Let’s face it, Mondays kinda suck. Even Sunday afternoons can turn sour as we anticipate the workweek ahead. More than three-quarters of people say they get the pre-work “Sunday blues,” according to a recent poll. Starting your Monday feeling sad, anxious, and unorganized is hardly the way to kick off a healthy week.
The solution? Set aside a little time on Sunday to purposefully prepare yourself for the five days ahead, suggests women’s health expert Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, president and co-owner of the Green Mountain at Fox Run, a wellness retreat in Ludlow, Vermont. Taking on even just a few of these simple hacks every Sunday will help you launch a productive, less stressful week—and make a habit of it.
Do some meal prep
Figuring out what to have for dinner on weeknights can be a surprisingly stressful time suck. Sketching out a menu plan on Sunday (and swinging by the grocery store for ingredients) will help you eat well and avoid last-minute drive-thru runs. Go a step further by chopping and cooking veggies and a protein (like a roast chicken or scrambled eggs). Then all you have to do is heat and plate when you come home from work Monday evening.
Or finally pull the trigger on that meal-kit subscription you’ve been meaning to try. Talk about easy dinner planning: Just order, and you have a week’s worth of raw materials for delicious and healthy meals.
Start a Sunday stress-relief habit
“To be healthy, we have to take care of body and mind,” says Hudnall. Stress has a major impact on health and our ability to concentrate, so starting a Sunday stress-busting habit can launch the week feeling strong and focused. Four ideas to try: a guided meditation session with the help of an app; forest bathing—a practice known as shinrin-yoku in Japan, which basically means taking a long walk or hike in a wooded area; gentle exercise like yoga; or time cuddling and playing with your pet.
Set a bedtime and stick to it
Do not stay up binge-watching your favorite shows to squeeze the last few drops of weekend out of your Sunday. One research review found that losing two or more hours of your usual sleep for just a couple days in a row can make you perform worse on memory and reaction-time tests. Making sure you get a solid 7 to 9 hours of rest on Sunday night will put you in a more optimistic mood and start your week off energized.
Make a quick ‘looking forward to it’ list
Write down (or take mental note of) three things you’re anticipating in the week ahead, says Hudnall. Meeting an old friend for lunch? Finally tying up the loose ends of an ongoing project? Even if your list is full of mundane events—your mid-afternoon coffee run is so familiar and comforting!—just noticing the good things can make you feel happier and more alert. A 2014 study in Psychological Science found that anticipating something good that will happen in the future, such as planning a vacation, makes people feel excited and happier about life in the present moment, too.
Bust out your calendar
You don’t need to map out your whole week or make a huge to-do list—just take a peek at what’s on deck for Monday and Tuesday. Even if the days are jam-packed, knowing what’s coming can relieve energy-sucking anxiety and leave you in better shape to tackle the task at hand.
Schedule three workouts
While you’ve got your calendar app open, put yourself down for three exercise sessions. You know that regular sweat sessions help you sleep better, feel better, and think better all week long, but you also know how easy it is to let gym time get crowded out by all your other responsibilities. “Get to know yourself—are you a morning workout or a night workout person? Respect that and set up your schedule accordingly,” says Hudnall.
We know, some of the most beautiful Sundays of your life are spent under blankets with Netflix and takeout. (Us too!) But walking in nature (like in a park, arboretum, or other green space) can boost memory and attention by 20% compared to strolling typical city or suburban streets, according to University of Michigan researchers.
Even just looking at pictures of nature for 10 minutes had a positive effect on cognition. So if you can’t bring yourself to head out, at least try to scroll National Geographic or watch an episode of Blue Planet. Exposure to the beauty and wonder of the great outdoors will pay off big when you’re stuck under the harsh lights and airless rooms of an office building for the next five days.