“Be proactive not reactive, for an apparently insignificant issue ignored today can spawn tomorrow’s catastrophe.” ~Ken Poirot
Do you ever have one of those mornings where the battle against annoying minutiae begins before you’re even truly awake?
One of those days where you feel the illusion of control fully slipping away. You try to grasp and pull it back, but you really have no control over this day or its outcome, at all.
We dread these types of days, don’t we? The control freak in me gets uncomfortable thinking about it. Even the Meet The Parents movies make me unsettled, because as more and more things go wrong, I just want to cry out, “Stop it already! Stop making bad choices!”
I can’t guarantee that I can help you stop making bad choices, but I can give you tips for handling those days when everything minor breaks, stalls, or gets in your way.
I had a day like this when I was pregnant with my youngest. I never regained my energy back like they say you will in the second trimester. I was tired, achy, and feeling uncomfortably large one morning last spring. Still, being pregnant, with all its discomforts, was the highlight of my day.
It started with an alarm that didn’t go off—well, we didn’t set alarms anymore. My daughter always wakes early, so no need. That day, she took the morning off. No wakeup call from the toddler.
We woke up running late in a panic. Then, as our cats had been doing lately, just for fun, they threw up their breakfast on the kitchen floor.
I looked at the stream of cat vomit and told my husband, “Your turn, I cleaned it up last time.”
He gaped at the floor, and then looked as if he was considering adding his own vomit to the pile. “No. Can’t do it.”
“UHHH!!” I fumed, and thus began a morning squabble, the bane of my existence. I hate fighting in the morning more than cleaning up cat vomit, but I was rattled from waking up quickly, so I just went for it and dove headfirst into a fight.
Fight over, we went our separate ways—he went to work and I stayed at home with our kid.
Later, my first new phone in four years showed up in the mail. Now, if you have ever tried to set up anything with a toddler in tow, you know it’s like trying to build Ikea furniture in a tornado. But I was excited and needed to reset the vibe of the day, so I called to set it up.
A new phone shouldn’t have problems from the start, right? Seems reasonable, but I had to keep explaining to the representative that I was setting up a new phone.
We lost phone connection three times. My toddler needed helping five times. Suddenly both my old phone (that I was talking to the rep on) and my new one wouldn’t work. Confused, I was interrupted by a loud hissing.
I was making split pea soup in the cooker, which I had forgotten. The neglected pot was spewing hot soup goo all over. Meanwhile my sink, countertop, and the stove were full of dishes.
Old-fashioned pressure cookers are unpopular because if you move them quickly, you get burning steam shooting out at you. Most people don’t use old-fashioned pressure cookers because of this—smart people.
There was nowhere to move the pot.
So I had to move the pressure cooker pot in slow motion. I watched in horror as more and more hot goo spilled over the stove, counter, and flowed like a green boiling waterfall onto the floor.
I huffed with frustration and started cleaning up—phone temporarily a backseat issue—while trying to keep my kid away from the literal hot mess.
But I was also proud of myself. I hadn’t taken my frustrations out on anyone. I had carried myself with calm, even though I was boiling over, like the soup pot.
Smiling, I went to place the cleanup towels in the hamper. There, one entire corner of the floor was covered with broken picture frames and glass. I was shocked. And now broken glass? I hadn’t heard anything fall?? What?!
Suddenly, it was all too much. I felt anger and frustration rising inside of me. I had enough! I walked into the room away from my daughter and dad, and gave a little scream—not loud enough to scare anyone, but it was enough to release my steam valve.
I’m guessing you’ve had a day like this before. When one irritating thing after another happened, building major annoyance and frustration, making it hard to keep your cool.
How can we stop getting riled up by everything that goes wrong in a day?
Most of us in the Western world have become very busy and, by default, very reactive. This does not set us up well to handle unexpected annoyances. But there are a few things we can do to prepare for these days in advance, and a number of ways we can cope better so we don’t get epically annoyed with all the irritations happening around us.
A Preventative Plan for Managing Murphy’s-Law-Kinda Days
1. Be mindful of the influences around you.
The people we surround ourselves with and the information we consume affect our overall mood. If you’re constantly bombarded with criticism, judgment, or negativity, you’ll likely be primed to snap at little things.
Are your interactions with others positive and supportive? Is your partner or best friend kind to you? Do you have people around you who have your best interests at heart? Or is getting through every day like walking through a minefield of aggressive, explosive people?
