When something seemingly small doesn’t go your way, it’s easy to feel upset for a few moments ― or even an entire day.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, in a TikTok posted by therapist Emma Mahony, she said there are a few common occurrences that routinely ruin our attitudes — and you shouldn’t be ashamed to feel let down by something that seems so minuscule.
“Usually, when people say [their day is ruined], it’s in the context of something interfering with the direction that they envisioned their day going,” Mahony, a therapist at A Better Life Therapy in Philadelphia and a mental health content creator, told HuffPost.
When compared to the larger issues in the world, it’s easy to feel like your “small” issues aren’t worth getting upset about. But therapists say these day-ruiners are also worthy of your attention (and may even be connected to how you feel about the larger issues in the world).
Below, therapists share the most common issues that throw off our days and how to deal so you don’t get stuck in a negativity cycle:
Traffic And Other Travel Disruptions
“I feel like people are really affected by traffic,” said Danica Harris, a somatic therapist and coach in Texas. It makes sense: if you are rushing to get to an important doctor’s appointment but are stuck in stop-and-go traffic, you’re going to be pretty stressed.
Beyond traffic, Mahony said, travel disruptions in general are a common day-ruiner for her clients, “whether it be your car breaking down, [a] flat tire, travel delays with flights or trains.”
People often “hyper-focus” on getting delayed in transport, according to Harris, but there are ways to flip it around in the moment. Yes, you may be stuck, but if you use that time to do something you enjoy, such as listening to audiobooks or your playlist, it’ll feel less arduous.
According to Mahony, many people will also lose their cool when plans fall through, whether it’s a babysitter canceling so your date night falls apart or a friend canceling dinner plans that you were excited about.
When things fall through that were going to give you happiness or connection, it can sour a day, Mahony noted. What’s more, Harris said, canceled plans can open up past wounds.
“A lot of times what will happen is something in the environment that’s ‘small’ will trigger this internal experience, and that internal experience is probably linked with past experiences,” Harris said. “So, if my friend cancels dinner ... that’s fine on the surface, but then maybe as I think about it, I’m like, ‘Does my friend really like me?’”
Our brain turns something “small” into something global, Harris said. “That’s our brain. We’re, like, looking for predictability. We’re looking for patterns. We’re looking to understand other people and ourselves.”
“Our mood can be totally impacted by things like the weather,” Harris said. “For instance, when it’s raining, people may feel down or they may notice that they feel less motivated to get out of the house. Even things like changes in the temperature can impact how we feel internally.”
Think about it: Has a rainy day ever made you want to cancel plans? Or has a rainy day ever forced you to cancel outdoor plans? Of course that would have an effect on your mood.
Hand-in-hand with weather come seasonal changes, such as daylight saving time. When the days get shorter, “that really affects people’s mood and can really ruin the day,” Harris said.
In fact, an estimated 10 million adults suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and it’s most common in the winter, when the weather is cold and gloomy and the sun sets earlier. People often complain that it’s dark out by the time they get off work, which can affect your mood, too, Harris noted.
In Mahony’s TikTok about this topic, she says that weight is a common issue that affects people’s mentality throughout the day, “weighing yourself and seeing the number on the scale, letting whatever the number says decide if you’re going to be happy or cruel to yourself for the rest of the week,” Mahony says in the video.
“Before you weigh yourself, it is important to ask yourself what you are looking for when you do it,” Mahony told HuffPost. “Is there a number that you need to see, and if it’s not that, [will it] make your day or ruin your mood?” She added that this is conditioning you to believe that you are inherently good or bad based on what the scale says, which certainly isn’t true.
Additionally, Harris said that how clothing fits commonly disrupts many people’s days as well. For example, if you have an idea of what you want to wear to an event but the outfit doesn’t fit right when you try it on, that can upset your mood.
“Then we’re thinking about acceptance. I want to be accepted by others; I want to feel good in my own skin,” Harris said. “This particular item of clothing got in my way of showing up the way I wanted to, and once the clothing didn’t fit the way I wanted, then my mood sort of tanked, too — and now I don’t even want to go to the event in the first place.”
