How to shake-off a bad day.
Even at the best of jobs, sooner or later, you are going to have a bad day. It’s simply a numbers game. Work enough days, and eventually one of them will be ‘bad’.
Perhaps someone was rude to you, or a patient yelled at you? Maybe you were blamed for something that you really had no involvement in. Or, maybe you did make a mistake, but instead of using the incident as a teaching moment, someone decided to make an example out of it, and reprimand you for it right on the spot (and in front of everyone else).
Healthcare, like so many other fields, can be a pressure cooker environment. Every task or intervention seems to come with a sense of urgency. The patients are sick and treatments are complex. It can be overwhelming and as more things pile up on our ‘to-do lists’, our patience wears thin and tempers can flare. Often it’s not the large things that can cause a bad day, but a series of small things that just push someone’s temper or patience over the edge. No one is immune.
One of the worst feelings is to come home after a long day or a rough shift and feel completely distraught or upset because of something that happened at work. There’s no avoiding a bad day, but with the right planning and some mental and emotional skills, we can minimize its effects and begin to move forward.
First things first.
One of the most important (and foundational) things you can do, is to remind yourself that you are not a bad person. Just because someone had a bad day, or took out their anger and frustration out on you does not make you a bad person.
We all come to work with a similar goal in mind: to do the best we possibly can to help our patients get healthy so they can return to their loved ones. Try to keep this in the forefront of your mind.
Regardless of the situation, make sure you ask yourself, what can I learn from this? Asking what you can learn can help you make this situation better or avoid it completely in the future. As hard as it can be, try to find the learning in the anger. Policies change, providers change, and things are constantly shifting. Is the lesson from today something that will serve you well in the future? Is it something that will shape your practice or interactions 2 weeks from now? How about 2 years from now?
Having a bad day is often multifactorial. It may have been a patient or even a fellow co-worker who was angry, upset, or just plain mean, and took it out on you. Regardless of what caused this lashing out, it’s important to not internalize the actions, behaviors, or words. Certainly there were factors at play long before your interaction that led to the contentions interaction.
Often there is not time to debrief the incident immediately after it happens. Once the work is done and the patients are cared for, you should definitely make time to process how the day (and any particular interactions) made you feel.
This may include journaling about it when you get home at the end of the day, or talking it over on the phone with a supportive loved one. You can even go for a walk or run outside, and mull it over then.
Wether you talk it over with a friend, family member, or even a pet, it’s important to articulate how you are feeling and work though the issue. Putting words to your feelings is helpful, and discussing it out loud (even just talking to yourself), can help put things into perspective.
When you have thoroughly worked out the situation in your mind, see if you can take it one step further and put yourself in the other persons shoes.
If a patient was rude to you, were they in a stressful situation? Did they just receive news regarding a diagnosis or that their procedure was cancelled? Had they just been given distressing news that they took out on you? Try to think through their side of the interaction. (You may have no idea what precipitated it, but this can help provide an alternate explanation or reason).
If it was a co-worker, were they feeling overburdened? Is there something going on at home? (You may not know the answers to these questions, but trying to think through why they lost their temper can be helpful.)
Spend a little time replaying the scenarios and venting or complaining, but set a limit. Tell yourself, you’ll think (or talk or write) about what happened for 20 minutes. Set a timer to keep yourself from spending too much time on it and stick to it.
My typical bad day ‘replay’ looks something like this:
- Recap the event. Try to stick to objective facts and not subjective thoughts or try to ascribe intent.
- Think through my part in things. What went well and what didn’t go so great?
- Try to decipher what I can learn from this (and if possible, how to avoid it in the future). Put myself in the other persons shoes.
This usually takes me around 20 minutes, and when the timer dings, I stop.
The truth is: no matter how much time you spend thinking about it, you may never get an answer to the question ‘why’. You’ll never be able to anticipate what other people will or will not do. So don’t torture yourself!
As long as you have thought through your role and how you can proactively avoiding this (if possible) in the future, that’s a success. You have the basic take away and the lesson to be learned, if there is one. The next step is to simply move forward. This incident doesn’t define who you are or what you are capable of doing. Remind yourself of the bigger picture, and why you show up to your job each day.
How to move on:
Do something that makes you happy. Plan activities and other things you enjoy and that make you feel confident. These activities should remind you how capable and competent you truly are.
Maybe it’s taking a new workout class? Or scheduling an evening yoga session? What about trying a new recipe for dinner? Or whipping up a batch of muffins you know turn out amazing every time? Maybe it’s just taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine and indulging in a good book? I sometimes make tea and give myself an early bedtime when it’s been a crummy day.
Whatever you decide, just make sure you are choosing healthy options that allow you to feel empowered. The goal is to remind yourself, that while you may have had a bad day or a set back today, you are confident, capable and resilient!
Another thought: It’s helpful to establish a routine to signal the end of your workday. Wether that’s heading to the gym, or listening to a podcast on the way home, or even meditating for a few minutes before you start your car and drive home, try to get into a routine.
This simple step can help signal to your brain (and body) the clear end of the work day and can be a clear action that separates your work time from your home life.
It’s important not to let our work stresses or frustrations pollute our time at home. It’s also just as important to leave whatever may be going on at home out of the workplace. Remember that one does not define the other.
Hopefully, this post can help you bounce back after a rough day at work. If you’ve got any tips or tricks to stay resilient, please share them below! I’d love to hear how you shake off a bad day.