Whisper it, do you secretly want those BC (before coronavirus) Monday blues back? There are good reasons why lockdown Mondays are more of a struggle, say mental health experts
Whether you called them Sunday scaries or Monday blues, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about; that anxiety that creeps in on a Sunday night as you know you have to gear up for the week ahead and that glum Monday feeling as your train trundles into work.
I love my job, but it’s all that comes with it that gets me down (commuting, Tube delays, getting home late), so I assumed that once all that was out of the equation and I was forcibly working from home thanks to lockdown, those gripes would be a thing of the past. So why am I feeling so moody on a Monday? I’m not the only one.
Fashion blogger Chloe Samwell-Smith ( Chloelovestoshop to her 71k followers) took to her grid to share her chagrin about Monday misery. “Is it just me or are lockdown Mondays a little harder than ‘BC’ (before coronavirus) Mondays? Not sure why, maybe it’s that ‘back to business’ feeling I miss more than other days?”
Lockdown Mondays have brought about a whole new wave of anxiety about the week ahead, especially for freelancers wondering whether work is still going to come in, furloughed staff unsure whether their job will still be there after all of this, parents having to juggle home schooling with working from home and small businesses worrying whether they’ll be able to stay afloat.
Penny Weston, director of Moddershall Oaks spa in Staffordshire is feeling it too. “On a Monday morning when I’m not in the office and it hits that my business is closed I reach a whole new level of anxiety,” she says. “For so many of us, work is our identity. Over half my life has been about managing and growing the business and now I’ve been at home for four weeks without a business to manage or grow.”
The loss of work is understandably breeding negativity when you're confronted with an empty week-ahead diary, as freelance photographer Saira Macleod explains: "My Monday dread stems from having had work in the diary for each week that has been cancelled and knowing that as the week comes I have to sit by and watch things pass me by that I was really excited about working on.
"I'm actually dreading the end of isolation too and I start thinking about this on Mondays," Macleod says. "The end of lockdown means I will have let this 'golden opportunity' of time pass me by without doing anything productive with it."
"Before lockdown, I’d spend Sunday evening wistfully imagining a Monday free of work and all the anxieties it brings," explains fashion PR Marie-Louise Pumfrey. "I run a fashion communications consultancy and have to be motivated, energised and essentially on it 24/7. So now when the fashion world has almost closed down, I find myself feeling deflated and down on a Monday. Mondays used to be so frenetic. The first Monday of lockdown I took myself off to bed in the afternoon, not reappearing until Tuesday. I didn’t think I’d say it, but I miss the frantic Monday energy, planning the week, setting the meetings up and getting on top of my workload."
Even those who are running in-demand business aren’t without concern, as Claire Turpin, found of activewear brand Contur comments: “The first thing I do when I wake up on Monday is start worrying; I think the main worry for the week is not having the control and working in ambiguity. Being an e-commerce and social media-driven business, I worry a lot about what to post. I don’t want it to look like I’m pushing sales as I’m very mindful people are in situations where they have lost their jobs or on financial cutbacks, but ultimately I am an online retailer so keen to continue building my brand, community and promoting my products.”
With the rise of online workouts and Instagram challenges, Claire has seen an increase in sales of activewear. “However with government working restrictions, the factory where Contur is made isn’t running at 100 per cent so I am facing items being out of stock and longer delays to restock.”
Monday blues have always been a thing, but Moody Mondays (moan-days?) have taken on a whole new turn in the time of coronavirus. So what's going on? We asked the experts.
Our brains miss our old Monday routine and are struggling to adapt
“Just because our schedules have gone out of the window due to working from home or being furloughed doesn't mean our Monday blues will disappear,” says Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist on behalf of Healthspan . “In fact, the lack of structure could be contributing to higher anxiety levels.”
After years in the working world, our minds have an expectation of what Monday will bring; when this doesn’t happen it’s a cause of stress to the brain, adds neuroscientist and former psychiatric doctor Dr Tara Swart .
“Our brains need to rest by switching modes and this is essentially what weekends are good for,” she says. "We’ve got used to the generally-accepted five working day, two-day weekend system. Simply, that changing is a threat to the brain, as it is new and uncertain.”
“Having said that, our brains also need an optimal level of stimulation and variety to learn, grow and stay flexible. Now that all seven days of the week are less differentiated from each other and have the same lack of structure compared to before, the brain still has an expectation of what Monday will mean in terms of routine, change and variety but that is not happening and this is another cause of stress to the brain.”
We're in a demotivation loop
As well as being used to a weekly routine, our brain is having to work less hard which can lead to a slump – meaning even among those who are normally “get up and go” people (myself included) could be struggling with moody Mondays.
“The continuity of our weeks rather than variety takes away the natural shift between sub-personalities that we enjoy e.g. who we are at work, in a family, socially etc,” explains Swart. Maintaining a single state more of the time gives our brain less reward, in the form of the neurotransmitter dopamine, she says. And when dopamine drops we feel less motivated.