Anticipation Of A Dreaded Event
The anticipatory feeling before a meeting you’re dreading or a conversation you don’t want to have can also ruin a day — and sometimes even ruin the day before, Harris said.
People will “start to predict ... what’s coming, almost in a way of they’re trying to ready themselves for what’s coming,” Harris said. “But instead of readying themselves, they’re putting themselves in a negative mindset, and then that negative mindset is going to influence how they experience and perceive [the event] when it does come.”
Another example of this? The “Sunday scaries.” How many times has the feeling of dread before the workweek ruined your entire Sunday? Likely quite a few.
Why These ‘Small’ Issues Ruin Our Days
With wars, humanitarian crises, sicknesses, natural disasters and more occurring, “there’s a lot of really big stuff going on in the world all the time, and especially lately,” Harris said.
Focusing on some of these small issues is a way to feel more in control amid the swirl of global troubles.
“From an existential perspective, we just can’t always be in contact with that ... we would really struggle to survive. We’d really struggle to function if we were constantly in contact with all the bad stuff,” Harris explained. “And we’d feel really out of control.”
Even folks who are activists and advocates do a bit of ebb and flow to manage the big issues they deal with, she noted.
“Because there is so much we could be upset about in the world, sometimes it’s just easier to focus on a small thing because... it’s easier for me to get upset about traffic than it is that there’s a war going on in many countries right now,” Harris said.
You can vote, sign petitions, protest and more, but in the end, a global decision isn’t really in your hands. Cancelled dinner plans, for example, might be more manageable in comparison.
“I think when we... fixate on the small stuff that ruins our day, it’s almost like we get a sense of control out of that, like, ‘OK, well, this is something I can tackle, so what I can learn is that tomorrow I need to leave earlier,’” Harris said.
How To Deal When These Issues Upset You
To start, allow yourself to feel the emotions that come with these setbacks, but don’t let it turn into a negativity spiral.
“I think what’s important is... just being a human requires you to be adaptable and resilient. These things happen,” Mahony said. “Not saying that they don’t suck when they do happen, but they do happen. Your ability to self-soothe and take care of yourself in those moments is what’s going to make it a moment that ruined part of your day but it’s not manifesting into a whole negative cycle for you.”
This is not to be confused with toxic positivity, Mahony said. If your plane is canceled and you’re no longer able to visit your friends, it makes sense that you’re upset.
“What’s important is that you honour that emotion but don’t let it affect how you proceed and move forward,” she added.
If you spend too much time focusing on negative events, it trains your brain to seek out more negative events because of something called a negativity bias, Mahony explained. “So if you’re saying ‘My day was ruined because I got a flat tire’ ... you start to seek out negative things.”
In the moment, notice how you’re feeling and voice it, but also focus on what is in your control, Mahony said. For example, what can you do about a flat tire? You can let your boss know you’re going to be late, and you can call roadside assistance.
“Just focus on what’s right in front of you instead of letting it spiral and trickle into something bigger,” Mahony added.
It can even be helpful to make a list of what is in your control and what is out of your control. If you’re dealing with a flight that’s delayed because of a storm, remind yourself that you can’t control the weather. “It also helps you just ground yourself,” Mahony added.
After enough times doing this, considering what is in and out of your control will become a practice, she said. “I’m not saying that things can’t ruin your day, but don’t give them too much power.”
Additionally, Harris said it’s important to pay attention to the things that get to you. If traffic always makes you spiral, think about ways you can be nice to yourself to prepare for this situation, Harris said.
“If I’m nicer to myself, then I’m looking for the patterns in what is setting me off,” Harris said.
You can plan for the situations that you know aggravate you. For example, you can save a favourite podcast to listen to in traffic or plan to call your boss if your arrival time is later than expected. And you can engage in mindfulness in the car, where you acknowledge your stress and anxiety.
“That doesn’t change the circumstance, right? If you’ve got traffic, you’ve got traffic, but if we can be gentle with ourselves, we can change our relationship with our stressors,” Harris said. “And if we can change the relationship with our stressors, we’re less likely to have, like, an overwhelming or global physiological response, and that’s really how we prevent ourselves from just having one ruined day after another or one negative experience after another.”