How to recover from a bad day at work

Written by: Deanna deBara | Edited by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on June 28, 2021 |  Reading time: 7m

It doesn’t matter how much you love what you do, how amazing your company is, or how engaged you are with your job. At some point, you’re going to have a bad day at work. And if it’s a really bad day, it can be easy for that bad day to bring down your mood and infringe on your personal time — but it doesn’t have to.

You can shake off a bad day at work, all you need is the right strategy.

Let’s take a look at a variety of strategies for shaking off a bad day at work. Because different strategies work for different people, not all of these will hit the mark. So feel free to choose the tips that feel like the best fit for you.

5 Tips to handle a bad day at work

1. Go outside

If you’re feeling stressed, upset, or overwhelmed after a bad day at work, you might be tempted to crawl right into bed when the workday is done. But one of the best things you can do to shake that bad day off and give yourself a much needed mood boost? Spend some time outside.

According to research from Cornell, spending just 10 minutes in nature can help you feel happier and less stressed. So, if you’re struggling to bounce back from a bad day, carve out a few minutes to spend time outside enjoying nature.

Where to get your fresh air: Spend some time enjoying your backyard or a local park, take a walk around the block, or head to a nearby beach.

2. Be physically active

Another surefire way to recover from a bad day at work? Getting your body moving. Doing a physical activity gives you something to focus on aside from your bad day, and channel any pent-up energy into.

Not only that, it’s scientifically proven to make you feel better. When you’re physically active, your body releases of a variety of neurotransmitters that help to both boost and regulate mood, including dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphins. You don’t need to do a full-blown workout — research shows that even a short burst of exercise can help to alleviate a bad mood.

How to get moving: Go for a walk, hike, jog, or bike ride. Head to the gym, do an at-home workout, or follow along with a yoga or dance video.

3. Take a screen break

Most jobs require you to spend a lot of your time staring at a screen. And after a bad day at work, the last thing you need is more screen time. A recent study found that people experienced lower levels of happiness and well-being when they spent more time in front of screens. So when you get home after a rough day, it’s good to spend some time intentionally disconnected from technology.

Screens also emit blue light, which can inhibit the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall (and stay) asleep. And you’re not going to have a better day at work tomorrow if you don’t get enough sleep tonight.

Screen-free activities: Read a book or magazine, tackle a puzzle, cook a meal or prepare a lunch for tomorrow, or do a personal hobby you enjoy.

4. Act as if you had a great day

Fake it ’til you make it, the saying goes. Obviously, a bad day at work can put you in a bad mood, and it’s okay to let yourself feel frustrated, upset, or hurt when bad things happen. But to help yourself snap out of that and get back to a more positive mindset, you have more control than you might think.

It sounds cheesy, but research has shown that smiling can put you in a better mood, and improve your outlook at work. So something as simple as a smile can be the first step in getting past a bad day. And there are plenty of ways to achieve that without staring into the mirror and forcing it (although that could get you laughing, too).

Practicing positivity: Listen to a funny podcast, talk to a friend about what’s gone well for you (or for them) this week, or write out a list of things you’re grateful for.

5. Hit the reset button

When you’re having a bad day, it can feel like an onslaught of one unfortunate circumstance after another. And the longer that bad day goes on, the more it can feel like those unfortunate circumstances are just going to keep coming.

Sometimes, what you need is a pattern interrupt, something to stop the bad day in its tracks and give you a chance to restart. Not only can this help you shake off a pessimistic attitude, it can also help you approach things in a way that will lead to more positive outcomes. So you’ll be more solution-oriented, and less likely to see everything as yet another blow.

Resetting tactics: Take a shower, lie down for 15 minutes (maybe even take a nap), meditate or try a mindfulness activity, or journal about your day.

What to do in the middle of a bad day at work

You don’t have to wait to get home to deal with a bad day at work. These strategies can help you get your mood back on track while you’re still actively working.

  • Take a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like there’s too much to do, stepping away from your desk may seem impossible. But giving yourself 20 minutes to go for a coffee, step outside for a moment, or call a friend. Whatever you can do to take a step back from the day at hand, a break will help you regroup and return prepared.
  • Seek out a positive coworker. Research from the University of Warwick found that moods, both good and bad, can be “picked up” from friends. So, when you spend time with a coworker with a positive attitude, that positivity can be contagious. Be careful not to influence your friend instead. Let your friend know their cheerfulness is why you sought them out, and they can help you get there, too.
  • Prioritize and look ahead. A quick pep talk reminding you that there’s only a few hours left of work — and tomorrow will be better — can help give you the boost you need to make it to the end of the day. Write out a list of what you absolutely must accomplish today, and prioritize getting those things done. Think about some things to look forward to at the end of the day or in the days ahead, and use that as your motivation.

Remote tips to handle a bad day at work

Recovering from a bad day at the office is tough. But when your home is your office, it can be even tougher. Here are a few remote tips to help you bounce back from a bad work day at home.

Out of sight, out of mind

If you’re working from home, your laptop might permanently be stationed at your dining room table or you might have stacks of paperwork sitting next to your couch. But having visual reminders of your work all over your house will make it hard to fully disconnect. And if you had a particularly bad day at work, those visual reminders can keep the bad mood going into your personal time.

So, at the end of the workday, put away your work. Whether it’s simply powering down your computer, tucking it away, or closing the door to your home office, finding a way to separate ‘work’ and ‘home’ will help you shift from one to the other.

Use rituals to bookend the day

When people commute to an office, that commute acts as a barrier between their work time and personal time. But when you work from home, it can be hard to create that sense of separation. Creating rituals between your work time and your personal time can help give you that feeling of ‘clocking in’ and ‘clocking out’ at the start and end of the day.

Having a daily routine at the start and end of your day lets your brain and body know when you’re starting and ending work. You might have a cup of coffee and spend 10 minutes reading the news every day before you start work, or take a 15-minute walk every day when you end work. 

Kick that bad day at work to the curb

Bad days are never fun — and hopefully, your bad days at work are few and far between. But now that you have the strategies you need to recover from a bad day at work, the next time you get hit with a not-so-great day? You’ll be prepared.