Many of us begin to groan and moan as our precious weekend comes to an end. It’s not just the interruption of fun with friends and family that triggers the Sunday blues, or what some call the Sunday scaries. It’s also anxiety and dread about the workweek to come.
One study found 81% of more than 1,000 respondents said they became progressively more anxious as their restful Sunday came to a close. Psychologists call it “anticipatory anxiety.”
Nearly two-thirds reported a restless night’s sleep Sunday night, which they attributed to job-related anxiety.
And it’s not just because people hate their jobs: Even people who said they love their work reported anxiety over job expectations and workload.
How we get stressed
Fretting over something can trigger our flight-or-fight reflex, which floods the body with adrenaline. Pulse rate and blood pressure rise. Breathing becomes rapid, and the extra oxygen in the brain increases alertness. Blood sugars and other nutrients flood the bloodstream, supplying a boost of energy.
If the brain continues to think the danger is there (cue work worries) the body keeps systems on high, triggering the release of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. A continuous flood of cortisol keeps us revved up and on high alert.
You want to counter that stress by doing things that boost endorphins – the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood boosters.
An excellent choice is exercise. Breaking a sweat has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, boost mood and enhance sleep, all good ways to combat Sunday stress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, just five minutes of aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety.
There are other benefits too: A 2015 study found aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Be sure to add strength training with weights to your regime. A 2012 study found weight training produced significant improvements in both memory and executive functions.
Take a nature pill
Virtually any form of exercise or movement can increase your fitness level while decreasing your stress. Why not boost that effect by enjoying nature?
One study published in April found a simple 10-minute walk in an urban park three times a week reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in study participants. A 2013 study in the UK found simply walking in green spaces helped move the brain into a state of meditation.
And a 2015 study found people who took a 90-minute nature walk (even in an urban setting) had lower activity in the region of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative thoughts. They were less likely to brood about things that were fretting them.
Some folks turn to alcohol, even binging, to cope with the Sunday night blues. That’s a poor choice: Alcohol rattles your normal sleep patterns, trapping you in lighter stages of sleep and dramatically reducing the quality of your rest at night.
“It continues to pull you out of rapid eye movement and the deeper stages of sleep, causing you to wake up not feeling restored,” said Rebecca Robbins, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, in a previous CNN interview.
People often party hardy on Friday and Saturday nights. No judgment – but know that binge drinking, or drinking a lot in one sitting, is associated with higher levels of depression, self-harm, suicide and violence.
In fact the more you drink, the more your negative emotions – anxiety, anger and depression – surface, experts say,
If you do imbibe, try to keep Sunday alcohol-free. If that fails, be sure to stop drinking long before bedtime.
This is going to sound impossible, even sacrilegious, but try to avoid your cell phone and work email on Sunday. Being constantly connected keeps us amped up even on our days off, discouraging relaxation.
Does the idea make you even more nervous? Then try to check in as early in the evening on Sunday as you can. The National Sleep Foundation suggests “at least 30 minutes of gadget-free transition time before hitting the hay.
Even better: Make your bedroom a technology-free zone — keep your electronics outside the room (that includes a TV!).”
And charge your phone outside the bedroom. The chimes of late night texts, emails, calls, or calendar reminders can disturb your deep sleep when if you don’t know it.
So you’ve turned off the chimes? Doesn’t matter. The blue light emitted by electronic screens interrupts the melatonin production, a hormone responsible for our sleep/wake cycles, also called circadian rhythm.
Journal your worries
Unconsciously worrying about all the things you have to do Monday primes you for restless sleep, even insomnia.
Use a technique long favored by stress management consultants: Write down a list of all the things you have to do Monday – or even the entire week. You can go so far as prioritizing them if you like. Not only will putting the tasks on paper jump-start your Monday morning, you’ll feel like you’ve purged your worries.
Go further if you like, and write about other things in your life that worry you – or just write down what you’re grateful for. Studies show that’s a great way to learn optimism and create a more positive outlook on life.
Practice good sleep hygiene
We’re supposed to get between seven and 10 hours of sleep each night, depending on our age, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a third of Americans sleep fewer than seven hours a night.
The good news is that you can train your brain to seek better sleep just as you train it to learn and accomplish other skills.
One of the first tasks is to set up your sleep environment and establish a relaxing bedtime routine. It’s that repetition that will train your brain to recognize that its time to relax and sleep.
Start with the bedroom. Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable and the room is cool: Between 60 and 67 degrees is best. Don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom; you want your brain to think of the room as only for sleep.
Be sure to eliminate all bright lights, as even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. If that’s hard to accomplish, think about using eye shades and blackout curtains to keep the room dark.
Try to eliminate disturbing sounds as well. Earplugs or white noise machines can be very helpful, but you can create your own with a humidifier or fan.
And try to spend at least an hour before bed doing something relaxing such as yoga, meditation, a warm soak in the tub, or reading a good book.
But maybe not a murder mystery.