Do you toss and turn Sunday nights, only to wake up super stressed on Mondays? You aren’t alone. “I usually have trouble sleeping on Sunday nights,” admits Maxine Resnick, a Brooklyn, NY-based real estate agent. “I’m looking at the expanse of the week and will sometimes feel like there are so many things that need to get done — not just at work but with the kids and the house, that I have no idea how I will make it all happen.”
Stress-y Sundays that turn into messy Mondays are a for-real thing. “We call Sunday anxiety or depression ‘The Sunday Night Blues,’ says Kathleen Hall, CEO of The Stress Institute and Mindful Living Network. “You had off for the weekend, unplugged, relaxed and had fun. By Sunday night, you begin to get anxious about returning to your to-do list at the office, office politics, your commute and responsibilities. You can experience a negative stress response as you get anxious or depressed about returning to work,” she says.
The Monday Campaigns, a non-profit public health initiative associated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Syracuse Universities, conducted a web survey of over 1000 respondents to gauge the impact of Monday stress. Peggy Neu, president of The Monday Campaigns, board member and graduate of the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science, says money was the chief agitator (41 percent), followed by work (32 percent), relationships (27 percent), emotional problems (24 percent) and health (16 percent).
The Sunday blues hit women harder
The survey revealed that women were almost twice as likely to dread Mondays than men, while men were almost twice more likely to say Mondays were no different to them than any other day of the week.
Like Resnick, Neu says the survey showed women were far more likely to say they felt overwhelmed by everything that had to get done at the beginning of the week, (24 percent of women vs. 10 percent of men), and the anticipation of problems to deal with in the week ahead (19 percent of women vs. 13 percent of men).
Hall says this could be because women and men deal with stress quite differently. “Women try to get support and therapy to lower their anxiety and find a solution to their stressors. They want to share their stress experience with others for support,” says Hall. “Men want to escape when experiencing stress. They compartmentalize, and don’t want to discuss their feelings because this can show a sign of their weakness. They also have a difficult time asking for help or therapy.”
Men and women handle stress differently
The difference in how men and women handle stress is even evident when looking at their brains. According to a study from the UCLA School of Nursing, the part of the brain that helps to manage stress, heart rate and blood pressure looks quite different for each gender.
Another study Hall mentioned from Duke University found mental stress can be more taxing on women's hearts than men's. Health and stress are inextricably linked: Chronic stress increases your risk of most physical diseases including heart disease, hypertension, cancer, insomnia, diabetes, stroke, and premature aging. It also increases your risk for psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and other stress disorders, says Hall. “Your brain is signaled to produce cortisol (a stress hormone), which increases you heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar. It makes you gain weight, because it can cause stress related eating habits while also increasing the amount of fat cells in your body,” she says.
Monday can be seen as a fresh start
Where men and women meet closer to the middle is Monday: The survey found both 33 percent of men and 27 percent of women view Mondays as a fresh start. The Monday Campaigns, in conjunction with the Department of Integrative Health Programs at NYU Langone and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, created a program called DeStress Monday to help people meet the beginning of the week in a more positive, less stressful frame of mind. Their “Monday Resolutions” were designed to help alleviate stress by reframing the miserable Monday mindset into a hard reset instead of the start of yet another week to slog through.
“Instead of making resolutions on New Year’s Day, your birthday, anniversary or a single day of significance to you, a more effective approach is a recommit strategy that capitalizes on the natural momentum of the weekly cycle,” says Neu.
Instead of choking on dread, Neu recommends using each Monday to:
- Set realistic goals.
- Break each goal into small, manageable steps.
- Make a weekly plan and write it down to commit.
- Share your goals with others for support.
- Hit the reset button on Monday if you lapse and start again.
To alleviate the Sunday blues, Hall recommends what she calls her S.E.L.F. Care Sunday night plan:
- Serenity. Practice some form of relaxation through meditation, or peaceful guided imagery to help guide you into a healing, deep sleep.
- Exercise. Take long walks, do yoga or any form of exercise — it reduces stress hormone production and helps the brain and body produce relaxing hormones, says Hall.
- Love. Express love and gratitude for your life, your family, your dog or your garden. As we’ve previously reported, gratitude relaxes your mind and reduces stress.
- Food. For Sunday dinner, eat foods rich in B6 such as sweet potatoes, rice, salmon, turkey or bananas to help promote relaxation. Dairy products such as yogurt, milk or ice cream calm the mind and body. Pass on food and drink known to increase anxiety, such as caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods.
After all, an ice cream is kind of the perfect way to end a weekend.
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