Things don’t always go as planned. Never fear! You can snap out of a sour attitude with these genius tips for how to have a positive attitude, no matter what.

By Jessica Migala
Updated July 24, 2018
smile face cereal spoon
Credit: Photograph by Amy Covington/ Stocksy

Whensomething difficult happens and you end up feeling more dark and stormy, you may think your day is destroyed. But guess what: “It’s normal to experience negative emotions. They’re not bad or wrong; they’re giving you important information,” says Rachel Hershenberg, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and author of Activating Happiness. Listening to what your feelings are telling you—that you need to give yourself a break, enjoy quality time with a loved one, or be heard and appreciated—can help you take action to mentally feel much lighter. That’s why having a set of lift-yourself-up tactics in your tool belt is key for tackling problems big and small. A few (fast) ideas for how to have a positive attitude, even in the most frustrating situations:

smile face cereal spoon
Credit: Photograph by Amy Covington/ Stocksy

You’re dreading your looming deadline.

Reenergize: Get moving.

Time: 5 minutes.

How-To: Your initial urge may be to procrastinate, and you may even want to hop on the couch and turn on Netflix. Problem is, “low energy begets low energy,” says Hershenberg. “Instead of retreating, get a little active. That’s one of the best ways to give your mind a breather and change your emotional state so you can conquer the problem ahead,” she says. There’s something uniquely revitalizing about heading out in the fresh air for a walk or going through a couple of stretches, but all you really need to do is stand up and move your body. Even routine activity that’s not exercise per se has been shown to lift feelings of boredom and dread, according to research in the journal Emotion. Or bookmark a few favorite yoga videos on YouTube that take you through a quick series of poses.

Something is seriously weighing on you, and you’re consumed with worry.

Rewind: Write it out

Time: 5 to 20 minutes.

How-To: “Worry can hijack your day by taking over real estate in your brain,” says Susan Biali Haas, MD, a wellness expert and life coach based in Vancouver, Canada. What’s more, it can keep you up at night. One strategy: Write out your worries. “This can help you work through your thoughts long before you have to go to bed,” says Hershenberg. If a few minutes is cathartic, that’s great. Keep the total time under 20 minutes, and don’t do this too close to bedtime. Set a timer; after it goes off, transition to an activity that’s more enjoyable and focused on the present, says Hershenberg.

days of the week faces on sticky notes
Credit: TanyaJoy/Getty Images

A bunch of little things are adding up—you spilled coffee on your pants, your commute was chaotic, and the list goes on.

Distract Yourself: Find an out.

Time: 10 minutes.

How-To: When one annoying thing happens after another, it can feel like everything is going wrong. “Disrupt that pattern by distracting yourself with a fast pick-me-up that you know works,” recommends Apryl Zarate Schlueter, author of Finding Success in Balance: My Journey to the Cheerful Mind. Do something that gives you a “quick little win,” she says. It could be an activity you love or are especially good at: sing a song, do a headstand, poach an egg. “Creating a confidence boost will take your focus off the negative and into the positive,” she says.

Your kid is really giving you sass, putting you at the end of your rope.

Refresh: Go solo.

Time: 15 minutes.

How-To: “Talk to your partner and plan a time for a short break today to reconnect with an activity that really filled your cup before you had kids,” suggests Laura Froyen, PhD, a parenting and relationship coach in Madison, Wisconsin. That may be a hobby, like watercoloring, or something relaxing, like reading. “Incorporating these activities into your life can be a powerful way to recharge,” she says. The trick is to be prepared for these moments, so buy the supplies you’ll need (paintbrushes and nice paper, for example) in advance and put them in an easy-to-access box—hidden away from prying kiddos, of course.

balloon rainbow
Credit: Ruth Black

You have a million tasks on your to-do list and are getting frantic.

Refocus: Breathe.

Time: 1 minute.

How-To: As soon as that chaotic feeling settles in, stop, pause, and breathe. “We take small, shallow breaths when we’re stressed. Deep breathing can reduce anxiety and tension and gets more oxygen to your brain, helping you make better decisions,” says Biali Haas. Try 4-6-8 breathing, she says: Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of six, and exhale for a count of eight. “It will help clear your head and reenergize you,” she explains.

You wake up already feeling terrible.

Reverse It: Show yourself love.

Time: 25 minutes.

How-To: Do something nice for yourself today, even if that’s the last thing you feel like doing. “The worse we feel, the less we want to take care of ourselves, but doing so will improve your mood,” says Biali Haas. Try small acts, like taking a longer shower than normal, sitting outside without distractions, saying no to something you don’t want to do, or reading a book for a few minutes. Biali Haas stops by a coffee shop to pick up a steamed coconut milk with vanilla syrup. “It’s a cozy, comforting drink and a special treat that’s like a hug,” she says.

You’re so frustrated you could cry.

Feel Better: Message someone you love.

Time: 2 minutes.

How-To: Rather than ignoring your feelings, acknowledge what you’re going through. “It’s important not to shove things down. It may make you feel better in the moment, but you need to face your emotions as soon as possible,” says Biali Haas. Feeling your feelings helps prevent you from turning to unhealthy stress relievers, like downing a massive glass of wine, overeating, or shopping online. One trick is calling someone supportive who will lend an ear to your venting. “My sister is my closest confidant, but sometimes she can’t talk during the day. I use an app that lets me send her a direct voicemail message. She may not hear it for hours, but I know I can say whatever I need to, and I know she’ll have my back,” says Biali Haas. (One app to try: Slydial, free; iOS and Android.)

Acknowledge what you’re going through—feel your feelings—rather than shoving things down.

You had an off day, and now your mind is racing a mile a minute, so you can’t sleep.

Relax: Try a quick meditation.

Time: 20 minutes.

How-To: If ruminating about a bad day is a habit, “having a relaxation strategy in your pocket will help immensely,” says Hershenberg. Download the app Insight Timer (free; iOS and Android), which gives you access to more than 9,000 guided meditations. Meditation not your thing? Create a playlist of calming tunes, especially ones linked to positive memories.

You have your weekly meeting with a coworker who’s always shooting down your (good!) ideas.

Flip the Script: Repeat a mantra.

Time: 5 seconds.

How-To: Feeling as if you’re being judged, whether by a colleague or a family member, is easy to take personally and can put you in a bad mood fast, says Froyen. To snap back into a happier mindset (instead of letting the meeting ruin your workday), repeat a mantra that will help you stay in the right frame of mind and maintain your confidence. Try “We both have our own way of approaching the situation, and that’s OK” or “I have different ideas, and they’re just as worthy of being heard.”