What to Do When You Have an “Off” Day: My Go-To Survival Mode Strategies

What to Do When You Have an “Off” Day: My Go-To Survival Mode Strategies

Oh, the irony.

Just last night I was emailing Megan at SortaCrunchy my parenting story for her forthcoming book.   I shared my story about my first year (or two) of parenting, in which I think I slept a cumulative 47 hours.  The baby slept maybe twice that.  It was hard.

As I wrote, I marveled at how I’d made it through those trying days, and I remembered what living in constant survival mode had been like.  That baby boy is 8 now, and it’s been a long time since I was constantly and chronically fatigued like I was back then.

I hit send and went to bed.

But before I even managed to fall asleep, my sweet little Lucy started howling in her bedroom.  This almost never happens–she’s slept through the night for years–so I went to investigate.  I ended up spending most of the night sitting up with her and soothing what I think were growing pains.

I got 2 1/2 hours of sleep, not nearly enough.  But–as I’d just shared with Megan–I used to do this all the time.

So I thought this would be a good time to share my favorite strategies for coping with an “off” day, a day in which you’re just trying to make it through.  These are my go-to survival mode strategies:

1.  Go easy on yourself. At this point, there’s no sense in second-guessing yourself or wondering what you could have done differently so that you didn’t get so tired in the first place.  Just focus on today.  If you want to evaluate the circumstances that turned today into a struggle for survival, wait until you’ve gotten some rest.

2.  Have some coffee. Now would be an excellent time to enjoy your favorite caffeinated beverage.  If you don’t do caffeine, sipping a favorite drink can still give you a boost.  Try to choose one that’s either very cold or very hot for maximum effect.

On sleepy days I always try to take a mini-coffee break around my personal 2:00 pm slump time.

3.  Eat real food. If you’re dragging, do not try to get by on Diet Coke and Skittles.  Eat real food, preferably some protein and low-glycemic carbs.

4.  Avoid stressful situations when possible. This is not the day to have an unpleasant conversation, renew your driver’s license, or (if you’re me) go to Kohl’s.

5.  Get some fresh air. Get outside and get some sunshine.  Fresh air and natural light improve your mood and help you feel awake and alert.

6. Try some bibliotherapy. Find a constructive way to relax, like reading a great book, listening to a favorite album, or chatting with a good friend.

7. Go to bed early to maximize your chances of not spending tomorrow in survival mode, too.

How do you cope when you’re having an “off” day?

photo courtesy Melanie Burger

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17 comments | Comment

17 comments

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  1. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says:

    I am still in the sleep-deprived phase 😉 Some days my husband and I joke that the 3 cute, adorable beings in our house (2 kids and 1 cat) have made a pact to wake us up at least 3 times each night (they just take turns on who gets to do it the most). When I have really hard days, I love throwing on some singers and standards ( a la Frank Sinatra, etc.) and dance with my kids. We also go outside for walks a lot.

  2. Christine says:

    That’s funny you mentioned renewing your drivers’ liscense, because a few years ago, I took two children (one five and one a few months old) to replace my (lost) liscense when I was sleep deprived. Not a pretty sight. I am still embarassed to remember what a jerk I was. It was a good lesson for me . . . never attempt a hard chore when sleep deprived – and deffinately don’t try it with two very grumpy children!

  3. DFrazzled says:

    I picked up a couple great strategies from a homemaking book, which I have since forgotten the title of:

    1) Do a 10-minute Cleaning Frenzy: Pick the room that bothers you the most, and ask your family to focus on nothing else but cleaning that room for 10 minutes. Set the timer. Clean like crazy. When the timer goes off, take a deep breath and do something fun. I do this with my kids and not only to they like to beat the timer and make it sort of a game, but they like that afterwards I’m relieved to have a cleaner space and ready to have some fun.

    2) Use paper plates (Gasp!)

    3) Do not use this day to try a new recipe or institute a new system. In fact, new + bad/sleepy/stressful day = nobody wins.

    4) Let the kids watch a movie (this is especially effective for us because we do not have a TV in the house. Movies are VERY special.).

  4. Hannah says:

    For me, it’s important to reevaluate what I had planned for the day. Minimizing is really helpful, or I stress myself out more trying to accomplish things that aren’t really that important. Many things will be just fine if put off until tomorrow. If I start off grumpy and stressed, it makes all the other kids grumpy and stressed, too and can spiral out of control. It’s always better to leave the laundry and cuddle (or snooze) with one of your sweethearts on the couch when you’re all a little tired than try to get normal things done and snap at them.

