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Why are Mondays so mentally difficult?

Tired male student or worker sit at home office desk look in distance having sleep deprivation, lazy millennial man distracted from work feel lazy lack motivation, thinking of dull monotonous job
How you feel on a Monday is also likely to depend on how you feel about your job, too. Photo: Getty

It’s almost universally accepted that Mondays aren’t fun. After a weekend of lie-ins, takeaways and Netflix, you suddenly have to switch your brain back on and get back to the daily grind. And no matter how much coffee you consume, you just can’t shake off that groggy feeling.

According to one survey, 62% of more than 1,000 full-time employees ranked Monday as their most dreaded day of the week. Not only do we feel tired after the weekend, we spend significantly longer moaning on a Monday — an average of 34 minutes, to be precise, compared to 22 minutes on other days.

“Mondays can feel tricky for a number of reasons,” says Dr Marianne Trent, a clinical psychologist & author of The Grief Collective: Stories of Life, Loss & Learning to Heal.

“Sometimes we spend weekends catching up on our sleep or drinking more than we usually would midweek, so dragging ourselves back to normal waking times and processing a richer diet can take its toll on our sleep quality.”

Lots of us take the opportunity to “catch up” on sleep at the weekend, making the most of not having to set our alarms for work. But sleeping in even an hour or two for just two days can confuse your body clock.

According to scientists, that extra sleep simply makes you more tired at the start of the week because it can throw your body clock off by up to 45 minutes. As a result, getting up on a Monday morning can feel even harder.

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It’s also mentally challenging to get back into the mindset of work after the weekend. Overnight, you have to transition from owning your own time - which you can spend socialising, exercising and doing other hobbies and activities - to being on work time, and at your manager’s beck and call.

“There are often so many more demands placed upon us mid-week,” says Trent. “It can take a while to adjust psychologically from being the controller of your own destiny at the weekend to suddenly having to toe the line.

“For some, Mondays feel a struggle because they work to live rather than living to work,” Trent explains. “Opening the dreaded email inbox after a weekend away can also feel like a chore that takes a good half a day to wade through.”

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How you feel on a Monday is also likely to depend on how you feel about your job, too.

According to a Gallup poll, 70% of people hate or, at best, are “completely disengaged” from their job. This contributes to what many refer to as the so-called Monday Blues. Feelings of depression and anxiety can start on Sunday night, leading to an unproductive Monday.

“With the clients I work with, sometimes people start to feel bad on a Sunday evening as they know they have to prepare themselves to go and do a job which doesn’t make them feel good about themselves,” Trent adds. “They may be working under management they don’t find supportive, inspiring or helpful.”

These factors aside, there’s no real reason why a Monday should feel more mentally difficult than a Tuesday or Wednesday. But research suggests the “artificial seven-day cycle” that we live by influences the way we think and how we perceive certain days.

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In 2015, psychologists from the universities of Lincoln, York and Hertfordshire created an experiment to test how our mental representations of days of the week are constructed and what effect this has on our perceptions of time.

They asked participants which words they most strongly associated with different days, discovering that Mondays and Fridays had a higher number of mental representations attached to them than their midweek counterparts.

Mondays mainly prompted negative words like ‘boring’, ‘hectic’ and ‘tired’ and Fridays were associated with positive words like ‘party’, ‘freedom’ and ‘release’. So while Monday may not actually be the worst day of the week, many people definitely believe it to be.

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To make Mondays a little easier, it can help to incorporate positive, enjoyable things into your weekdays, rather than saving them all for the weekend.

“Lockdown has rather got in the way of some of the other stuff like planning holidays or Monday night meals out, but there’s still plenty of lockdown friendly ways to celebrate and enjoy a Monday,” says Trent.

This might mean wearing your favourite clothes, planning a good lunch, preparing a great Monday night dinner or treating yourself to a takeaway.

“Plan an activity you enjoy, even if it’s watching something you love or chatting to someone who is important to you. Or perhaps make sure your Mondays don’t involve talking to the people who stress you out the most.”

If you find it hard to get out of bed, it can help to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including the weekend. “Evidence suggests that people with uniform bed and wake times generally have better physical and mental health as sleep pays such rich dividends,” Trent explains.

“If Mondays are always feeling like a real struggle then it may be a sign that it’s time to consider a new job role or to look at how our weekends are spent to leave us feeling better rested and more energised for the week ahead.”

Careers Clinic
Careers Clinic