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What’s a normal amount of Sunday anxiety?

by Sian Ferguson

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I’ve always associated Sundays with melancholy. No matter the weather, it always feels gray and overcast. Many of us are all too familiar with the “Sunday Blues”—that feeling of dread and anxiety that peaks on Sunday afternoons.

In 2015, Monster.com ran a poll that showed 62 percent of respondents regularly experienced the Sunday Blues, which can fuel anxiety, deepen depression, and even induce panic. We often may feel lethargic and demotivated, too.

It can even affect one’s sleep. Dr. Anne Bartolucci, a clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist, says that her clients often struggle to sleep on Sunday nights more than any other night.

But what exactly is to blame for this end of the weekend anxiety? Why do we waste that time worrying about work when we could enjoy a day of freedom?

Dr. Linda Straus explains that it’s our neocortex that’s to blame for our dread and anxiety about the future. Usually, this is a crucial evolutionary function. “At its core, dread is a preemptive warning against a possible upcoming negative experience,” she says. “Work is seen as negative because it can induce stress or bore us.” She adds that the presence of a hostile boss or co-workers can worsen this anxiety.

In other words, the same part of our brain that warns us away from danger also makes us anxious about facing work each Monday. As Bartolucci puts it, our dread is caused by us thinking ahead instead of staying in the moment. “It’s the same reason that people are happy on Friday even though they’re at work,” she says. “Their mind is already on the next day.”

So what can we do about it? Is there any way we can pull ourselves out of that weekly downward-spiral?

Mindfulness is one option, according to counselor Frank Healy. If we try to ground ourselves in the present and enjoy the “freedom” of the rest of our weekend, we might be able to calm our feelings of dread for the next day.

Healy strongly recommends mindfulness techniques to combat the Sunday Blues. “When you start to feel depressed or anxious on Sundays tell yourself that you can focus on what you are doing now,” he suggests. “One technique is to look around the room where you are, or outside and just take everything in. This keeps you from dreading anything that will happen on Monday.”

Sometimes, we also need to give ourselves a good self-talk. We might find ourselves dreading Mondays even when we enjoy work. In this case, it’s helpful to reason with ourselves. “For example, if you have the tough meeting on Monday remind yourself that you have handled presentations before, so it will not be that bad. If you dread school think of how you have handled school before,” Healy suggests.

We could also focus on all the things we enjoy about school or work—seeing our friends or co-workers, working on an interesting project, or even having a delicious lunch the next day. This will remind us that Mondays are not only manageable but often enjoyable.

Bartolucci also recommends making an extra effort to stay in the moment on Sunday and to let thoughts of work pass. “I’ve even had clients who would start working on Sunday to get a head start on their week,” she says. “It can also be helpful to have a social gathering or some other treat planned for Sunday evening so there’s something to look forward to as a final fun buffer between the weekend and work week.”

Dr. Andrea Ettingoff, a psychology professor at Southern New Hampshire University, points out another reason we might feel melancholic on Sundays: a lack of productivity might lead to us feeling guilty. We often plan to finish work or run errands on the weekend, but we may not finish all of our intended tasks.

Many of us feel the need to be productive on the weekends, but having unstructured time to rest and regroup is essential for our health. So those unproductive Sundays? Start viewing them as a good thing.

“It can help for those who are so structured through the week to plan smaller increments of unstructured time through the week,” Ettingoff says. “For those who dread returning to a hectic schedule on Mondays, besides mapping out the week ahead of time it can help ease anxiety to make a plan for a pleasant distracting activity on Sunday night. 

Of course, if we have the Sunday blues really badly, it might be a sign that we desperately need to change our work or school lives. For example, school children may seem to have the “Sunday blues” if they’re being bullied by another student or teacher. Working adults might feel dreadful if they’re feeling stuck in their work lives, or if they have to deal with a particularly difficult boss or co-worker.

In these cases, our subconscious might be urging us to make a change for the benefit of our healthwhich means our neocortex is doing a good job, after all.

Ettingoff suggests we set aside some time—even if it’s only two hours—on a Sunday to spend time doing something we enjoy instead of thinking about the week ahead. “Allowing even short periods of “down time” in one’s life, through the week, allows Sundays to become a day more like the others—reducing the intense expectations for just one day,” Ettingoff says.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Sian Ferguson

Sian Ferguson is a full-time freelance writer with a keen interest in social justice issues. She has bylines in various publications, including Everyday Feminism, Ravishly, Matador Network, Women24, and MassRoots Blog. She’s currently based in Grahamstown, South Africa.