How to prepare for bad mental health days

Looking after your mental health on good days can help make the bad days easier to deal with

Written by spunout


Everyone experiences good and bad mental health days. Accepting bad days, as well as embracing good ones, can make things a lot more manageable. It’s not always easy to predict when you’re going to be feeling down, but planning for bad mental health days when you’re feeling good can make things easier when a bad day comes.

Your plan for bad mental health days

Depending on the day and what kind of commitments you have, you may need to look after yourself in different ways.

Know what you can manage

Recognise what you can and can’t do on your bad mental health days. Pushing yourself to continue with your day like normal can sometimes make things worse, particularly if you are experiencing a mental illness.

It’s okay to cancel plans or reschedule things if you need to. Be honest with your friends about how you are feeling. If you have a college or work commitment and feel that you aren’t up to it you could try talking to your lecturer or finding out about your sick day entitlements from work. If you have family commitments, find out if you can get a relative or family friend to help.

If there are commitments you can’t avoid, do your best to get through them and allow yourself the time and space to de-stress afterwards.

Getting through the day

Be nice to yourself. Accept that you might not be as productive as usual, and treat yourself to something nice for lunch or as a snack. Do whatever you can to make your day a little easier. Tell a friend or colleague that you aren’t feeling great if you think that will help. If a manager or lecturer is expecting too much of you, try to explain to them that you are not feeling yourself today, but you’re doing your best.

If you feel you are struggling with work because of a mental health issue, consider talking to a trusted person, perhaps a trusted colleague about how you feel.

Have a look at our article about how to talk to your employer about your mental health.

Have a routine

Having a routine every day, on both good and bad days, can help bring regularity to your day. If you wake up feeling down and are struggling to motivate yourself, having that structure in place might help you start your day without having to think too much about it. A routine can really helpful even if, on some days, you don’t feel like it.

Having a routine can also mean that you are more likely to get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep and having good sleep habits is essential in looking after your mental health. For more on this have a look at our article about sleep deprivation.

Have an action plan

A go-to list for very bad mental health days might make things easier. Lay out some guidelines for yourself as to how to look after yourself. Here are some things you could include:

  • Going through your morning routine step by step
  • Creating a self care guide with ideas for taking care of yourself
  • Listening to the music that makes you happy
  • Watch the shows or films that make you laugh

If you have people in your life who can support you when you are having a bad mental health day, get in touch with them and let them know what you are experiencing.

An action plan is very helpful because while you cannot directly control how you feel (otherwise you would feel happy all the time) you have a good deal of control over what you do. This can gradually help you to feel better.

Practice self care

Practicing self care as often as possible, even when you don’t feel like it, can help to make your bad mental health days more manageable and even less frequent. Pushing yourself and not taking enough time to look after yourself can lead to more severe or more frequent bad mental health days. It’s important to look after your mental health all the time, not just when you are experiencing illness.

Self care might include assigning some time to yourself just to relax or do something you enjoy, getting a change of scenery by going to visit family or friends in a different area, doing exercise or reading a book.

Build resilience

Resilience is the ability to overcome challenges, adapt, and keep going after something difficult has happened in your life. It’s not a fixed trait – it is something that is constantly learned and developed. Building resilience will help you to manage better on days when you are feeling bad.

Have a look at our piece about how to build resilience for more about this.

Eat nutritious meals

On a bad mental health day you might not feel up to preparing a proper meal but eating well is good for both your mental and physical health. Try to plan ahead and do some bulk-cooking so that you always have something to grab. Freeze a nutritious meal in a lunch box and keep it for a day you really need it. It’s much easier to feel good when your stomach is full than when you are hungry.

Have a look at our healthy eating section for some ideas. Eating nutritious food is important for your mental health so don’t underestimate it.

Emergency snacks

While eating nutritiously is important, being nice to yourself is too. If having a biscuit with your tea will make a bad mental health day a little easier, do it. Keep some treats somewhere specifically for these days.

Be careful with alcohol

Drinking alcohol can affect your mood. Alcohol might affect you directly after drinking, or leave you feeling down in the days afterwards. Try to be aware of the connection between drinking alcohol and your bad mental health days.

Do regular things you enjoy

Sign up to a class, sport or group that you go to on a regular basis and enjoy. On a bad mental health day you might just want to stay at home for the evening and do nothing, but doing something you enjoy might help. Exercising releases endorphins, the chemicals in your body that make you feel good. Exercise could just mean going for a long walk which has been shown to lift people’s mood. If you do something creative, this might help you process and work through your negative emotions, and can give you something to focus on.

Communicate with friends and family

Look after your relationships with friends and family on good days. Having people close to you that you can talk to about things can really help on bad mental health days. When you’re feeling low, reach out to someone and talk about how you’re feeling. If a friend is having a bad mental health day you can be there for them. You could even agree to do self care activities together.

If you have more bad mental health days than good, talk to someone or ask for help

If you find that your bad mental health days are frequent, last for longer periods of time, or you are struggling to deal with them, talk to someone about it. Visit your GP and let them know how you are feeling. They may be able to refer you to a counselling service in the area. If you are in college, look up the college counselling service or visit the student nurse or doctor.

Alternatively, the HSE has a national counselling service. This service may have a waiting list. You can refer yourself directly by calling the number for your region available on their website. If you are a young Traveller and would like to speak to a dedicate Traveller service, the Traveller Counselling Service also offer counselling to help you support your mental health.

Be sure to have a look at our article about affordable treatment for mental health or our help page for more information on services available.

Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?

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