How to Survive a Very Bad Day: 13 Steps Away From Despair

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Wondering how to survive a bad day? Maybe you think depression means you’re a failure.

Good news! Even the best Christians have bad days.

We may even go through seasons when it seems like that’s all we have. How do you keep going… better yet, how do you hit the reset button, and turn all that yucky into grace? Here are some practical biblical steps for facing bad days and coming away victorious:

1. Describe the situation

Write out on paper exactly what’s bothering you. Make a list of all the “bad stuff” from today. Here are some things that might have gone wrong:

  • I’m feeling fat and ugly.
  • My sweetheart and I are fighting.
  • My little darlings are uncooperative.
  • I self-soothed with emotional eating. Again. I’m a failure.
  • My mistake cost the health or life of my child.
  • I got fired or laid off or made an expensive mistake.
  • I’ve blown in with my teen and now we are alienated.
  • I’m a new widow and another bill collector called today. I’m scared.
  • My best friend betrayed me.
  • Sexual abuse robbed me of my childhood. Every day is a bad day.

These are real situations that real people faced. People I’ve known and loved, or their friends. Maybe you are facing one of them right now. Analyzing what’s going on in our head is the first step to how we can survive a bad day.

2. Pray (and sing praises!)

This life is a vapor.

While the struggle is often over something in this material world, there is a spiritual aspect to every part of our lives as well. So be sure to ask for God’s help in conquering the negativity. Tapping into spiritual power is the most important part of how to survive a bad day.

If you’re serious about wanting His help, sing His praises. He inhabits the praise of His people, and something powerful happens when we praise the Lord in the face of impossible circumstances.

An old Gospel song says, “I must tell Jesus all of my trials. I cannot bear these burdens alone.”

But don’t stop with just telling Him all about it. Confirm your trust in His care. Commit yourself to obeying His Word, and to accepting this difficulty as from a loving Father’s hand. Ask Him for wisdom, and believe He gives it.

A good manager never wastes the worker’s time. A loving father never allows suffering except that which will help in the end. God never wastes our time or sorrows. He uses everything for our good and His glory.

The fire that almost killed them brought good and glory.

”Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).

An arsonist tried to kill my husband’s grandparents. He looked Grandma Dot in the eye as he dropped the burning match. His hands had already poured gasoline around the perimeter of the living room. By all rights, they should have died in the inferno.

Within hours, Dennis and I were on a plane to go see them. Through the long flight, wrestling with “Why anyone would do such a thing?” and “How could God allow it?” (Yes, we were tempted to blame God). Psalm 76:10 became a source of comfort and even joy.

The story is too long to tell here, but I will say this: as we reflected on the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, God’s merciful hand was evident. Truly He had restrained what should have been the complete destruction of those who were so dear to us. And the fire that almost killed them rekindled love and affection in two people who had drifted apart.

3. Recognize the unseen battle

Realize the real battle is not the “bad stuff,” but how we respond to it.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, KJV

Abundant life is not the absence of trials, but grace in the midst of them.

Grace is available for every moment. Grace gives us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

You can do more than you think you can. And yes, you can survive a bad day, even the worst day, when you rely on God’s grace.

God’s grace is available to all who are willing to receive it on His terms, and His grace is “sufficient” – it’s enough.

His strength is made perfect in weakness. Our weakness is necessary for Christ’s strength to be evident. So let’s begin at the beginning.

Jesus said one thing is needful.

Science and math are important. Clean laundry is a bonus. But that’s not the one thing.

God expects us to be careful stewards of the souls, talents, and finances that He has entrusted to us. But that’s not the one thing, either.

God has given us all things richly to enjoy, but just like Job did, we must remember that “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21).

The one thing.

More than math and science, more than a nice house and clothes, more even than the security of a family that is whole and healthy, my children need to learn how to handle life when things don’t go their way. They need to see an active relationship with Jesus Christ. My children need to see that Jesus really is enough, no matter what.

And that is the truth I must choose to demonstrate today.

What if I’m not sure I’m saved?

If you have not yet experienced true salvation through Jesus Christ, that’s really the first step in overcoming the bad days. When we have full assurance — based on God’s Word, and not just our feelings — that we will spend eternity with the Lord Jesus, there’s not much that a bad day here can do. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18.

