How to Use Gratitude to Fix a Really, Really Bad Day

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So you're having a shitty, god-awful day. I know I personally relate and empathize. Whether it's because of some big life tragedy, a buildup of several smaller aggravations, or there's no good reason other than that your brain feels sad today, your bad day is totally valid. That said, it's still not a fun experience. So what can you do to turn it around in a healthy way?

That's the question we posed to a panel of mental health experts, including Sheree Surdam, a certified recovery coach and the wellness program manager at Mountainside rehab center. According to Surdam, one of the most effective things you can do to ease negative emotions on days when nothing seems to be going right is actually to engage in practices that help you express gratitude. "Techniques that encourage optimism allow people to cope with their stress in more productive ways and attract more positive influences into their lives," she says.

Keep scrolling for six manageable techniques that will help you express gratitude—and feel way better—even on a really, really bad day. 

Make a 4-2-1 List

This is something Surdam personally does to keep bad days at bay. "Every morning as I'm driving to work, I say out loud my 4-2-1: four things I'm grateful for, two people or situations I want to send love and healing to, and one intention for the day (usually to be present and peaceful)," she says. At night before bed, she says (out loud) five things she's grateful for from the day behind her. This simple routine is grounding and incorporates optimism and thankfulness into your everyday life, so by the time a bad day comes, you have it as a positive tool to lean on.

Try Optimism Journaling

We write about gratitude journaling a lot here on The/Thirty, but only because every mental health expert we talk to swears by it. "Keep a gratitude journal where you can discuss the people, places, and experiences you appreciate the most," Surdam suggests. "This shifts attention away from potential sources of stress, encouraging mental clarity and a more optimistic mindset."

Too busy to keep a long-form journal? Surdam recommends taking two minutes to make a simpler gratitude list, which takes less time but offers a similar benefit. "Both options foster mindfulness and allow individuals to create their own happiness," she says. (Learn more details about gratitude journaling here.)

Find a Volunteer Opportunity

Dedicating your time to something positive outside yourself can be an incredibly productive way to reverse a bad day. For instance, during my last bout of anxiety, I applied to volunteer for The Trevor Project, a suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth. "Volunteering can lift your mood by filling you with a greater sense of purpose," says Surdam. "Because it involves helping others, volunteer work can improve your sense of self-worth and empathy." What volunteering does is put your own struggles into perspective, inspiring feelings of gratitude for things you might normally take for granted.

Looking for beauty-related volunteer opportunities? Check out eight ways to give back if you're obsessed with makeup.

Go for a Walk Outside

Sometimes an urgent wave of negative emotions strikes at a really inconvenient time, like at your desk at the office, when you can't go to a yoga class, hit up your therapist, or take a nap. In those moments, try getting outside for just five or 10 minutes. "Something as simple as taking a walk can be incredibly effective at moving negative energy out of the body," says Lindsey Lekhraj, a holistic hypnotherapist and teacher of Kundalini yoga and meditation. "Any physical movement will literally circulate fresh oxygen and blood throughout the body, helping to break up negative thought patterns in the brain." While on your walk, Lekhraj encourages you to put away your phone and focus on looking around you, finding moments of beauty and joy that you may have never noticed before. This small gratitude practice can make a big difference in soothing your mind and body.

Make a Reverse Bucket List 

Here's a fun one: Many of us make wish lists of things we want to accomplish or places we want to go before we die, but when you're not feeling your best, life coach Cindy Shaw suggests flipping that activity on its head. "When you're having a bad day, adjust your personal narrative and make a reverse bucket list," she says. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen (yes, real paper, not your phone) and list everything you're proud or grateful that you've learned, done, or achieved. "You can do this chronologically over the span of your entire life, for the last year or month," says Shaw. "It's really up to you how specific you want to be or how long you want to make your list. This is a quick way to shift out of a hypercritical mood and into one that's more constructive and healthy."

Do you have any tips on how to reverse a bad day? Feel free to DM them to me @amanda_montell!