Leadership Tactic #68: How to Relieve Yourself of the Stress of a Bad Day at Work

A friend texted me today to say that she was having a bad day at work, and she wanted some advice on how to make it better (which made my day, because I love giving advice).

We all have these days. I don’t care how optimistic and carefree of a person you are–every once in a while you’re going to have a rough, stressful day at the office. I’d say I have about 6 of these a year.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

Here’s what I do when I have one of those days:

  1. If it’s a day when I can play pick-up soccer after work, I do everything possible to make that happen. Different forms of exercise might work for different people, and that’s the one that does it for me.
  2. After work, I call one of my funniest friends and chat for about 15-20 minutes. I don’t vent, I don’t complain, I just laugh and joke around.

I’m sure everyone has some sort of physical outlet like #1. But #2 is more nuanced–I mean precisely what I say there, for several different reasons:

  • As Emma over at Laughter in the Lou will tell you, laughter literally is the best medicine (okay, maybe penicillin is the best medicine. But laughter is pretty awesome too). It feels good to laugh. It relieves stress. It gets your mind off of whatever was bothering you.
  • It’s key that you share this laughter with someone. Watching a funny YouTube video is nice, but you will never feel funny because you watch a funny YouTube video. Choose a friend who makes you funnier than you usually are, and you’ll walk away with the satisfaction of making someone else laugh.
  • A recent study showed that you actually feel significantly better after a rough day if you distract yourself (or let someone else distract you) instead of venting. This may seem counterintuitive, like you’re avoiding the issue, but it’s scientific! It must be true. I think if there’s something that happened at work that you truly need to process, wait until after the stress is off your shoulders to deal with it in a healthy, productive way. For now, just distract yourself with laughter.

I’m sure there are many other ways to relieve yourself of the stress of a bad day at work. What do you recommend?

22 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #68: How to Relieve Yourself of the Stress of a Bad Day at Work”

  1. I envy that you only have 6 stressful days a year. I really do. I’m going to say I probably have one a month, mostly around the end of the month when I’m trying to wrap up a lot of loose ends, or the beginning of the month when I’m trying to fit in monthly reviews and reporting. My job is pretty stressful, but most of the time I can easily let it roll of my back and leave it in the office.

    The worst day I’ve had in a long time though came this past Monday, when I had over half of my employees called in sick with what I suspect was the brown-bottle flu. A lot of our work is very time-sensitive, and most of it fell on my shoulders to complete. The day flew by, which was about the only blessing. I hit up Mojo’s that night for some great tapas and wine to help forget about the rest of the day.

    Sometimes I just do best when I am able to come home and get away from everyone. Fix an easy dinner, watch a reliable movie I’ve seen before and loved (Crazy, Stupid Love, perhaps?), read and go to bed without having deadlines to meet or questions to answer. Writing can also be pretty cathartic during those times as well.

    I’ve tried the friend thing before, and I must not be calling the right people! Everyone is inexplicably too busy to talk to, or wants to vent about their own day, which makes me wish I’d just followed my regular plans!

    (Completely joking about CSL, by the way. It was freaking awful for reasons I don’t even want to go into.)

    • Katie–Oh, I have plenty of random stress at work, but really it’s very rare that the entire day overwhelms me. I’m sorry you had such a rough post-Super Bowl Monday!

      Finding the perfect friend for this purpose is definitely key. But I can also appreciate your method of having a relaxing evening.

  2. Katie, we don’t joke about Crazy, Stupid, Love here. Nor do we abbreviate it. Jamey, please send Katie a link to my statement regarding this matter.

        • Katie, I’m warning you. I recently forgave several people, thereby opening up spots on my List of Nemeses. Though it is filling up quickly, there is still room. Continue to mention “CSL”, as you erroneously refer to it, and one of those spots will have your name on it.

          Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put on my hot pink boxing gloves and bounce back and forth.

          • I’m not surprised that your List of Nemeses is filling up quickly. Heaven forbid someone show their ankle to you, because it might lead to the exposure of a sliver of their foot. THE HORROR!

