Illustration by Cynthia

Let’s talk about bad days. Everybody has them. Maybe yours was caused by a series of seemingly minor events, like you got out of bed and stubbed your toe on your way to the bathroom, and after your eyes stopped watering, you noticed the biggest zit ever on the tip of your nose and spent so long trying to pop/cover it that you were almost late for school, but as it turned out, it actually would’ve been good if you’d missed your first class because you had to take a test you totally forgot about. After that, your whole day fell apart and you wanted to cry or scream, but you felt stupid about it because your reasons seem so trivial. They aren’t. If you feel bad, it’s a bad day.

Or maybe you have a big reason to be upset. Maybe you’ve been fighting with your parents or your best friend or your boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you didn’t make a team or land the role you wanted in a play or get a good grade on a test even though you worked your butt off. Maybe someone you care about got hurt, or worse. Maybe a few of those things happened at once. Maybe your bad-luck streak has going on for a while now. A bad day became a bad week became a bad month and you’re starting to lose hope that it will ever get better.

During my junior year of high school, I could have been crowned the Queen of Bad Days. I did a lot of destructive things that I thought would make me feel better: smoking, drinking, getting high and cutting myself. They never worked. Sometimes I felt better in the moment, but later I would feel worse.

However, there were other things that actually helped to relieve the stress, sorrow or pure pissed-off-edness I was feeling, things that didn’t come back to haunt me. I started to keep track of these things so I could use them again. Since bad days can happen for a bunch of different reasons and you can’t predict what awful mood they are going to put you into, it’s important to develop an arsenal to use against them. Here’s a list of possibilities. It’s extra long so you have plenty of options and can choose according to your personal interests and whatever’s behind the icky mood you need to squash.

