Monday! This cruel, heartless day of the week robs us of comfort and freedom and plants us right in the middle of professional responsibilities. If we were to order the days of the week by popularity, Monday would probably end up in last place.
If you’re employed, you are most likely familiar with the way your well-being tends to explode upwards on Friday afternoon and spiral downwards on Sunday evening, reaching its lowest point on Monday morning.
Monday: Why is this happening?
Richard Ryan, a research professor at the University of Rochester, says the “weekend effect” is largely due to a lack of autonomy at work, a reality that contrasts sharply with the freedom we have during weekends, when we get to set our priorities, time and energy according to our own preferences.
Other studies dedicated to career success show that, beyond autonomy, professional satisfaction also depends on what answer one can give to the following questions:
- Are we competent in our activities?
- Do we have decision-making power?
- Do we get along well with our team members?
According to psychologists, employees answering “Yes” to all these questions get better performance at work and are happier, more devoted to the company they work for, and less likely to be exhausted. At the opposite end, answering “No” to all the questions above predicts a difficult transition to the work week, which in turn requires a few specific changes to help employees adapt and improve their situation.
In most cases, Sunday evening anxiety is a form of anticipatory anxiety, which affects us physically and mentally.
Statistics show that 76% of Americans become anxious on Sunday evening due to stress hormones triggered by work-related discomfort: toxic bosses, vague or exaggerated demands to which they must respond quickly, or a generally stressful work atmosphere.
A survey published in November 2020 found that 81% of respondents experience anxiety while waiting for Monday, with most responses indicating occupational stress as a reason for negativity; 63% say they sleep the worst on Sunday night; 62% confess that Monday is the scariest day of the week, while 43% have severe sleep disorders, 37% depression, and 30% increased irritability.
In addition to insomnia, anxiety or nervousness, the stress of the day before the resumption of activity also causes such things as migraines, nightmares, or difficulty breathing, which makes this a serious problem.
To combat negative moods, respondents used various coping mechanisms, including: exercise (29%), watching TV or engaging in various forms of entertainment (15%), spending time with friends and family (12%), involvement in extracurricular activities (9%), solving household or administrative tasks (9%), reading (6%), video games (6%), drug treatment (5%), meditation (5%), and even marijuana (4%).
The same survey shows that people who tried to temper their fears by drinking alcohol on Fridays and Saturdays ended up being more stressed about work than those who managed their fears differently.
Small but safe steps
Though it may seem impenetrable, the negative aura of the beginning of the week can be shattered even if we do not have the ideal job, enough active rest or great plans for the future.
To move from personal time to work time without feeling overwhelmed, demoralized or hopeless, psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert proposes a series of recommendations, as follows:
- Take a step back and look at the big picture: are your fears based on real facts or imaginary risks?
- Separate the facts from fiction; focus on what is within your control, not what is beyond it.
- Prepare in advance for Monday, preferably on Friday (order the workspace, outline a list of tasks, do not postpone important projects for no reason).
- Take advantage of the weekend and relax as much as you can. This involves a well-thought-out program that does not delay the most unpleasant or difficult household chores until Sunday afternoon.
- Plan activities according to your own emotional state: if you tend to be depressed on Sundays, spend time with friends and family; if you tend to be nervous, dedicate yourself to activities that relax you (reading, movies, walks, favourite hobbies).
- Try to wake up at a time close to the waking time of the week, so as not to disturb your sleep schedule.
- Do not obsessively check the clock.
- Before going to bed, think of three positive things about work.
Monday: “fight or flight”?
On the other hand, even employees satisfied with their jobs can experience the panic of the weekend at an intensity similar to those who have difficulties adapting, conflicting relationships or other obstacles to face at work.
If it is persistent and strong, the thought of resuming a work schedule, with all its inevitable implications—fatigue, turmoil, and repetitiveness—causes stress, that involuntary reaction known as “fight or flight”, which pumps adrenaline through the body, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure. The persistence of work-oriented worries makes the brain believe that we are in danger and so it releases cortisol, the stress hormone, so that it always keeps us alert.
How can we stop the invasion of insistent worries and welcome Monday with a fresh attitude? The optimal strategy is to recognize the value of classic methods, developed around good habits, including:
Although, ideally, we would stick to a regular physical activity program, science does not discourage even weak attempts to give up a sedentary lifestyle, because up to five minutes of daily exercise can still reduce anxiety. A 2012 study, led by Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a professor at the University of British Columbia, argues that weight training improves memory and brain executive functions (those responsible for problem solving and decision making), functions that strengthen us in the fight against daily challenges.
Going out in nature
The benefits of spending time in nature have been well established. The good news is that we don’t have to go too far to really enjoy these benefits, given that:
– a mere 10-minute walk in the park, repeated three times a week, lowers cortisol levels in the body;
– simply walking in green spaces helps to transpose the brain into a state of meditation;
– 90 minutes spent in nature, even in an urban setting, leads to decreased activity in the area of the brain focused on repetitive negative thoughts.
Avoiding alcohol consumption
Alcohol affects normal sleep patterns and dramatically reduces the quality of rest at night. Long-term alcohol consumption or heavy drinking in one session is associated with an increased risk of depression, self-harm, suicide, and violence.
Even when intending the opposite, reality contradicts the intention: the more someone drinks, the more frequent are their negative emotions (fear, anger, helplessness, etc.) and harder to control, which is also reflected in the workplace.
Disconnect from technology
The American National Sleep Foundation recommends that we stop using gadgets for at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
The blue light emitted by the screens of electronic devices suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the hormone responsible for the circadian rhythm that regulates sleep and wakefulness cycles. Although we use the phone, laptop or TV as a good way to relax, their use during the evening affects the quality of our sleep.
For maximum safety, it is advisable not to contaminate the bedroom with technology and to keep gadgets out of the room (including the TV), especially when we want to start the week on a positive note.
Keeping a journal
Experts say introspective writing has a therapeutic impact on those who make time for it. Putting down on paper the things that worry us, what causes us concern, but also the reasons we have to be grateful, will make it easier for us to face the uncertainty of Monday, especially when our motivation needs to be revived quickly.
Keeping a diary makes us more optimistic, better anchored in reality and better prepared to deal with illness (it stimulates the immune system). A journal can be a true friend during difficult times.
Attention to sleep
Adults need to sleep an average of eight hours a night. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention finds that one-third of Americans sleep less than seven hours a night. The situation amplifies the effects of work-related anxiety, as insufficient sleep affects attention, concentration, reaction speed, ability to learn, and problem solving.
Fortunately, just as the brain can learn new skills, it can recalibrate its sleep, despite the factors that force it in another direction.
One of the first conditions necessary to form an effective sleep routine is to configure the environment: choosing a suitable pillow, a comfortable mattress, the optimal setting of room temperature, removal of electronic devices, elimination of powerful lights and annoying sounds, and going through a relaxing sleep ritual (warm bath, reading, or meditation).
Although many people feel that they cannot get rid of bad habits, the impossible is a relative fact when it comes to changing one’s way of life out of a desire to be healthier and happier.
When facing challenges that physically and mentally burden our existence, it is up to us to cultivate those behaviours that can restore inner balance and prepare us for any mountain, no matter how difficult it is to climb—even cruel and heartless Monday.
Genia Ruscu has a master’s degree in counselling in the field of social work.