I turn off my alarm, my throat is scratchy, and there’s a dull pain at the base of my skull. My big plans for the day are being rewritten as I can hardly get out of bed. My spirit and energy are depleted before the sunrise. Was it that croissant I had yesterday? Did I sleep poorly?
Maybe I need to go gluten-free. Maybe I didn’t hydrate enough. I’m constantly scheming and striving for better habits to improve my energy. After all, who wants to waste even a day feeling like the gutter?
Periodic dips in energy may just be part of life though. I can either fight against every last one of them, or just find some acceptance in imperfection.
It seems that some days I will not be putting my best foot forward. Because no matter how hard I try, some days I wake up and just know it’s going to be a slog.
Not Even a Classic “Self-Care” Day
First, I’d like to make a distinction between a “junk” day and a classic “self-care” day. A junk day doesn’t begin with herbal tea and a meditation practice because that’s self-care, and self-care still takes energy and a bit of inspiration. It takes an ounce of willpower to give yourself a manicure, cook, or organize your sock drawer. Even reading — my favorite way to spend the evening — requires an attentive focus.
No, a “junk” day is struggling to find energy to do the bare minimum. It’s going to work and going through the motions. It’s coming home and watching The Bachelor or Two and a Half Men reruns. It’s ordering Indian takeout and eating the mango lassi dessert first (…just me?).
On this day, I’m not learning Russian. I’m not reading inspirational articles (sorry, this isn’t one). I’m not trying a new recipe. Or any recipe.
Junk days are non self-improvement days.
Self-care is when you consciously slow down. Junk days are when your body has already decided that for you. So on these days, I shift my brain into neutral and coast.
My Goal On Junk Days is To Do “Half”
Beyond work, my only goal on junk days is to do half of what I need to do in order to have a better day tomorrow. That’s right, just half. Maybe less.
I say “half” because on a bad day, I have the kind of energy that is overwhelmed by words like “all,” especially when used in sentences like “get it all done.” All is not happening.
For example, at home today I need to unpack a suitcase, drink more water, clean up the kitchen, do my laundry, and go to the grocery store (we have nothing to eat). Imagine how great tomorrow morning would be if I accomplished all of that. But from that list, I’m only prioritizing two: drink more water and go to the grocery store.
I do what is achievable when my willpower is low. Better to do half than none at all, right?
To help me find some contentment, I reset my standards whenever I’m feeling poorly. Achievement becomes small feats like frying an egg for breakfast. I take my to-do list and only nibble on it. It’s a “this is just where we’re at” kind of mindset.
Junk Entertainment and Not Fretting Over One Day Wasted
I’m the seize the day type. I’m constantly thinking of self-improvement. I have an attitude geared towards expanding my mind and considering the possibilities. And I have a mantra of “create and produce, don’t just consume mindless things.”
But sometimes, it’s the perfect day to consume mindless things.
I’d never thought I’d say this, but keeping episodes of The Bachelor on deck has done wonders for my sense of ease during low energy days. Truly, there’s no better way to shut off your brain than watching mindless bickering, sappy fake love, and pretty dresses — an ode to mindless entertainment.
Still, it’s easy to take a junk day and make it even worse by putting myself down further. Echoes of my former Little League coach (mom) saying “winners never take a day off!” still ring in my ears. But outside of Little League, a few days lost won’t make or break you.
A day lost won’t set me back — so I tell myself to relax and slog through it. No need for an existential crisis.
Migraines and The Gift of Periodic Acceptance
In the past year, I’ve suffered from frequent migraines, so I’ve had more practice in accepting the day my body is giving. Over time I’ve been able to manage my migraines to a point where they aren’t all consuming. Part of that management is allowing myself the gift of laying on the couch and turning off my brain for a night. It works almost as well as the classic IT tip: have you tried turning it off and back on again?
Hopefully, my junk days continue to be few and far between. I don’t know what the healthy amount of throwaway days is for everyone, but for me, I’m content with having a few a month. To be clear, these aren’t depressive episodes, which is a more serious matter; instead, they are days where I’m simply not “doing the most.”
For each day lost, I try to keep a positive attitude. I ask, “how can I reframe this?” Maybe a wasted day means one more mango lassi that I get to enjoy. Maybe it means I’m one Bachelor episode closer to the final rose ceremony.
Trying to stay in good spirits, I tell myself a better day is around the corner; I drink some water, burrow deeper into the couch, and let the time pass.