I don’t have expertise in the area of extricating yourself from abusive or trying relationships, but there are plenty of people who do, so if you find yourself being mistreated and traumatized, take action to help yourself today.
If you aren’t surrounded by intentionally harmful people, yet you listen to news that drags you down and spend a lot of time with complainers and energy drainers, you are not protecting your sweet soul from the tarnishing effects of others.
I’m not suggesting that you insulate yourself from every negative thing, but can you minimize that which is optional?
Can you make an effort to consciously choose to surround yourself with people and media who lift you up and make you a better version of yourself?
2. Take good care of yourself so you’re balanced going in.
To thrive even with adversity, you need to take care of the animal that is your human body. This body needs fresh air, water, exercise, rest, and quality food. If you are depriving your body of any of these on a regular basis, it is simply a matter of time until you’re an angry, reactive mess.
Keeping up your good habits of exercising and eating well is essential. The food you put into your body affects your mood. Sugar can give us an energy high, but after it wears off then there’s an energy low, which can leave you feeling worse than before.
An unhealthy diet high in sugar and processed food can contribute to depression. And living a sedentary life is a risk factor is well. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone, which can help you keep calm when things go wrong.
If you don’t currently eat well and exercise regularly, a reactive, frustrating day can be a wake up call to start supporting a good foundation of health. Then you can weather these storms better.
3. Find some time during the day to be quiet, meditate, and get calm.
Meditation is like training for your mind. It literally rewires your brain to be calmer and less reactive, and it can significantly reduce stress and anxiety. By taking time on a regular basis to be quiet and contemplate, you can sometimes identify nagging small concerns before they become large concerns.
Spending time in nature can have a similar relaxing effect. Being in nature helps you center yourself and recharge—and there’s even some research to show that a certain bacteria in soil can act as a natural antidepressant.
If you can get out to nature, please do so as soon as possible. It always helps me immensely to get outside.
How to Handle Trying Days When They Happen
1. Ask yourself: Is it the day that is a problem, or is it me?
This is a tough love type of question, but I think it’s essential to pause and ask yourself what’s really going on. When you have a day in which everything and anything annoys you, take time to reflect. Ask yourself if it’s just a rough day, or if your reaction is a sign that something in your life is out of whack.
It might just be a fluke of a day where things are going funky right and left. Or maybe you’ve been letting little things build up, and things are boiling over because there’s something big you need to address that you’re ignoring—dissatisfaction with your work, or a compatibility issue in your relationship, for example.
If there is something big that you’re avoiding, can you face it? Can you find someone who will help you find the courage to address what you need to do—to face what you are afraid of?
2. Release your pent up emotions.
Modern living and working close with others means there are lots of times where we have to filter our words and our reactions to act like a responsible adult. All too often we stuff our feelings down until we’re ready to explode—and often on some innocent bystander who doesn’t deserve our rage.
A healthier approach is to feel and work through our feelings as they arise, and sometimes the best approach is to physically release them from our bodies.
The relief that a good primal scream or pillow punching episode can provide is so incredible (though these things are best done in solitude, so we don’t offload our emotions onto the people around us).
Elevated stress levels can be stored in the body and create muscle tension, and cause many other physical/emotional strain. But if we release the stress, we can fluidly move forward. Exercise can also help with this, since it gets our muscles moving, and our heart pumping—another good reason to get active!
3. Take the pressure off.
On some of my worst bad days, I give myself permission to check out and chill out. I take time to watch funny videos on YouTube or do a calming visualization meditation. It can feel tempting to plow through our to-do list, especially since we often tie our worth to our busyness and productivity. But sometimes you just need a break to regroup.
For example, can you find a few moments when you can sit or lie down? Then you can either relax or fill yourself with something silly and lighthearted. Animal videos, anyone?
4. Lastly, remember that it is okay to have a low day.
Life will ebb and flow. It’s all right for us to feel low, defeated, or sad some days. If you can cultivate a sense of non-attachment and tell yourself, “Well, that was one bad day. Tomorrow will be different,” you can release your feelings about what happened. It isn’t personal.
You can acknowledge that one low day might just be a dip in a life that is largely good overall. If it’s just one annoying day that is bothering you, you’ve likely got a lot still that you can be grateful for. When you can see that you are doing okay, that you have so many things going for you, even in the midst of challenging situations, then you know things are actually going quite well in your life!
Here’s to rolling with the tricky days and relishing in the good ones.