Mondays are inevitable. The Monday blues? Turns out, they don’t have to be. As you gear up for the busy fall season, try these tips to start off your week in a healthier way.
Garfield the cat got two things very right: First, lasagna is delicious. Second, Mondays can be a real drag. It’s not merely the transition from playtime to the work and school week. Many of us stay up later on weekend nights and sleep in during the day, messing up our circadian rhythms and making us grumpy and irritable when the alarm goes off on Monday morning. The stress of starting the week may even affect our health. A 2004 study found that blood pressure tends to be highest on Monday mornings, while another concluded that Monday is the most common day of the week for heart attacks. All of this may make you want to hit snooze and spend Mondays under the covers.
Fortunately, you can reverse the trend and set yourself up to have a positive, healthy start to the week. Here, experts weigh in on eight ways to make this a reality. (P.S. If you don’t work a traditional Monday-to-Friday schedule, this advice is adaptable to whenever you switch from off- to on-duty.)
1. Make a Monday to-do list—on Friday.
The end of the week may be cause to celebrate, but don’t make it official until you’ve written a to-do list for Monday. Everything you need to accomplish next week will be top of mind, so it makes sense to capture it at this time. But there’s another reason. “If you start the week without this list, you’ll have to brainstorm on Monday morning about the lingering projects from last week, which could be tough when you’re sluggish. You’ll already be starting off a step behind,” says Samantha Ettus, a Los Angeles–based entrepreneur and the author of The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction. With this list waiting on Monday, you may be more productive and have an easier time focusing. Check off a few easy tasks to start, and then dig into your most challenging task as quickly as possible. “If it’s hanging over you,” says Ettus, “the day will be that much more of a drag.”
2. Follow the one-hour rule.
No more trying to catch up on lost sleep on Sunday mornings. “Initially, it was thought that weekend recovery sleep was sufficient to pay back sleep debt,” says Annise Wilson, MD, assistant professor of neurology and sleep medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “But more recent research suggests that weekend recovery sleep may not reverse the effects of chronic sleep deprivation, and that an irregular sleep schedule can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.” Staying up late isn’t a great weekend habit either: It can lead to feeling even more tired on Monday. So sticking with a consistent sleep schedule all week long is best. At the very least, says Wilson, try not to go to bed or wake up more than an hour past your normal times, and if you need to nap, a brief snooze (under 30 minutes) in the early afternoon should help you avoid grogginess and disrupted nighttime sleep.
3. Rethink breakfast.
“Eating a satisfying and balanced breakfast will allow you to hear appropriate hunger and fullness signals throughout the day,” says nutrition therapist Elyse Resch, RDN, coauthor of Intuitive Eating and author of The Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens. But don’t think you have to eat immediately upon rising, which is the biggest misconception people have about breakfast. If you get up at 6 a.m., you may not feel hungry then, and that’s OK. Wait until you do, and then eat breakfast, says Resch. You’ll get the energy you need and enable your body to eat more healthfully the rest of the day because you won’t be starving. You’ll also get a mood boost, according to a review in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. When you eat, aim to get about 15 to 25 percent of your total calories (between 300 and 500 calories for women) from that meal, says review author Charles Spence, PhD, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. Try oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts, or whole-wheat sourdough toast and avocado, with fruit and yogurt on the side. Resist dashing to the coffeepot when you first get up. Caffeine is more effective if you wait to sip your first cup until you’ve been up for an hour or two, when stress hormone levels naturally decrease. Not into caffeine or fresh out of beans? Sipping decaf, smelling coffee, or even just thinking about coffee can be enough to give you a boost, notes Spence.
4. Wear a feel-good outfit.
You know you feel better in clothes you like—and science backs that up. “You can use clothing to improve negative emotions,” says Dawnn Karen, founder of the Fashion Psychology Institute in New York City. To better your mood, choose bright colors, your favorite fabrics or prints, or a sustainable brand you feel great about. Better yet, pick out your outfit the night before so you avoid a wardrobe crisis Monday morning, says Ettus.
5. Seek natural light.
Perking up your morning might be as simple as getting a dose of natural light. Try opening the shades, eating breakfast outside, watering your vegetable garden, or taking a walk. “Light is like a cup of coffee. It has an acute alerting effect,” says Mariana Figueiro, PhD, professor and director at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Plus, being out in nature, even for five minutes, can give you a happiness high, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Can’t get outside in the morning? Change the light in your indoor space to brighten things up, move your computer closer to a window, or paint your walls a more vivid color.
6. Create a morning ritual.
“Our brains love routine, and the less work your brain has to do, the happier it will be,” says Colleen D. Cira, PsyD, founder and executive director of the Cira Center for Behavioral Health in Chicago. “Routines are also a great way to conserve energy for more complicated parts of the day and may give you some alone time.” Even better? You have more control over your attitude for the day, she adds. Tap into that extra-skip-in-your-step feeling by adopting a morning ritual—an activity or habit (preferably a healthy one) that puts you in a good mood and that you look forward to. For instance, you might brew a really good cup of tea, go to your favorite exercise class, green your commute by biking to work, or meditate. With something pleasant built into your morning schedule, you’ll likely feel a little less dread and a little more positivity when the Monday alarm buzzes.
7. Plan for fun.
An easy way to turn Mondays around is to make them the day you commit to fun plans for later in the week. Schedule a night out with friends, a farmers’ market meet-up, or even a binge-watch of your favorite show. Regardless of the activity, just thinking about the good times in store for you later in the week will be an instant pick-me-up, says Ettus. “Half the enjoyment of any activity is anticipating it, which is why it’s important to have things on your calendar you can look forward to,” she says.
8. Do a random act of kindness.
Put positive energy into the world and you’ll get it back, research confirms: Performing acts of kindness for seven days boosted happiness and well-being, found a 2018 study in the Journal of Social Psychology. But doing even one kind thing can make you feel great. “Acts of altruism and prosocial behavior are linked to reward-processing areas of the brain,” says study coauthor Lee Rowland, PhD, a chartered psychologist and research affiliate at the University of Oxford. As you start your day, look for ways to perform a random act of kindness, whether for a coworker, your neighbor, or a stranger. Bring coffee to a colleague, wheel your neighbor’s recycling bin back in from the curb, text a friend you haven’t talked to in a while to let her know you miss her, or make a small donation to an animal shelter or environmental cause. It’s a pretty nice day, eh?