  5. Adriana says:

    Thanks for this post. It seems that I have to readjust my plans often these days with little #5 on the way and my “advanced maternal age” to deal with! These tips are very helpful. Esp. “Go to bed early!”

    When I was really ill with morning sickness last spring, I followed Auntie Leila’s advice from Like Mother Like Daughter. She pointed out that my family really needs two things: food and clean clothes. If it’s really bad, they can survive with dirty clothes ~ but they must have food!

    It was a very tough time, but no one in our home was malnurished during those long weeks. By the time I recovered, my house was absolutely filthy; however, three good days of deep cleaning and it was back in shape!

  6. Jamie says:

    A very worthwhile subject – and wise ideas!

    I also use music – a little Superchick does a lot to improve one’s outlook (or at least one’s determination not to waste a day being frustrated). I’ve found journaling to be a huge help too. Half an hour pouring out the worst of what’s frustrating me onto a piece of paper where it can’t hurt/ offend anyone or make me any new problems gets rid of a lot of stress and usually lets me reevaluate.

    But, as others have pointed out, when all else fails nothing beats turning off the phone, locking the door and just taking a nap and starting over afterwards. My loyal border collie can always be convinced to keep me company for a nap!

  7. Lucky says:

    My 3 year old had growing pains a few weeks ago. It freaked me out until I figured out what was going on.

    As much as I love to cook from scratch brownie mix comes in handy for us at a time like this because it’s an easy project that will occupy my son for a while. Also, in the summer we just go outside until nap time. I never try to go to the store or any of the other stressful things you mentioned. The worst is when I have to work or get something done in a timely manner and I can’t just drop everything and play with the hose or watch Curious George or any of my other go-to mood lifters. It’s usually not pretty but somehow we make it through.

  8. Carrie says:

    Yes, I definitely agree with all your items! Especially getting outside, and exercise, which seem to be the two most important for me. I also find it helps if the bad mood comes on for no apparent reason – to try to do a little analysis as to the reasons why… often you learn some important information that can help you avoid those triggers in the future.

  9. Enjoyed your list! I have a hard time getting through the day without being grumpy when I don’t get enough sleep.

    One thing that really works is reading to my kids so that we can all sit & relax (at least for 15 minutes). And I like to get out of the house so that I can have a break in the car & get them somewhere, like a playground, that will result in less mess for me to clean up.

  10. Yan says:

    I don’t have kids, so it may be that I can choose how to spend more of my time, but I have discovered that an extra-long shower or a bath (yes, in the morning) can ease me into a day after a mostly sleepless night (and no, sadly those aren’t just for parents). Being gentle to myself first thing in the day makes the whole day go better. Actually, that’s true even without sleep deprivation.

  11. Nicol says:

    The children do grow and you will even have 10 hours of sleep a night in your future! If that you what you want which I love. I had one of “those” days and I DID go to Kohl’s!! Great bargains 30% plus additional 30% with coupon. Short happiness but good for the moment!

  12. Paula says:

    4. Avoid stressful situations when possible.

    That’s the one I need to remember! lol I’m moody anyway, so when I’m sleep deprived it is even worse. I also need to remember #3, because I tend to go for sugar. Thanks for the great advice. 🙂

  13. Monica says:

    I love your survival tips! All to often after having a rough day, or not getting enough sleep I still tell myself I failed for not doing better the next day. This is a nice reminder that everyone needs to get a break sometimes, and I shouldn’t expect so much from myself!

  14. Becky says:

    Great tips! These even come in handy when you are at your wits end with pre-teens like I am today. It’s a good reminder to go easy on myself (and them!)

  15. Shelli says:

    I struggle so much on days that I don’t get enough sleep! I try and make sure I still read my Bible for at least a few minutes – I need all the spiritual help on those days.

    Like Paula said – I head for the sugar on those days too. I need to stop that!

  16. Wendy says:

    I love how you share your posts from previous years–as a new reader, it give me a chance to see some of your other wonderful ideas and thoughts.

    I’m a middle school reading teacher and a mom. I believe in coffee on all days! Sometimes when I’m really struggling, I will teach from a comfy chair in the back of the room. I tell my students I’m not feeling well, and they need to come to me instead of me circulating like usual, and that they should be gentle with me. The combination of me actively asking for their support and the novelty of me dong something “crazy” usually gets their cooperation, and we have a peaceful day.

  17. Heather L says:

    I tell myself to stick to the simple “two step” dance: dinner, dishes, laundry. A walk and a shower with give me an hour or two of renewed energy, then I just go for sensory pleasures: nice smells, cozy socks, and coffee. Anything to make myself feel better!

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