Beating the Monday blues: tips on a brighter start to the week from experts, and someone who hasn’t had a case in 20 years
Many people, regardless of their job, start to feel overwhelmed with stress and sadness on Sunday, dreading work the next day. We’ve gathered advice from career coaches and psychologists on why it happens and what you can do
Why do so many of us feel down just before the start of a new work week?
You know the feeling – experts call it the “Monday blues”, but it usually creeps up on you on Sunday afternoon and stays with you until you leave for work the next day. That combination of stress, hopelessness and anxiety can be overwhelming for some, ruining whatever they have got left of the weekend and setting them up for a miserable Monday ahead.
Graphic designer and photographer Juliana Li understands this feeling all too well. For some time, the 40-year-old Chinese-Canadian dreaded going into work on Mondays – even though she loved her job – because she couldn’t bear the thought of “not having any fun or freedom for the next five days”.
The stressful and competitive nature of her job only added to the problem. “I had to deal with tight deadlines, demanding clients and last-minute project changes,” says Li, who moved to Hong Kong three years ago. “So the office was not exactly where I wanted to be after a relaxing weekend.”
But as horrible as it feels, you should view your funky mood as an asset. That is according to Dr Cathy Tsang-Feign, a clinical psychologist who practises in Hong Kong’s Central district.
“Feeling anxious, depressed and stressed is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, so you should pay attention to these emotions and not sweep them under the carpet,” she says.
Angela Spaxman, a career and executive coach from Loving Your Work in Central, says that these feelings are your intuition telling you that things could be better. “It’s a good sign, as long as you act on it. Remember, it’s not normal to feel this way. Working life can be – and is – enjoyable for many people, and it’s possible for everyone to make improvements so that they don’t dread going back to work on Monday.”
You ignore these feelings at your own peril, Tsang-Feign warns. In the short term, you may experience insomnia because of worrying about and over-thinking problems that await you at work the next day. In the long run, feelings of stress, hopelessness and anxiety can develop into more serious issues like burnout as you struggle to stay afloat. You may even start to resent your job and, unless you are someone who thrives on pressure, your performance may slip.
Spaxman has a few solutions to address the Monday blues. The first and most important step, she says, is to reflect on your situation and determine exactly what it is you are dreading. This is different for everyone, but the more precise you are the better, because it allows you to identify more possible solutions and work out what changes need to be made.
Making those changes is the second step. If, for example, it is your boss and not your actual job that is causing you grief, ask yourself what you dislike about your boss. This will help guide you if you decide to, say, switch companies, because at least you will know to stick to the same type of work. If you decide to remain at your company, you may wish to have a discussion with your boss about what would help you be more motivated and effective.
“For example, if your boss is way too demanding, you could share how this pressure has been impacting you negatively and explain how you’d like to be treated to help you be a better worker,” Spaxman says. “Yes, it sounds idealistic, but people have such discussions with their bosses all the time, so it can be done.”
The changes you make may be external, internal or both. “External changes are anything concrete that you can see, hear, feel or touch,” Spaxman says. “The options are endless. Most of the solutions will occur through conversations where you ask others to change, and/or you would change your own behaviour.”
Internal changes, on the other hand, are more powerful. These include changing the way you think and the feelings those thoughts generate.
“Making internal changes starts with self-reflection,” Spaxman explains. “So if you don’t like the way your boss puts pressure on you, you might ask yourself what thoughts and feelings this pressure stirs up inside of you. Then, make the conscious decision to detach yourself from those emotions by noticing that they are in fact not true, but just statements you hear in your head.”
For example, you might be thinking, “my boss doesn’t respect my personal time”, and “he forces me to work too many hours”. But neither of these statements is true in a factual sense, Spaxman says, although they may feel emotionally true.
“These are all judgments that create negative feelings in you. There’s nothing wrong with having these judgments and they can certainly guide you in taking steps to improve your working situation. However, if you’re choosing not to make any external changes because you feel that they’re too risky, then you also have the choice to distance yourself from these internal statements so that they don’t upset you so much.”
Dilip Sandhu, who is middle-aged and has been working for more than 20 years, has never had a case of the Monday blues. The executive secretary, who works at an international school in Hong Kong, says that she has two strategies for avoiding the heavy-heartedness that many of us feel when we begin a new work week.
“Building good relationships with my boss and colleagues is very important, as is planning my workdays well,” she says. “If you do what you have to do, when you have to do it, and make good use of your time while you’re at work, you won’t have to worry about playing catch-up after a restful weekend. Instead, you’ll go in to work bright and early on Monday – or whatever day – and feel ready to take on new challenges.”
Li eventually came up with a few strategies herself for overcoming the Monday blues. First, she changed the way she thought about Mondays. “I asked myself, ‘why should I only feel happy on Saturdays and Sundays? Why can’t I bring that joy into Monday as well?’ Just because it’s a workday it doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t have fun. Once I started thinking this way, I began to look forward to waking up on Mondays,” she explains.
“Second, I looked for ways to make my Mondays pleasurable. For example, I’d watch funny YouTube videos on the way to work, wear my favourite outfit, or treat myself to lunch at my favourite restaurant. In time, I began to notice positive changes in the way I felt on Monday mornings. I think the mistake many people make is thinking that they have to wait until the weekend to have fun or be happy. But we all have the power to create positive moments for ourselves, every day.”