We've all had those days: Maybe you're late for a meeting, you forget about an important conference call, your top employee leaves for greener pastures, or the Internet -- vital to any business, these days -- is down at the office. Sometimes, all of these things happen at once.
And what do you do in return? You end up snapping at your kids or nit-picking your spouse’s every move. It seems impossible to leave that black cloud at the office. But knowing a few key coping mechanisms will, over time, allow you to do just that. Here are some tricks to pull out of your hat the next time things aren’t going your way:
- Count your blessings. Or, just things for which you’re grateful. It truly does improve your mood. “If you stop and think of three things you’re grateful for, it changes your brain from scanning the world for negative to looking for the positive,” says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. The short-term effect is that you’ll be reminded that there really is good in even the worst days, but the long-term one is that you’ll get in the habit of actively looking for that good. In doing research for my book, The Difference, I found that grateful people are happier, more optimistic and healthier. In picking your three things, Achor says to focus on at least one that is work-related.
- Start a new habit. More of a ritual really: something that you do between work and home every single day. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming -- and actually, it shouldn’t be. The idea isn’t to stress you out or add one more thing to your list. Instead, pick something that you find calming. “Maybe the very last thing you do at work is look at a photograph of your family, or read the same meaningful poem or book passage. This creates a line in your brain between the end of work and the start of your personal life,” explains Achor. You’re starting your evening with a clean slate.
- Take a deep breath. No, I’m not going to get all yoga on you (although adding some stretches to your day definitely doesn’t hurt). But taking the time to do a few deep breathing exercises can really calm a bad mood. The best part? You can do them at a stoplight on your way home. Achor says to breathe in for eight seconds, hold it for eight seconds, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat three times, and it’s like pressing a “reset” button in your brain.
- Journal. When you get home, take a moment to jot down the most meaningful experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. It gives you a chance to relive that experience, which makes you happier. “It only takes one meaningful moment for your brain to judge that day as a good one. Plus, you can look back through that record, and see a trajectory of meaning running throughout your life,” says Achor. In my experience, a little reminiscing is enough to turn any bad day around.
- Take some 'me' time. If you go right from your work to-do list to your home to-do list, you’re selling yourself -- and your happiness -- short. Instead, take a few minutes (or longer, if you have the time) to do something you enjoy. Read a book, go for a walk with your dog, shoot some hoops outside with your kids. It will bring your stress level way down.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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