Here’s something I wrote about how to be certain of Heaven.

Why are you surprised by Trials?

Being an honest-to-goodness, genuine, born again, blood-bought believer does not guarantee the absence of trials. In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus promised trials — “in the world ye shall have tribulation”… But, good news! He also promised victory – “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So the first step in handling the bad day is having an attitude check. And if this momentary reflection reveals that you are not handling things biblically, it’s great to know that’s not the end of the world either.

We can start over anytime. So here’s the next thing to do:

4. Test your conclusions.

Try the spirits, whether they are of God.

1 John 4:1

Just as the Holy Spirit will direct us with quiet impressions of what God wants us to do and think, so the forces of darkness will offer suggestions for what they want us to do and think. And guess what? Those forces don’t want you to survive a bad day. So don’t listen to them.

Not every thought in your brain originates with you. Some thoughts are like crummy renters, trashing a valuable piece of real estate.

You have the power to evict crummy thoughts. So start by thinking about what God says about you and your situation.

What God says about you if you are in Christ (saved):

  • You are complete in Him. (Colossians 2:10)
  • He is with you! He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
  • You are graven on the palms of His hands. (Isaiah 49:16)
  • In Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
  • There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1)
  • I am free from the law of sin and death… (Romans 8:2)
  • To be spiritually minded is life and peace… (Romans 8:6)
  • I am not in the flesh, but in the Spirit… if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his… (Romans 8:9)
  • If Christ be in you… the Spirit is life because of righteousness… (Romans 8:10)
  • Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Romans 8:1-15).
  • The Lord delivered me, because he delighted in me. (2 Sam. 2:20).

What God says about our bad days:

The Bible promises that God will use our bad days to accomplish His glorious purposes. Here are just a few:

  • The trying of your faith worketh patience… (James 1:3)
  • He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
  • Jesus learned obedience by the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Likewise, we learn obedience by staying faithful to God during our suffering.
  • We are being made conformable unto His death, learning to know Him (Philippians 3:10).
  • Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (I Peter 4:12-13).

Every bad day is an opportunity for transformation. A chance to renew your mind through the Word of God. Surviving a bad day starts with the spiritual, but don’t stop there…

5. Troubleshoot your body and brain function.

  • Are there any physical reasons that I’m having a harder time handling the stress today?
  • Am I dealing with PMS?
  • Did I get a good night’s sleep last night?
  • Have I been eating well and getting fresh air and exercise?
  • Am I feeding my soul by listening to uplifting music and mediating on truth?
  • Have I been listening to too much negativity (news, talk radio, angry or depressing music, bickering children)?
  • Do I have food sensitivities that I haven’t paid attention to?
  • Could I be experiencing side effects of prescription or over-the-counter medications?
  • Could I be carrying a toxic burden of mercury, other heavy metals, or mold?

Gut health affects the brain.

I wonder how many Americans unknowingly suffer from gut issues that impact mental health? Although I am not celiac, a steady diet of gluten can provoke suicidal thoughts in a matter of days. This is why the SCD, GAPS, and Paleo Diets are all recommended nutritional support for those who battle depression and anxiety. Diet may be the most important factor in how to survive a bad day.

When I discovered I was carrying a toxic load of mercury and aluminum, I felt a mixture of dread and relief. Dread, because the path to wellness is long and slow; relief, because now I had finally found at least one root cause of many bad days. Now when things start to spiral out of control, my first defense is to consider my diet and health habits, and whether I am neglecting my daily supplements and nutritional support.

Heavy metals affect the brain.

When I discovered I was carrying a toxic load of mercury and aluminum, I felt a mixture of dread and relief. Dread, because the path to wellness is long and slow; relief, because I finally found a root cause of many bad days. Now when things start to spiral out of control, my first defense is to consider my diet and health habits, and whether I am neglecting my daily supplements and nutritional support.

Mold exposure affects the brain.

Mycotoxins from molds growing in water-damaged buildings (WDB) can cross into the brain directly from the sinus cavity, resulting in debilitating depression and even suicide. Mold and mycotoxins are also in our food supply, especially corn, wheat, and peanuts. Dr. Michael Shoemaker, a leading expert in treating mold illness, has found roughly 28% of the population is genetically unable to metabolize and detoxify these poisons without prescription remedies.