            I’ll gladly take my place at the top of that list. Don’t forget to wear your sports bra with those boxing gloves. And bring extra lace hankies to wipe away your tears as you secretly cry at the ending of CSL, watched in shame and embarrassment.

            Jamey, I’d like to amend my list of ways to relieve stress. Taunting Brad seems to be working pretty well.

  3. I agree Jamey – Laughter has always worked for me. After a hard day, I enjoy coming home and chatting with Trev. He always makes me laugh with his witty sense of humor. Lately he has been showing off his dance moves – quite impressive (and hilarious)!

    But his funny tactics don’t usually work right away. I usually require a moment or two alone, to collect my thoughts, then Trev can dance the night away.

    Wine usually works too!

    • Laura–That sounds awesome! I’m glad Trev can make you laugh like that, and that you know yourself well enough to take a few moments alone first.

      Conversely, how do you cheer Trev up after a rough day for him?

      Also, I hear you about wine! Every once in a while I’ll crack open a beer after a heart-pounding day, but I try to do that very sparingly–I’d rather drink alcohol for happy moments, not stressful ones.

  4. Katie- I am taken aback by your dislike of Crazy, Stupid, Love! I thought it was a great movie.

    That aside, I agree that laughter is always the best medicine and unwinding alone with some Ben and Jerry’s and a funny movie or show definitely works for me. (New Girl is quite possibly the funniest show on tv in my opinion)

    • Do you really have a punching bag, Anne? If so, does it really work? I would think it would get someone even more riled up, but maybe not.

      • Oh, I had a punching bag, and it did indeed get me riled up beyond belief. I didn’t even need the bag sometimes. Just putting on my hot pink lady boxing gloves would automatically lead to me bouncing back and forth from one foot to another and punching my fists together like I was getting ready to take on Mike Tyson. I was hyper-aggressive with those gloves on.

        Give me a subdued night with a bottle of Pinot Noir anytime over the gloves and punching bag.

  5. When I have the inevitable bad or stressful day, I do a couple different things depending on the severity of how bad.
    1. Call a friend who always has something funny/awesome to share.
    2. Turn up the volume on the radio for the drive home and put on the cheesiest song I can find.
    3. If all else fails, Ben & Jerry, and either 30 Rock or New Girl from the DVR.

    • Kate–You and Chelly sound remarkably similar. 30 Rock is a good call. Parks and Rec has had me laughing the hardest lately, though.

      The radio is a GREAT call. Singing at the top of my lungs to a great song feels incredible.

      • I’ll have to give Parks and Rec a shot. I realized I forgot to mention the idea of “dance it out” with the silly music, and of course singing along with whatever I think the lyrics are. I find that the soundtrack to Avenue Q is probably my favorite silly song standby.

      • Kate and I are actually friends and we work together! lol. She actually referred me to your blog the other day, and I’m going to spread the word 🙂 In addition to checking Facebook and Pinterest every day, I’ll be checking your blog too!

  6. I got a mention on the blog! Ack, I can die happy.

    Sort of along the same lines of feeling good to make someone else laugh, I often like to feel needed to pull me out of a funk. So I foster puppies from the Humane Society (leads to laughing, double bonus) or volunteer or try to do something nice for someone else.

    • Animals! Yes, I can’t believe I forgot about that. Sometimes I’ll come home and let Biddy sit on my chest for a while. An eager puppy would be great too.

      Thank you for letting me cite you on the blog–keep up the great work with your blog and your mission to get people laughing!

  7. I jog a lot when I stress. It makes me sweat a lot and I feel so much better after. However, it can only happen after work and during the weekends,so I usually go outside for a short walk away from the working area and take deep breaths. I try to think positively, but that hardly works. When that fails, text, call, or email a friend(s) for help/vent/just to say hi and catch up. And I’ll talk to coworkers for distractions which helps a lot since they are as stress out as me! It feels nice to know there are people who are in the same boat as you.


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