How to

Here’s how to rewire your brain so you actually look forward to Mondays: ScienceAlert

If you hate Mondays, you’re certainly in good company. After a few days off, many of us struggle to settle back into our routines and work duties. You may even have anxiety and restlessness seeping into the weekend in the form of “Sunday creeps”.

You can’t always change your schedule or commitments to make Monday more engaging, but you may be able to “reprogram” your brain to think about the week differently.

Our brain loves predictability and routine. Research has shown that a lack of routine is associated with a decline in well-being and psychological distress.

Even though the weekend heralds a cozy and enjoyable time, our brains are working hard to adjust to this sudden change in routine.

The good news is that the brain doesn’t have to work too hard to adjust to the freedom and routine of the weekend.

However, the situation is different for the less pleasant activities, such as a to-do list on Monday morning.

One way to adapt to the post-weekend changes is to establish routines that last throughout the week and have the power to make our lives more meaningful.

This includes watching your favorite TV program, gardening or going to the gym. It helps to do these things at the same time each day.

Routines enhance our sense of coherence, a process that allows us to understand the puzzle of life events.

When we have an established routine, whether it’s the routine of working five days and taking two days off, or performing a series of actions each day, our lives become more meaningful.

Another important routine to establish is your sleep routine. Research shows that consistent sleep time can be just as important to enjoying Monday as the length or quality of your sleep.

Changes in sleep patterns over the weekend trigger social jet lag. For example, sleeping later than usual and sleeping longer on days off can create a discrepancy between your internal clock and societal obligations. This is associated with higher stress levels on Monday mornings.

Try to have set bedtimes and waking times, avoiding naps. You may also want to create a 30-minute relaxation routine before bed by turning off or putting away your digital devices and practicing relaxation techniques.

Hack your hormones

Hormones can also play a role in how we feel on Monday.

For example, cortisol is a very important multifunctional hormone. Among other things, it helps our body to control our metabolism, regulate our sleep-wake cycle and our response to stress.

It’s usually released about an hour before we wake up (it helps us feel awake), and then its levels drop until the next morning unless we’re under stress.

Under acute stress, our bodies release not only cortisol but also adrenaline to prepare for fight or flight. Then the heart beats fast, we get sweaty hands and can react impulsively. This is our amygdala (a small almond-shaped area at the base of our brain) that hijacks our brain. It creates a super-rapid emotional response to stress, even before our brains can process it and figure out if it was necessary.

But once we can think—by activating the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the area for our reasoning and executive thinking—that response is blunted when there’s no real threat. It’s a constant battle between our emotions and our reason. This could wake us up in the middle of the night when we are too stressed or anxious.

It should come as no surprise, then, that cortisol levels measured in saliva samples from full-time employees tend to be higher on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the lowest levels reported on Sundays.

As a stress hormone, cortisol fluctuates daily, but not constantly. On weekdays, cortisol levels rise as soon as we wake up, and the fluctuations tend to be higher than on weekends.

To counteract this, we need to trick the amygdala by training the brain to only see actual threats. In other words, we need to activate our prefrontal cortex as quickly as possible.

One of the best ways to achieve this and reduce overall stress is through relaxation activities, especially on Mondays.

One possibility is mindfulness, which goes hand in hand with a reduction in cortisol. Spending time in nature is another method – getting outside on Mondays, or even during your lunch break, can make a big difference in how you perceive the start of the week.

Take your time before checking your phone, social media, and the news. It is good to wait until the cortisol peak naturally decreases, which happens about an hour after waking up, before exposing yourself to external stressors.

By following these simple tips, you can teach your brain that the days of the week can be (almost) as good as the weekend.

Cristina R. Reschke, Associate Professor, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences & Funded Investigator at FutureNeuro Research Center, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and Jolanta Burke, Senior Lecturer, Center for Positive Health Sciences, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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