Monday gets a bad rap as being the week's most miserable day. But ever since elementary school, Cortney Anderson's true nemesis has been Sunday.
The unfinished homework. The race against the clock for a few last licks of freedom. The quiet that descends as everyone withdraws to prepare for the stress ahead. No matter the weather or proof otherwise, Anderson said, Sundays feel perpetually cloudy and short.
“Sunday just drives a sharp pain in each of my limbs,” is how Anderson, a 19-year-old pre-med student at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., described it in a blog post.
For reasons personal or cultural, certain days of the week can cast an angsty pall of dread, much like seasons or milestones can trigger anxiety or depression with cyclical predictability, experts say. Whether it's waning daylight, holiday expectations or emotional memories of back-to-school nerves that spring to life (even in adulthood) with the first whiff of fall leaves, calendar cues can provoke visceral reactions.
Many people suffer through with a shrug of resignation. It's better, though, to recognize the forces behind your mood patterns and make changes to reclaim the day.
“The whole point of being aware of what's likely to affect you is so that you don't have to be the passive recipient of life's experiences that day,” said Dr. John Sharp, a psychiatrist and author of “The Emotional Calendar: Understanding Seasonal Influences and Milestones to Become Happier, More Fulfilled, and in Control of Your Life.”
And Sundays, of course, don't hold a monopoly on gloom. Many people say it's their favorite. Search for Facebook groups dedicated to the “worst day of the week,” and all but one have Monday in their cross hairs.
But often the day is not really as dismal as our perception of it.
A new large study found that people were no glummer on Monday than they were on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. They were significantly more chipper on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with no difference in happiness levels between the weekend days.
In a previous study that analyzed more than 500 million tweets sent worldwide, published last year in the journal Science, researchers from Cornell University found people expressed the most negative emotions on Tuesdays and the most positive on Sunday mornings. No matter the day, positivity peaked in the mornings, waned during the day, then both positivity and negativity rose again after about 6 p.m.
The new study, published in August in the Journal of Positive Psychology, used a Gallup poll of 340,000 adults who were asked to describe their mood from the day before. The weekday-to-weekend effect was seen across age, gender and partner status, though retired people felt a less drastic mood shift than those still working, adding to the wealth of research that show work contributes to low moods. Overall, men had more positive moods than women, people with partners were happier than those without, and respondents over 60 were happier than their younger counterparts.
The study's lead author, Arthur Stone, vice chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stony Brook University in New York, said the anticipation of a bad day is sometimes the worst part about it.
“People should not be focused on what it may be like, and in fact focus on how they're actually feeling,” Stone said.
They also should focus on the causes driving their feelings, which aren't always what they seem. That existential despair you blame on the fact that it's Sunday could have more to do with drinking too much the night before than anything else, said Adam Kaplin, assistant professor in psychiatry and neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
To help patients track their moods and detect patterns, Kaplin developed a text messaging service that sends a daily reminder to subscribers' cellphones asking them to rate their mood. Online health community HealthCentral licensed the technology to create Mood247.com, which has some 10,000 registered users.
Kaplin recalls a patient who worried his depression had returned after 10 years, so they tracked his daily moods and discovered he felt lousy on the weekdays but good on the weekends. The man wasn't clinically depressed; he just hated his job. Rather than go back on antidepressants, the man changed the text message alert time from the default noon setting to 6 p.m., to serve as a reminder that he needed to forget work and focus on the things that made him happy, like his fiance.
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Zooming out to see the broader picture of what's bumming you out helps you decide which path to take to make the day or season better, Sharp said.
Sometimes the stakes are high.
Sharp had a recently retired professor as a patient who was consumed by an uncomfortable restlessness in late summer. The man was tempted to have an affair. By recognizing that the root of his discomfort was that he no longer had back-to-school to prepare for, and not unhappiness with his wife, they were able to direct his restless energy to something positive instead. Now the professor spends summers organizing cultural trips he and his wife take in the fall.
For many people, work is the main driver of the doldrums, and people develop various ways to cope.
Maine resident Traci Schilling, a 36-year-old medical liaison to pharmaceutical companies, thinks Tuesdays are the worst, because by then she's lost her weekend charge and all she can see is a long slog. She used to take one Monday off a month so that she had a short week to look forward to, though now her vacation allotment doesn't permit it.
Jessica Hall, 26, a CPA from South Bend, Ind., falls into a funk on Sundays because she knows she has to leave town that night for work. She tries to do a big lunch with her fiance in the afternoons to cap off the weekend before boarding the plane.
Sharp and his friends used to hold a weekly Monday night supper club to cheer up the dreary day. Another of his friends breaks out his best steaks, wines and cigars on Sunday nights, offsetting his Sunday melancholy by throwing himself a little party.
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As for Anderson, the Pomona, Calif., pre-med student, an unconventional work schedule this summer dealt a double whammy of sad Sundays. Home in Anchorage, Alaska, working in retail and as a restaurant hostess on Saturday through Wednesday, Anderson found herself feeling down on Fridays, her de facto Sundays, while actual Sundays still remained bleak.
Anderson fights back by reaching out to fellow Sunday haters for a coffee, catching up with friends or indulging in the downtime by watching movies. It helps to know brighter days lay ahead.
“Mondays are really refreshing after Sunday,” Anderson said.
©2012 Chicago Tribune
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