  • Crank up your favorite upbeat song and dance around your room to it. That song you used to choreograph dance routines to when you were younger is perfect for this. Bonus points if you sing into a hairbrush. You know you want to.
  • If that made you roll your eyes, this may be the better option for you today: crank up your favorite angry song and scream along with it. Head-banging helps a lot. So does foot-stomping and pretending you’re in a mosh pit.
  • Make a playlist that suits your mood. If you’re fighting with someone or coping with the end of a relationship, create the soundtrack to that relationship. Include the songs that make you miss them, the songs that make you angry at them and the songs that remind you why you’re fine without them.
  • After you’ve tinkered with that playlist till it’s perfect, listen to it repeatedly, preferably in a place where you can sing along, like the car or your room.
  • Go to a concert. Even if it’s a band you don’t know well or have never heard of, they may surprise you. A couple months ago, I went to see a random band and they came out banging metal garbage can lids together. The bad mood I’d been in for two weeks vanished instantly.
  • Make your own music. Pick up your favorite instrument and start playing—loud, soft, bad or awesome, it doesn’t matter. Or write lyrics and sing them.
  • Journal. Write a rant or the saddest letter ever. Put all your feelings on the page knowing you can be as pissed or whiny as you want because no one is going to see them but you. You can even burn the pages if it makes you feel better. Or you can save them to see how far you’ve come later.
  • Write really angsty poetry. Just, um, don’t turn it in for an English assignment or you’ll get sent to the guidance counselor. I know this from experience.
  • Write a story. Turn someone who wronged you into a zombie. Give yourself the most fabulous life you can imagine. Make your favorite celebrity fall in love with you. Live happily ever after in the city you’ve always wanted to move to.
  • Draw, paint, take photographs, get some clay and make something with it. Don’t worry about if it’s bad, just enjoy doing it.
  • Make a collage. This is one of the best things on earth because you get to cut things up and piece them together. After a horrible day in eighth grade, I spent the weekend cutting out pictures of my favorite rock stars, cool-looking outfits and silly ads from magazines and arranging them on the wall by my bed. I kept doing this when I was upset or even just bored, and by the time I graduated from high school, my whole room was a collage. It cheered me up whenever I went in there because that space was totally MINE.
  • Combine writing, drawing, photography and collaging to make a zine. If it’s something you’re willing to share with others, photocopy and distribute it. Look up other zinesters online on sites like this and see if they want to trade. I made new friends and pen pals this way in high school, and it felt good to know that even if people in my town didn’t get what I was going through, a girl in Pittsburgh or Minneapolis or L.A. did.
  • Do a tarot card reading or check your horoscope. There’s no way to predict your future with total accuracy, but this can help you get into a more positive mindset about what lies ahead. Also, interpreting tarot cards allows you to tap into your subconscious, look at your situation in a fresh way and make new insights.
  • Cleaning your room can help, too. Or totally messing it up. Or rearranging all of your furniture and making plans to redecorate it. Scope out new curtains or sheets or a new color of paint online and start saving for them.
  • You can also window shop or browse online for new clothes, shoes, books, music, etc. Make a wishlist and a savings plan. Or, if you have been saving, treat yourself to something you’ve wanted for a while.
  • If you’re broke, find a piece of clothing you really loved but haven’t worn lately for whatever reason (holes, too small, too big) and turn it into something new. This is very satisfying in the same way as collaging, plus you get something new for free or next to nothing. Look up D.I.Y. clothing guides and get crafty! You can make accessories on the cheap, too. Some good sites for inspiration: P.S. I Made This, Cut Out + Keep, Instructables, Threadbanger, The Fashion Press.
  • Give yourself a makeover. If you don’t normally wear much makeup, go all out. Put on that funky lipstick shade you bought but never wear. Look up YouTube videos on eye makeup techniques and try them. (Rookie’s own Hannah shares some smoky-eye secrets here.)
  • If you wear makeup religiously, take it all off and go fresh-faced.
  • Make your bathroom into an at-home spa. Get one of those clay facial masks and laugh at how you look with that greenish-gray stuff all over your skin. Give yourself a mani/pedi. Don’t worry if you paint outside the lines, I always do. Or really take your time and be precise and perfect.
  • Dye your hair. Yeah, it’s more extreme, and depending on the dye, more permanent than painting your nails, but sometimes we need extreme. Hell, chop off your hair or shave your head if you want. It grows back.
  • Look at old pictures of yourself for inspiration or nostalgia, or to see how far you’ve come. Rereading old journals is good too.
  • Purge your closet. Get rid of the things you don’t need or want anymore.
  • Donate your clothes to Goodwill or a similar organization. You can also donate food to a local food pantry, old toys and books to a shelter or children’s charity. Give yourself and someone else a fresh start.
  • Time is another great thing to donate. During my hellish junior year, I started volunteering at a domestic-violence agency. I did everything from sorting holiday gifts for families in need to organizing the office to working with the Saturday morning kids’ group. It put my problems in perspective and gave my life a sense of purpose and direction. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen or an animal shelter, find a program where you read to people who can’t, or help children or the elderly. There are many people to help in many different ways—choose something that best fits your skills and interests.
  • Get politically active. Maybe what is upsetting you is part of a larger world issue, or maybe you just want to channel negative energy into something positive and create change. People were spreading rumors about me and calling me a slut at the end of my sophomore year, so I started reading about feminism and found a group of like-minded girls in my area. We organized the Midwest Girl Fest, a weekend that celebrated girl power. It helped me heal, and I felt like I was making a difference in the world. Call a local politician to speak out on an issue that you care about, plan a march or make a website for an organization whose work you support.
  • Get physically active. It’s scientifically proven to make you feel better. Go for a walk or a run. Walking in the rain can be really soothing, and running to that playlist you made will feel good, too. Have you always wanted to try yoga or Pilates or martial arts or boxing? A lot of places offer free introductory classes, so check around. Bust out your skateboard and visit the skate park. Round up some friends for a kickball, softball or basketball game.
  • Go to your neighborhood playground or the one at your old elementary school and swing, go down the slide and use the monkey bars.
  • Play with a younger sibling, cousin or neighbor. They’d be happy to go to the park with you. Or you can break out an old favorite board game or video game and teach them to play. They won’t judge you for being childish or nostalgic, and sometimes there is nothing better than making a little kid smile.
  • Pets make fabulous playmates, too. Take your dog to the park, find your cat’s favorite toy, or just sit and pet or brush them.
  • Reread a favorite book or watch your favorite movie or TV show for the millionth time. Indulge in trashy magazines, bad TV or a movie that’s so incredibly stupid but makes you laugh your butt off. Do NOT feel guilty spending an entire day or even an entire weekend being lazy and watching a full season of that show you’ve been meaning to check out. As an overachiever/perfectionist, I struggle with this, but when you’ve been really stressed, you deserve some serious unwinding time.
  • Nothing goes better with a lazy day than junk food, so indulge in that, too. Cooking or baking for yourself is great because you get so focused on the recipe and the mouth-watering smells that you can’t think about anything else. And there’s a tasty reward at the end. You can make something as easy as mac & cheese from the box, or flip through cookbooks and find a new recipe that sounds challenging and delicious.
  • Invite a friend over to enjoy your lazy day with you. A lot of these activities are things that can be done alone, because sometimes we need our space when we’re in a funk. But at other times being alone makes it worse. So call that friend you know you can just sit and veg with, the one who won’t make you talk unless you want to.
  • Or call the really fun friend who will do the makeovers, play the games, make collages, tell a bunch of funny stories and bake (and probably burn) the brownies, and have a slumber party or an all-day extravaganza of silliness with them.
  • Or call the listener, the one who will let you vent and cry and yell if you need to. The friend who will say the right things whether it’s exactly what you want to hear or the tough, honest advice that you don’t want to take, but know you need to think about.
  • I’m gonna get serious for a moment because I joked about the guidance counselor earlier, but sometimes you really need to talk. You may not want to, but in the long run it might be the only way to get through a difficult situation. So find someone you really trust and reach out. In my case it was my best friend, but eventually I found a really nice therapist, too. There’s absolutely no shame in that.
  • There is also no shame in having a serious cry. Wail at the top of your lungs. Sob until there are no more tears and you don’t want to cry anymore. Sometimes I like to bury my face in a pillow and just scream into it. Then I like to throw that pillow and my other pillows and stuffed animals across the room while screeching like a banshee.
  • Break stuff. Sometimes you just need to, but try to do it carefully. Don’t break anything that you’re going to regret wrecking later or that’s going to cause trouble at home. But you can buy some cheap glassware at the thrift store and smash it in the basement or on the concrete in the backyard. Just make sure to clean it up so your little sister or your dog doesn’t get hurt. I had this really evil boyfriend who gave me a couple of CDs and a doll. Part of my healing process was to put on my boots and stomp on them until they shattered into little tiny pieces.
  • Take a long shower or a bubble bath.
  • Burn some incense or a fragrant candle and meditate or daydream.
  • Masturbate. It gives you a nice endorphin rush that can combat stress, tension and, in some cases, even headaches and PMS symptoms. Plus it can help with the next item on this list.
  • To quote a Hole song, “Just relax, just relax, just go to sleep.” Sometimes you’re so emotionally drained that you just have to. Sometimes a nap is all you need. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, maybe even inspired by a good dream. And if you don’t, that’s OK. Skim this list again and try something else from it that sounds like it fits your mood, or do something that this list helped you think of. Rinse and repeat. Do it until you feel better and come back to this whenever you need to. ♦