we end up carrying it home too. Having a routine to unload it is crucial. When you walk alongside people as they fight cancer, contemplate suicide, suffer through trauma, fight in wars — all of which I’ve been through with patients — you really benefit from turning to a higher power.” — Smith
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.