(Side note: A leaky dishwasher and a moldy wall sent me researching this topic lately. I was skeptical of Dr. Shoemaker’s claim until hearing the first-hand account from a good friend at church who was part of the 28%. Mold poisoned her entire family. After six months of juicing, supplements and other detoxification protocols, half of the family dramatically improved. The other half, including my friend, was as sick as ever. They tested positive for this genetic anomaly, began the prescription medicine, and within a week saw dramatic improvement.)

Prescription medications affect the brain.

A friend felt so much better after cleaning up her diet that she decided to wean herself off the anti-depressants her doctor had prescribed for post-partum depression. Big mistake. The prescription began ten years and five babies ago. Always get qualified medical advice for major health care decisions.

Besides the spiritual disicplines and physical choices, surviving the worst days will also require some mental discipline. We can’t always choose our feelings, but we can choose our thoughts, words, and actions. We can make specific, practical choices that will help us survive those very bad days.

6. Ask, “How can I reframe this?”

Am I framing the situation in a way that gives God glory? What scriptures can I apply to this situation?

Stop blaming God.

We live in a fallen world. Bad stuff happens. Instead of playing the victim card (which is bad enough), or blaming God (which is even worse), take a look at the bigger picture.

God is all powerful, yes. But He has “delivered his strength into captivity” (Psalm 78:61), by creating a world that obeys physical laws, and by giving man, His crowning creation, a free will.

He knew man would sin. He knew perfect justice would require Him to pay the ultimate price for our redemption, so that “whosoever will” may enjoy His loving companionship and favor forever in a place of perfection and bliss. And He knew that, despite His goodness and mercy offered so freely, there would still be many wicked people who would refuse His gift of salvation.

People who would commit unspeakable acts. There would still be trials, both great and small: everything from wars, cancer, and pedophiles, to allergies, leaky pipes and flat tires. And many would blame God, who “could have stopped it.”

  • As if He left the nail on the road.
  • As if he created all the toxins that assault our bodies.
  • As if He was some cosmic puppeteer, sadisticly manipulating His creatures to commit acts which His Word declares abominable.
  • As if He should be blamed for this fallen world by the very ones for whom His Son was mocked, abused, whipped, and crucified.

And all because He gave man the freedom to choose.

Choose to believe the best.

My family accidentally left me at a gas station during a family vacation when I was 7. Hours later they discovered I wasn’t asleep in the back upper berth of the Winnebago and returned for me. I’ve had anxiety and abandonment issues since that day:

  • Dreading social events and concocting lame excuses to avoid them
  • Overwhelmed with despair when my husband was late coming home Frustrated and panicked if he walked too fast ahead of me into the store

Once on vacation, I came out of the 7-Eleven and could not see our motorhome at the gas pump right in front of me. For a moment a familiar sense of panic overwhelmed me. Then I saw my daughter waving at me frantically. From the gas pump, my husband had seen me come out of the store and yelled at her, “Quick! Wave at Mom! She doesn’t see us!”

Only recently I decided that, whenever these feelings surface, I will hit the reset button. I’ve stopped reliving the trauma of abandonment and leaning into the feeling that it’s happening again. Instead, I focus on the love that returned for me and the anxiety my parents must have felt. And I remind myself that I’m a big girl now, and I can reprogram my response to events that used to trigger only fear, anxiety, and despair.

Act as if The Bible Is True.

At first, I was going to call this section, “Act as if everything is stacked in your favor.” But then I realized it is.

If God be for us, who can be against us?

God is for me.

Romans 8:31, Psalm 56:9

Nothing is impossible with God. His comfort is available for those who will trust His Word. We often think, “My feelings tell me this is true, therefore I will believe it.” But God’s order is always: “Have faith to believe My Word, act as if it is true, and your feelings will eventually follow.”

It doesn’t matter if your bad day problems are big or little, God’s grace is sufficient. We just have to act on what we know is true.

The mother who gives in to clamoring, demanding children can testify, giving in never satisfies them for long. Likewise, giving in to clamoring feelings and indulging in self-pity and despair never improves our situation.

