Having a bad day? We all have them. Everyone’s bad day is different but for me it’s sitting staring at a blank screen, demotivated and feeling as if I have nothing to say, and it gets worse the harder I try (of course this is nothing compared to the bad days I used to have). It’s a feeling of everything being slightly ‘off’ and the inability to get stuck into anything. It’s frustrating.

How not to correct a bad day

I’ll start with what not to do if you feel like that: don’t go for coffee and a chocolate muffin. We instinctively think of coffee, junk food or something sweet when we feel low on energy or want to change the state we are in, but from a Chinese medicine perspective this won’t help, and in fact can make everything worse. That bad day feeling comes from a stagnation of liver chi and adding caffeine or going for a big sugar hit will exacerbate whatever has caused the stagnation.

The chi stagnation disrupts the delicate stomach-spleen dynamic (stomach chi not descending and spleen chi not ascending) so you get brain fog or find everything irritable. If your stomach and spleen are working well together it’s the opposite. You feel inspired because your heart has plenty of fuel (in the form of chi) and you have mental clarity as the heart’s function of producing blood is working perfectly. A coffee craving is in fact a desire to create the inspired sensation of a chi-filled heart, and a sugar craving is really a craving for the energy that comes from strong blood.

Why we crave sugar

The reason we crave sugar but not, say, kale is that sweetness is affiliated with the spleen, the prime organ involved with producing chi. As chi is energy, a craving for sugar is associated with energy. Your spleen identifies foods that we consider ‘sweet’ in TCM (such as oats, pumpkin, sweet potatoes) as fuel to be converted into energy, and this energy gets released gradually (the energy release of oats is up to five hours which is why they are great for breakfast). So when you are running low in energy a signal path connected to the spleen is activated, you start thinking “I need something sweet” and your mind obligingly conjures up images of chocolate or a can of coke.

But your spleen doesn’t want this, it wants fuel; foods that can be converted into a slow release of energy. Highly processed and sugar-saturated junk foods short-cut its transformation function and release energy directly. So you get the impression of an energy boost but it’s a temporary sugar high, that energy is not generated it is borrowed. It comes at a cost (your Jing) and you crash 20 minutes later. As your Jing declines you get more cravings and keep needing more sugar to get the feel of a rush of energy (this is why junk foods are getting so over the top). A sugar rush works in a similar way to drugs which exploit your own energy to give you the high.

How to change a bad day

The best way to change a bad day is to first understand that the cause is usually too much yang stimulation in the previous day(s) and not enough yin and blood to correct and move the yang. This leads to the ‘chi crash’. The way forward is to let the yang settle so that chi can move, and your stomach and spleen can do their job properly. Be prepared for bad days, they are normal and predictable. You know you are going to have a bad day if you overstimulate yourself either by overwork (yin depletion) lack of sleep (the yin zapper), over-indulging on the weekend, or being too stressed or time-deprived to switch off after a busy day.

For an immediate on-the-spot change try Chinese herbal formulas that naturally and therapeutically move liver chi, instead of a coffee (which will ultimately make it worse). My favourite herbal formula for this is the Bupleurum & Cyperus combination. For some instant energy go for wholesome nutritious snacks (I’m really into hemp seed bars at the moment) rather than a sugar hit which can lead to brain fog, potentially snowballing a bad day into a bad week. You can also quickly change the way you feel by stimulating chi flow. Do this by physically moving and sinking into your legs with chi-gung or by doing some squats.

The purpose of a bad day

It’s also important to understand that your body is rebalancing itself, and that if you let this move through you, tomorrow will be good day again. See, we are all naturally happy people, and in fact happiness is our default state and our birthright. The mechanics underpinning happiness are free-flowing liver chi and healthy organs. We only feel unhappy, demotivated or brain fog, because our lifestyle is creating blockages that impede this chi flow and weaken our organs. If you use the ‘bad day’ shifters above (the herbs, energy foods and chi-gung) as part of an ongoing preventative health strategy rather than just when you get a bad day, you’ll be creating good days!