I am in a caring profession where I have to be attentive and kind despite anything I might be feeling myself, and in circumstances which are sometimes under-resourced and often less than ideal. Probably good preparation for being a mum!
It has taken me most of the ten years I have been working in my profession to be able to deal with a bad day effectively. And when I say effectively I don't mean striding away like superwoman with all problems fixed. Ohhh no. I just mean reasonably happy with the job I did and ideally not have had an episode crying in the loos.
My old way included the any or all of the following:
- Trying to please everybody
- Trying to get everybody to like me
- Trying to get every little thing done and fix every problem.
- Making a martyr of myself (ie working all hours, not taking breaks)
- Getting down on myself for a mistake
- Not patting myself on the back for a job well done
- Taking it personally when things out of my control occurred
- Not having any effective way of de-stressing, other than stuffing my face with junk food, or having a few wines to take the edge off.
In the beginning I used to only have one bad day at a time. Later on, I had strings of bad days. Then not long after that, I could no longer face getting out of bed and wanting to hide underneath desks at work. It was a bit more complicated in causation than a few bad days at work, but you see what I am getting at here.
So here is what I have learned, with the help of some hindsight and tens of thousands of dollars worth of therapy.
1. Acknowledge that you are having a bad day.
This is the first and most important thing. When you can feel the rage build up, when all little things have gone wrong, it is important to say "ZOMG I am up shit creek without a paddle" or some such. Only when we diagnose the problem can we manage it and stop things from escalating / your head exploding. I believe it is called "mindfulness".
2. Let others know
Nobody is a mind reader. Everybody has their own job to do. If somebody asks you what is wrong, be honest. Many will go out of their way to help you and make it easier. Some even appreciate you even more when you show a side that is human.
3. Be still for a moment.
I have worked in life or death situations. Some things are absolutely time critical - in this case, a rush of adrenaline will get you through the urgent episode.
But when you think about it, the vast majority of things can wait. Yes it might make people irritable but so be it. You have had to wait for things too.
Take a deep breath. Have a cuppa. Take a bit of stock of what actually must get done today, and what can wait until circumstances are a little better. Make a list of what you need to do. Lists always make me feel virtuous.
If required, call a friend. I called the fella yesterday. I am sure I made very little sense to him when I said "I need a nap and a pair of new shoes". It only takes 30 seconds.
4. Say no, and don't feel bad about it.
Us women are very bad at it. It is one of the best things I have ever learned. People will get over it, they will still need you!
I have people ringing me with problems a lot in my line of work, and most of the time I try to help them. Sometimes I can't. I just say "look, I am very sorry, I would love to be able to help you but unfortunately......... why don't you.............., get back to me if you still have a problem, and thankyou so much for sorting this out, I appreciate it". Luckily most of the time they sort it out. In this, you have to not mind so much that they might do it a different way to how you do it. That's the thing with delegation.
6. Ask for help, and thank people for helping you
Yesterday, I got precious little help from anybody. Yet one of my colleagues helped me out when she did not have to. I sent her a text message later "Thanks for your help today, I really appreciate it and you saved my arse". Everyone feels good after that, we all like to help and we all like to feel appreciated. It's a win-win
7. Don't be a martyr.
When you are under the pump, things like small breaks and lunch and getting away on time are even more important. Think of it as putting premium fuel in a high-performance V8 car (I love car analogies). I find I don't work as effectively if I have not had a break. Often I get my best ideas away from my desk, while eating lunch. It just helps clear my head. And my effectiveness sharply decreases after about 5:30pm, so I just go home. If I feel so inclined I can do some work after dinner. Sometimes I get a second wind.
8. You are not indispensable, except to your loved ones.
Don't shut yourself off just because you are having a busy time, or a bad day. In fact, your loved ones have a great way of bringing you down to earth, of giving you perspective and giving you happiness. One thing I don't get about people who complain bitterly about their work is that they often spend a lot of time there, either in person or in thought. It's a sick relationship, and we all know or perhaps live (or have lived) with people like that.
Go home! Pay attention to those around you! Give them a cuddle and tell them how glad you are to see them. Certainly don't take it out on them, or avoid them. At the end of the day, they are the most important thing. Nobody lies on their death bed wishing they had worked more.
9. Actively de-stress.
And be mindful of this also. It can be something that can be nice for everybody. Go to the park. Forget the washing and watch a funny DVD with your loved ones. Do some procrastibaking or therapeutic cooking and get your family onto it. Look up some funny memes on the computer. Share them - everybody loves a laugh. Have a list of little things you can do when you feel stressed; often it is hard to think up things in the heat of the moment. Eating nice food may be comforting, but be mindful of what you are doing.
A bad day or a busy time is normal. A whole lot of them is not. If you are cranky and stressed out more than you feel relaxed and happy, this requires some examination. Is it your work? Home? Do external things need to be negotiated? Or could things be wearing you down? Depression can occur insidiously and often manifests as a few too many bad days back to back. Do not be ashamed; get help, perhaps of the professional variety. Get onto it before it gets onto you.
Now, what was I saying about memes....