How to get through a bad school day

How to get through a bad school day: 4 survival tips

Katie Azevedo good habits, mental health

How to get through a bad school day

Most of my posts and videos focus on how to make your school experience better. That’s because I choose to focus on the positive. That’s what SchoolHabits is entirely about.

But let’s face it: Not all of our days can be hunky dory all the time. Sometimes we just have a sucky day when everything just goes wrong — whether academically, socially, emotionally, or personally.

If you have a bad day on a weekend, there are plenty of ways to cope: For example, just crawl under your covers until Monday.

But what about when your bad day is a school day? Without covers to crawl under, how do you make it to the end of the day? What can you do when the hallways, the teachers, the students, even your own friends are driving you nuts?

How to get through a bad school day: 4 survival tips

1. Change your environment.

If it’s possible, completely remove yourself from the environment that’s stressing you out. If a stressful episode happens in the cafeteria, take your lunch to an empty classroom. If a stressful event happens in class, ask for permission to go to the bathroom — and then take the long, looong way to the lavatory. If a stressful event happens in the hallway, head directly to a classroom. Do whatever you need to do to change your environment. This strategy works so well because science tells us that our surroundings directly impact our emotions. So by changing your surroundings, you have the potential to change your emotions.

2. Move your body.

A quick power workout or even just a short walk to calm yourself down is easier to pull off if you’re a college student with ample time between classes or with the freedom to actually leave class (a last resort). If you’re in middle school or high school, leaving the school grounds probably isn’t doable — but taking a walk is still an option.

If your stress level skyrockets during class, you can speak privately to your teacher and simply ask for a hall pass to take a short 5-minute break. Unless you abuse this privilege, most teachers won’t even pry you for an explanation: They’ll likely just get the hint and give you a pass. You can quietly walk the hallways (act like you’re headed somewhere if you feel silly doing this!), or you can walk to the other end of the school and back again.

If your bad school day strikes when you’re somewhere other than in a classroom (like in the cafeteria during lunch time), then you might be able to take a quick walk through the halls/school without needing a pass. (Just follow your school rules, of course.) One of my personal tricks — and this could just be another Crazy Katie Quirk — is to actually count my steps when I take stress-walks. Just the simple act of silently counting “1…2…3…4…” is often enough to refocus my stressed out mind. Worth a shot! 

Where ever you decide to walk to, be sure to actually walk and don’t just hide out in the bathroom somewhere. Move your body. That’s the trick for how this strategy actually works.

3. Listen to music.

Schools have different policies about using headphones, but if you’re allowed to, use music to decompress and escape the bad-day-feeling when it gets to be too much.

Even listening to just one song on your way to class can be enough to reduce your levels of stress-hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). If you can’t find a way to listen to music between class, try to get a minute to yourself in the bathroom to listen to something.

But there’s a catch to this bad-day strategy: Whereas music influences our mood — which science has proven it does — be sure to listen to music that will positively impact your mental state. In moments when you’re already feeling low, avoid listening to a song that you associate with negative feelings. For example, if your bad school day is due to a break up with a boy/girl friend or a fight with a friend, don’t listen to a song that reminds you of that person. Doing so will make only you feel worse. If you pick your music carefully, just one song can completely change your entire mental state. Science says it’s true!

4. Find your rock.

Sometimes a bad school day, and all the emotions that a bad day stirs in us, is too much to handle by ourselves. If your emotions are too much to cope with by yourself, then seek out your “rock” — a trusted person you count on to help you deal with your situation. Ideally this person is a teacher, a coach, guidance counselor, a social worker, a teacher’s aide or some other adult in the school who you know will support you by offering a non-judgmental ear, objective advice and a clear perspective. Sometimes just being in the presence of this person is enough to calm our emotions, even if we don’t actually open up to them.

When we feel stressed, sad or angry, we can often be our own worst enemy. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in the negativity we feel that we lose sight of reality and balance. And sometimes all it takes to zap us out of our “funk” is another person telling us, “Hey – it’s not all that bad. Tomorrow will be better.” Because you know what? It will be!

Panic attacks

Bad days happen and we all have them. But sometimes the negative experiences we face in a day can snowball too fast, resulting in a full-blown panic attack. Panic attacks are real, they are serious, and they are not as easy to recover from.

If your bad day results in acute physical symptoms of distress — such as rapid heart rate, sweating, breathing irregularities and racing thoughts — you might be headed for a panic attack.

What to do if you feel a panic attack approaching

Julie Campilio, owner and founder of Radiant Beginnings Yoga, a Colorado-based company that teaches mindfulness to students across the country, says that “often times when we are feeling stressed, sad, mad, anxious etc., our breath tends to be shallow as we breathe into the upper part of our lungs or our chest.” If you notice this physical response in yourself, Campilio advises “to take at least three huge belly breaths — inhaling through the nose, bringing the breath down into the stomach and exhaling all of the air out. You can imagine your stomach like a balloon. When we breathe deeply it will tell the brain that everything is going to be okay.” These subtle but mindful breathing techniques can help prevent an oncoming panic attack if you do them in time.

What to do if you’re in the middle of a panic attack

If you’re in the middle of a panic attack, go directly to your school guidance counselor or school nurse. These professionals have the training that can help you navigate the intense physical reactions and emotions that you are experiencing. If you can’t make it to a nurse, you can try any of the following strategies:

  1. Remove yourself from the chaos: find a quiet place or seek out a friend or a “rock”
  2. Close your eyes and picture any place that makes you happy and calm: this could be your bedroom, the ocean, the woods, etc.
  3. Focus on your five senses and identify something related to each of them: For example, “I see the tile floor; I hear the water running; I smell pizza from the cafeteria,” etc.

Final note about bad school days

No matter how bad your day gets, or no matter how many bad school days you have, remember this: There will always be a better day right around the corner. You will always be able to handle what comes your way — even if you need someone’s help to do so. You will always nail the next one.