It's a vicious cycle of demotivation and we might feel that things that used to take five minutes take hours or we can't quite muster the energy to put all those great lockdown plans of leaning French, quilting, unicycling or whatever into action. We might have imagined lockdown Mondays spent planning exciting tasks for the week, but instead being paralysed by guilt that we can't seem to make them happen.
Our brains are going through the grief cycle
There's a reason why we're feeling this way; we are actually in a state of mourning for our pre-coronavirus lives and our changing emotions reflect the fact that we are going through a grief cycle – what in psychology circles is known as the Kubler-Ross grief/change curve.
Dr Swart explains: “It’s a psychological model that describes the seven grief stages we will go through: grief, shock, anger, denial, depression, finding meaning and acceptance.
“The first two stages are high cortisol [stress response] states where the brain and body are under stress. The next two are low serotonin [feel-good] states where our mood dips and we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, the last two are oxytocin [love/bonding] building states where we search for purpose to make sense of the situation and are finally able to adapt.”
On lockdown moody Mondays we’re in the low serotonin states, unable to see a way through and back to normality, or even a new normal. “Try to understand where you are on the curve and work through it rather than getting stuck in one part of the cycle,” Swart advises.
We're worrying about money
When we don’t know what the week ahead holds, especially for freelancers who are waiting for work to come in, our minds can be flooded with money worries.
“It’s natural for our minds to start to think about the financial uncertainty ahead,” says Arroll. “Our brains are hardwired to seek out certainty for survival, but it is usually the struggle to rid our lives of uncertainty that causes anxiety, not the situation itself.”
Meg's advice is to focus on what you can control – see below.
How to cope with moody Mondays
While there are at least two more lockdown Mondays to contend with, they don't have to be moan-days. Here's what our experts recommend you try to lift the mood:
1. Bring in some structure
We’re sure you’ve heard it dozens of times over the last few weeks, but structure is key to keeping your head up at the moment.
“Create structure in each weekday and introduce changes at the weekend,” suggests Swart. “Establish boundaries around when you work and when you spend time with family (virtually or in isolation), exercise, eat, sleep and have self-care time.”
“Define your days again by planning family fun at the weekend and if you’re still working, keep to a clear work timetable in the week to differentiate days, which will allow you to maintain some restorative space in your week,” adds Arroll.
2. Focus on what you can control
This is particularly relevant if financial worries are your main concern. “You can manage this tension by switching your focus away from outcomes that you can’t control, to actions which you can,” explains Arroll.
For example, you may fear that the economy will suffer and you may not have work to return to - this is an outcome you can’t control. Instead, use the time to develop positively - to work on your CV, brush up on skills you’ve always wished you had or getting in touch with your network and seeing what opportunities are out there. This is an action within your personal control.
3. Head moody Monday off at the pass by reframing your thinking
As difficult as “think positive thoughts” messages can be when you’re feeling low, switching to a positive mindset ahead of time, before moody Monday strikes, can be key to kicking off the week in a sunshiney mood.
On a Sunday, try to embrace the positives around heading back to work (albeit from home) on a Monday. “I see Mondays as “thank god I’ve got a reason to be productive today,” says wellbeing PR Tori Porter . “I find weekends harder because we're faced with two whole days where we aren't working and have nothing to do."
Focus on what's going 'strong' for you rather than what's going wrong. Corny as it sounds, but mental health experts including Dr Swart recommend starting the day with a gratitude list, writing down or saying to yourself five things that are good in your life right now - your health, the weather, the fact that we didn't actually ever run out of loo roll...
4. Try negative thinking - yes really
If you find reassuring yourself with positive thoughts isn’t doing the trick it might be worth trying the opposite. Hear us out.
“There is a good evidence base for negative visualisation, particularly during challenging times,” explains Arroll. “By imagining what you would do if the worst happens, you can give your brain a roadmap to follow when your mind veers into anxiety. Mental imagery strengthens neural connections in areas of the brain associated with emotional regulation and decision making, which helps us to cope with life's difficulties – it's only by facing our fears that we can overcome them.”
5. Do your hair and get properly dressed
If you are prone to a Monday downer, remember you're not the only one. Phone a friend, do an online live stream workout where you are part of a community but most of all, take time to get dressed and do your hair.
Those beauty rituals may seem frivolous and pointless when there are people facing life-or-death situations, but Dr Swart points out that touch - massaging in a face cream or body oil, brushing your hair, giving your family a hug - is so important for releasing oxytocin. It can help push along the grief cycle and generally make you feel better. "If you are isolating alone a hot bath has a similar effect."
There are studies that show that people who are at home and don't get dressed experience higher rates of depression, as Dr Swart explains below. A good morning routine will make you more productive, according to neuroscience, and help keep the Monday moods at bay.