After a seemingly interminable day on the job, the last question you want to be asked is the ever-dreaded, "How was your day?"
If these four little words have the mighty power to incite a hulk-like reaction within you, you're not alone. You might be tempted, in the moment, to unload all of your workday woes onto the innocent inquirer, but it doesn't -- and shouldn't -- have to be this way.
We don't have to tell you that this kind of unhinged reaction is a product of stress, the toll of a long day of ups and downs and your mindless response to these fluctuations. But as Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a Harvard professor of Psychology and the author of "Mindfulness" told HuffPost, "Stress isn't an event. Stress is the view you take of events."
There are several things you can do to reframe the inevitable twists and turns of a day and make your post-work personality one fit for a "happy" hour.
Start the day with a realistic (and positive) frame of mind.
Your day is guaranteed to fluctuate: There is going to be good, there is going to be bad (hey -- that's life). The way you feel at the end of the day is going to largely depend on how you frame your day from the moment you wake up. "My first recommendation is that you frame the day as something where you expect some things to fall your way and some not," says Frank Ghinassi, Ph.D., vice president of quality and performance improvement at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC and the UPMC Behavioral Health Network. This means having realistic, level-headed expectations: Don't put your eggs all in one basket, as they say.
More than likely, there's been a moment at your desk today when you've forgotten to breathe. An alarming email came through in your inbox, and in a moment of panic, you neglected to exhale. Practicing some conscious, deep breathing can lower your stress levels, your blood pressure and keep anxiety at bay. And in turn, you'll return home from the day less tightly wound.
Ritualize your transition from work to off-duty.
This might not work for everyone, Ghinassi explains, but some people benefit from more consciously recognizing that they're no longer on the clock. For some, he says, it might be changing from dress shoes to sneakers to signify the end of the work-day. Others might loosen their ties and throw on a baseball cap. These are action-based rituals that symbolize a change in roles that can make coming home or at least temporarily letting go of work stress more manageable.
Make a conscious decision about what you do bring home.
As much as we'd like our work and work day to have a synchronistic end, this often isn't the case. In these instances, Ghinassi advises, it's best to make a very conscious decision about how you manage your overflow. "If there’s more work to do, [ask yourself whether] is it more intelligent to take the work home or spend some time at the office finishing up." If you'll be less callous and more productive with an extra hour under your belt at the office, maybe that's the best decision for you.
Be responsive, not reactive.
An integral aspect of mindfulness, being responsive is something you'll want to practice throughout the day -- it's the key to maintaining a level head, says Langer. "Once you see other peoples' behavior from their perspective, you don't attach negative labels to [the person]," the professor says. Being mindful means not judging the actions of others as one intentionally aimed to affect you. This enlightened perspective will better equip you to handle those ups and downs of the day.
Don't just keep a tally of your disappointments.
Many people practice a cognitive distortion called "filtering," Ghinassi explains. While more positive than negative events may occur throughout the day, the negative ones -- though fewer -- are the ones we hold on to. "The wins aren't as salient for us." A quick remedy? Make a point to document your wins. This might mean writing down the good and the bad, Ghinassi says, which could stand as perspective-actualizing reminders.
Balance the reporting of your day.
Writing down your wins and losses can help you with this one. It's important to give equal coverage to the good and the bad of your day. Many of us are prone to unload all that went wrong onto our partner -- an angry boss, a failed project a too-late-in-the-day lunch. It's fine to vent, but it's also crucial to keep the reporting fair. "For every thing that we tell our loved one or spouse or companion about what bugged you, you ought to include one thing you're happy about."