7. Ask, “What can I learn from this?”

“The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.” (Proverbs 15:31)

Sometimes – not always — our suffering is simply the natural result of poor choices. It’s counter-intuitive, but accepting blame for our situation may help us survive a bad day. Why? Because when I accept responsibility for my current situation, I’m also embracing my power to change it.

If I “feel fat and ugly” because I’ve been a couch potato, falling into an ever-increasing rut of self-indulgence, guess what? I can change that. I can get the support I need to develop better habits. A new look is just a shower and fresh-from-the-closet outfit away. My transformation to confident fitness can begin today.

Suppose your job loss came because you “didn’t have anything to do” then perhaps you need to read A Message for Garcia. What started as a newspaper editorial has circled the globe in millions of copies and many languages. This classic provides the secret of job security in a brief and compelling read. Don’t have time to read? Listen to this Brian Buffini podcast and learn how to get the audio version for free.

Zig Ziglar famously asked, “Could you do something in the next three weeks to make your situation even worse? If so, then you could also do something to make it better.”

8. Ask, “What can I do to make it better?”

When we ask ourselves how to survive a bad day, it’s easy to ignore how much power we have to change every situation. Our default is to long for some other person or thing to come along and fix our problems:

  • If only my rich relative would send some money
  • If only I could win the lottery
  • If only that person would apologize
  • If only there was a cure for my illness
  • If only my boss wasn’t such a jerk

Let’s stop looking outside ourselves for the magic pixie dust. Learn to accept difficulties as God’s instruments to form Christian character. When I began doing this, it went a long way towards helping me survive a bad day.

  • Are your finances in the tank? Get on a budget and get busy learning how to make money.
  • Is your health failing? Examine what lifestyle choices you need to change to support healing.
  • Do your relationships need an overhaul? Start with yourself. If you have done wrong, make it right. See My Library for life-changing resources.

Find others in a similar situation who can inspire you to keep going on, and review their stories regularly. Here are a few of my favorites:

9. Consider the real consequences of this situation.

Will it matter in five years? Will it matter in eternity? Most of the situations in that list we started with in the beginning won’t.

What doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter.

Financial loss can be reversed. Neglected schoolwork can be caught up. Even prison sentences can be shortened or pardoned if God allows it. And there are enough former “losers” and even under-the-bridge-dwellers who became bestselling musicians, authors, and Harvard graduates to prove no situation is hopeless.

The problems that do matter don’t have to control you.

If the bad day involves the death of a loved one, we will grieve the loss of them. It is normal and right to do so.

If they were saved, we ought not grieve without hope; the Bible is clear that we will see them again.

What if they were lost?

I suspect this was the greatest pain King David faced when Absalom died… the uncertainty. A Christian is capable of the vilest of sins (David was an adulterer and murderer), and the truth is we can never know if a person who claims to be born again really is – even if their words and actions support it. Likewise, if someone makes a profession of faith but later denies the Lord, that doesn’t prove anything. He cannot deny Himself. (I tell my children, “The only one I know is saved is me because I was there when it happened.”)

Either way, we know God is merciful. Jesus showed us with the thief on the cross He forgives sinners even in their final hours, and He’s still doing it today.

The truth is, unless we were present when they breathed their last and saw clear evidence of impending doom, there’s always hope. So what do we do when we simply don’t know?

Schedule time with your emotions.

In Absalom’s case, David had little cause to believe his son went to Heaven. Of course he grieved. Of course it tore him up. But a wise counsellor told him, “You need to put aside your grief and focus on the people who are still alive.” That’s good counsel for us as well.

It may sound crazy or harsh, but did you know you can schedule grief? You really can. So if you are going through an unspeakable valley, think about when it is that others will not need you, and schedule time then to grieve and pour out your heart to “the One whose heart knew every pain.” And when your timer goes off, wipe away the tears, thank Him for His grace, and then …

10. Do the next thing.

Take care of the next thing you must do. Bad days will come. Suffering is part of life, even abundant life. Remember what I said in the beginning of this piece?

Abundant life is not the absence of trials, but grace in the midst of them. Grace is available for every moment, and grace gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

Going on is a choice.

The devil may try to defeat or discourage you, trials may come that feel insurmountable. Yet you can choose — by an act of your will, regardless of your feelings — that you will trust God for the grace to face each moment. That you will believe His promises, that He will give you an expected end and a hope.

