Here’s what’s happening: your body churns out adrenaline, often in response to work demands, but the flow of that energy-producing hormone isn’t stemmed on Friday night. And a continuous release of adrenaline when you don’t need it (ie, during downtime) can create a “physiological disturbance that puts you at risk for developing fatigue and headaches,” says psychologist Dr Ad Vingerhoets. Staying plugged in after you clock off can also go a long way towards explaining why approximately 10 million scripts are written annually in Australia for tranquillisers and sleeping pills.
And because Aussies work the longest hours in the developed world (a 2008 report by the Australia Insititute says we rack up 44 hours a week compared to the average 38), more of the domestic to-do list – laundry, shopping for groceries, ploughing through piles of bills – is saved for the weekend.
In a WH reader survey, 53 per cent of you said you often felt stressed. And no wonder.
“We run our lives like seven-day workweeks because we think we can use our weekend to catch up, but it’s exhausting,” says psychologist Dr Rachna Jain. Dr Stephanie McClellan, co-author of So Stressed: The Ultimate Stress-Relief Plan for Women warns: “If the highs of stress during the week aren’t offset by the lows of leisure on the weekend, your cortisol levels can remain sky-high, hampering your body’s natural ability to bounce back and recharge.”
Another reason weekends tend to wipe us out: they’re not as structured as weekdays, where tasks are laid out for us. “Most people aren’t prepared to function with free time,” says Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a world leader in positive psychology. “We end up being overwhelmed with a sense that we need to fill each minute with quality stuff. We often end up wasting our days by not doing anything interesting, rather than planning things that produce happiness.” At the opposite end of the scale are those who over-plan their weekends.
“For people who structure their weekends I would suggest finding allocated time within the structure to increase ‘downtime’,” says WH stress less expert Dr Suzy Green. “Even those who love order need downtime.”
Here, more expert tricks for restoring the replenishing power of your weekend:
Follow the rule of three “That’s how many planned activities you should schedule for the weekend – eg, hit a local market, go out to dinner and carve out some time to immerse yourself in a book,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
“You’ll get the right amount of meaningful activities, but still have plenty of time for fun.”
Get it done “Friday evening we’re still in work mode, which makes doing chores more seamless and less painful,” says Dr McClellan. Check one thing off your to-do list during this time, like the washing.
Set the tone “Music can be a great motivator, so pick a song that reminds you of how you want to feel for the day, and play it when you wake up,” says Pat Armistead, member of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life. “Playing your song on a Saturday and Sunday morning can help create a clear distinction between weekends and weekdays.”
Go with the flow Make the most of your leisure time with something that Dr Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow. “This is an almost childlike state in which you’re so lost in an activity that you don’t think about how you look or what you’re achieving – and you move away from your problems or anxiety about work.”
Diving into something creative like painting, knitting or cooking will stimulate your mind and make it easier to enter escape mode. Start by “snacking” on moments of stress-free bliss, suggests Anjani Millet, Australian founder of the Gross National Happiness World Project.
“Committing to smaller increments of time works well, even if it’s only five minutes. But for those five minutes, you must pour your heart and soul into the experience.”
Be one with yourself Starting your day with a sun salutation can have its benefits, says Shelley Anne Cowden, a Melbourne-based researcher who’s completing her PhD on yoga practice in Western cultures. “Yoga is the natural experience of connection with your body, breath and soul – this connection will allow you to make a comfortable transition into the weekend, whatever experiences it may bring.”
Take a technical time-out Easier said than done, but limiting how often you check your mobile is a must if you want to decompress. “Keeping up with messages may not take a huge amount of time, but it leaves you in a stressed-out work mode, even when you’re not yakking on it,” says Vanderkam.
Aim for “good enough” Give those perfectionist tendencies a rest for once. “Perhaps you can’t see everyone you’d hoped to see over the weekend, but you can email a friend to say you’re thinking of her,” says mind-body expert Dr Claire Wheeler. And maybe you can’t cook all your meals from scratch, but you can make a healthy breakfast... then order in for dinner.