Mondays affect many of us badly – but it seems that they also affect cars, computers, and even the weather equally badly. Is there a scientific reason? Len Fisher, author of How to Dunk a Doughnut and expert on the science of everyday life, investigates.
Workers in the textile industry have been prone to an illness that only affects them on Mondays, with shortness of breath and pains in the chest. Until the 1950s, company doctors dismissed such people as malingerers, but it gradually became clear that they were suffering from a real disease, whose first symptom was that the victim felt ill only on Mondays. As the disease progressed, the sufferer would begin to feel ill throughout the week, but worse on Mondays and significantly better at weekends.
The disease is called byssinosis, or Monday fever. It is a progressive, asthma-like narrowing of the airways that results from inhaling fibres of cotton, flax, hemp, or jute. Sufferers become sensitized to the presence of such particles, and feel much better at weekends because the air that they are breathing is not full of textile fibres. As soon as they return to work, the symptoms re-appear with the renewed severity typical of allergic reactions. Fortunately, the disease is not usually fatal, and its incidence has now been greatly reduced (in Western cultures, at least) by the use of fume hoods and protective masks.
Few people now suffer from byssinosis, but many of us have suffered from Mondayitis, which the Victorian author Jerome K. Jerome described as “a general disinclination to work of any kind”. The doctors of his time thought that it was due to malfunction of the liver, and prescribed little pills for it. Modern doctors seem more inclined to believe that it is a bodily reaction to the pressures of returning to work, and that there is “more than a germ of truth” in the folk explanation that the physical and psychological demands of returning to work at the beginning of the week create stresses that may lead to physical symptoms. But there is no strong scientific evidence for this assertion, and the true origins of “Mondayitis” are still a subject for debate.
Mondays are the worst day of the week for data loss, especially during the holiday season, according to data security consultants Kroll Ontrack. Is it possible that computers, like people, suffer from Mondayitis? Kroll consultants suggest the more mundane explanation that people become slack on Fridays in the rush to get away, failing to save work and simply switching computers off rather than shutting them down properly. I’m not so sure. My personal theory is that the computers are taking revenge for being left alone and unattended over the weekend. To obviate this possibility, I have arranged for my computer to boot itself up every two hours over the weekend. Maybe it won’t notice that I’m not there.
Even cars seem to have problems with Mondays. According to a recent AA report, cars are almost as reluctant to start the week as are their drivers, especially in the winter months.
Whether it’s a car or a human, the reluctance to get going has a similar origin. Scientifically speaking, both the car and the driver need a burst of energy to get started. Humans are kick-started by the adrenalin produced from the “fight or flight” mechanism (whose unpleasant after-effects include lethargy and exhaustion), but cars need to get their initial energy from their batteries, which can slowly lose their charge if left idle over the weekend (15% of call-outs are for flat batteries). In the winter, condensed moisture from the damp atmosphere provides a conducting path that further helps to drain the battery.
The solution in both cases is exercise. Run your car over the weekend to keep the engine compartment warm and dry, and run yourself after you get to work to get rid of that nasty adrenalin before it builds up too much. Even a few minutes of running on the spot will help, and with exercise both you and the car will feel better.
Reports of lightning damage to property are most frequent on Mondays. There is no obvious physical explanation for this phenomenon, although one might speculate that stories about lightning damage are most likely to be run by newspapers on Mondays, when there are fewer competing stories. There is, however, a good reason why your personal chances of being hit by lightning are lowest on a Monday.
It is probably because most people work inside buildings, which are one of the safest places to be when lightning is about. The building might be hit, but you won’t. The worst places to be in a lightning storm are on a golf course or under a tree (which is probably why lightning injuries are 25% more common on Sundays than on any other day). Lightning will preferentially strike the nearest tall object, and it doesn’t much matter whether the object is made of wood, flesh or even metal. A standing person is just as likely to be hit as a bronze statue of equivalent size. Your safest bet if you are caught in the open in a lightning storm is to lie flat on your face or hop into your car (but don’t touch the metal after you have shut the doors!). A closed car acts as a “Faraday cage”, screening everything inside from electrical fields outside.
It may also be an advantage to have white hair, which seems to be a better insulator than pigmented hair. When a piebald cow was struck in the seventeenth century, its bemused owner reported that all of the red hairs had been stripped off, but the white haired regions on the skin had remained intact.
In any case, don’t worry. Only some 25% of people who are struck by lightning actually die. The survival record is held by the U.S. park ranger Roy C. Sullivan, who survived 7 strikes while pursuing his outdoor occupation. It may also help to be a woman; four times as many men as women are hit by lightning.
Mondays and the under-50s
Monday is a dangerous day for the under-50s. A recent Scottish study has shown that mortality from coronary heart disease for men and women under 50 was about 20% higher on Mondays than on other days of the week. The authors suggested that the mortality may be associated with heavy drinking at weekends, but Christopher Martyn, Associate Editor of the British Medical Journal, has pointed out that doctors are fond of blaming the disease on the patient where possible, and has made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that “In the current climate, it is bound to occur to someone that the quality of treatment provided by hungover medical practitioners on Monday mornings [also] needs investigation.”
As an addendum to this, one might note the unfortunate statistic that reports of false positives from laboratories conducting breast cancer screenings are 50% higher on Mondays than on any other day (fortunately, the overall incidence of false positives is still extremely low).
Teenagers who are susceptible to migraines report more bouts on Mondays than on other days. It’s not just a symptom dreamed up to avoid going to school. Studies at Palm Beach Headache Center in Florida have shown that the sufferers lose out by being unable to play games or indulge in normal teenage activities, which is something that would not happen if they were malingering. The trigger appears to be genuine stress, but at least the teenagers have one advantage – they are much better at taking medications to keep the symptoms under control than are their adult counterparts.
According to many job agencies, Mondays are far and away the worst days to go for job interviews. The rationale in this case is obvious; earlier interviewees are often forgotten by the time that later ones come along, so if the interview process is extended over several days, your best bet is to get somewhere near the end.
Even the stock exchange suffers from Mondayitis. It is well documented that financial assets exhibit lower than average returns on Mondays compared with other days of the week. Economists are just as puzzled by this phenomenon as are medical specialists by the increased incidence of heart attacks on Mondays. I can’t help, except by suggesting that a financial market is a complex organism with a mind of its own. Maybe the “Mondayitis” of the individual stockbrokers communicates itself to this higher mind. In any event, the statistics suggest that it may be best to buy on a Monday and sell later in the week, in the absence of any other guidelines.
Overall, the best advice appears to be to avoid Mondays all together. The best bet is to go to bed on Sunday and get up on Tuesday. That way, you will soon not have a stressful job to go to, you can avoid doctors with Monday hangovers, and by having no money to join a golf club you will be at much less risk of being struck by lightning.
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