11. Speak thankful, cheerful words of faith.

Put away anger

Perhaps your bad day involves a frustrating person, or even a wicked assailant. You want to “vent” words of anger or fear.

Be very careful, Dearly Beloved. “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth” (Proverbs 15:23). Venting anger never improves our relationships with others. You may wound hearts with words that are later forgiven but never forgotten.

Never give in to despair.

“ Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21)

Does everything in this post so far seem impossible? Do you want to complain or despair? Remember what God said to the children of Israel:

Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.

Numbers 14:28-29

That passage always troubles me. Israel complained with doubt-filled murmurings. So God said, “Fine. If that’s as far as you’ll trust Me, that’s exactly what you’re going to get!” Ouch!

Find the promises of God that you need, and speak them aloud as if you believe them already. There is power in the spoken Word of God. And while you’re speaking the Word of God, this is also a great time to speak to the Word of God.

12. Smile.

“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

Amy Cuddy explains the physical reasons that smiling improves our mood. Yes, this study has since been criticized. But I dare you to try her methods anyway. It really works!

You need to smile, even if you don’t feel like it. “Fake it till you make it.”

Do you feel like a hypocrite? Is it “fake” to smile when your feelings clamor against it? If you truly believe the Bible is true, your feelings are the hypocrites. Your smile is the real you.

Just to review, here are the first twelve steps to take when you are having a bad day:

  1. Describe the situation.
  2. Pray.
  3. Recognize the unseen battle.
  4. Test your conclusions.
  5. Troubleshoot your body and brain function.
  6. Ask, “How can I reframe this?”
  7. Ask, “What can I learn from this?”
  8. Ask, “What can I do to make it better?”
  9. Consider the real consequences of this situation.
  10. Do the next thing.
  11. Speak thankful, cheerful words of faith.
  12. Smile.

13. Experience true worship.

Worship can be expressed in many different ways. Our pastor frequently reminds us, “the most biblical way to worship, the method that is mentioned far more often than any other, is to bow before God.”

Bowing the knee in difficult circumstances and acknowledging God is still good … this is how we come into His very presence.

In acceptance lieth peace.

Amy Carmichael — one of my all-time heroes of the faith — wrote the words, “in acceptance lieth peace.”

Instead of striving inwardly over why something happened, we can choose to accept it, and trust the God who loves us. I’ve found this true many times. The most profound was when I miscarried our third baby.

A sad answer to prayer.

We were on staff at a Bible college with two toddlers and one on the way. But one Friday night I began to bleed off and on.

Our Kaiser hotline nurse explained this indicated a possible miscarriage. She told us to come to the hospital if need be, but there was nothing they could do to prevent it. We stayed home and prayed that, if I was going to lose the baby, it would happen quickly.

Within a few short hours, God answered our prayer. I delivered my baby at home. We found an empty baby wipes container in which to store the body and placed it in the refrigerator for safekeeping until we could figure out what to do. Next came hours of labor contractions, laying on a palette of towels next to the toilet as my body passed the placenta. We finally got to sleep around 5:00 a.m.

A private service.

Our baby was just 14 weeks old. The school allowed us to use the chapel cemetery as a burying place. We had a brief service that Sunday morning before driving to church — just my husband, and me, and our two toddlers to say good bye and lay a rose in the ground with the tiny container that held our baby’s body.

Profound worship.

Going out in public with such a recent and great loss was difficult. But it proved to be incredibly healing as well.

I’ll never forget standing in the service that morning, my voice joining hundreds of others to sing,

I love You, Lord, and I lift my voice

To worship you, oh my soul, rejoice.

Take joy, my King, in what You hear

Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.

Peace and comfort flooded my soul while singing that song.

Full surrender is the price of intimate worship. No amount of mood lighting or dramatic chord progressions can imitate it. Those who have tasted such goodness can travel far on its lingering memory.

Alright, you wonderful, beautiful, creation of God! Bookmark this list and come back to it whenever you need a little pep talk. Oh, and get a nap. You are the only one who can take care of you!

This post is still in draft because I plan to add images and create a free PDF downloadable checklist. Subscribe to be notified when that resource is available.