How to deal with the 'Sunday blues'

Why is it that 5pm on Sunday always feels so gloomy?

Is there any time worse than 5pm on a Sunday afternoon? If you have plans, they’re probably dampened by that ominous school night feeling. If you don’t, you’re well and truly bored of the virtues of your own company, your Google searches are increasingly gloom-laden and all the emails you ignored in favour of an early finish on Friday are marching from the back of your mind to the front.
Call it the post-weekend blues, the fear, or Sunday sadness: this slowly deflating balloon of a week day has an uncanny knack of dragging all our latent worries and insecurities to the fore. It hardly comes as a surprise that a 2015 study found that over 75 per cent of working adults face the Sunday blues every week.
This Sunday night ‘fear’ can manifest itself in many ways.
"It could be a physical feeling of tiredness and lethargy, not wanting to do anything or leave the house," says Dr Danielle Sampaio, a London-based counselling psychologist who specialises in mood, anxiety and personality disorders.
"Equally common is a feeling of real anxiety: a sense of dread, a nervous tummy, being unable to relax or get to sleep."
On a Sunday it’s often tempting either to over-idealise your time off (at the expense of the week to come) or to use the failings of your weekend as a stick with which to beat yourself up about everything that’s not quite right about your life: career, money, relationships or lack thereof. Of course, both of these tactics will only exacerbate those blues.
"There’s nothing magical about the day itself: it’s what [Sunday] symbolises as the end of one week and the beginning of another," explains Dr Sampaio.
"If you had a great weekend, you may be feeling sad that it’s all over and that the mundane or stressful week is about to start. Likewise, if your weekend was disappointing or lonely, there can be a mulling over and over of what happened or didn’t happen, focusing on the gap between hopes or expectations and the reality."
Sitting as it does on the cusp of the working week, it’s easy to see Sunday evening as the warm-up act for the inevitable stresses of Monday morning. Unlike on Mondays, though, we often have the time and the space to catalogue our worries in pain-staking detail. Of course, some back-to-work anxiety is entirely normal; it can even help us to succeed.
According to Dr Kate Lovett, Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK, "Anxiety can be a positive thing that helps us perform. We all need a certain amount of anxiety to be good at what we do. But if it spills over and gets in the way of the rest of life, it’s usually a warning sign that something is not right in an area of our lives that we need to address."
In most cases, if Sunday nights are catalysing a dip in your mood, week in week out, it’s work that’s the issue – and our 24/7 office culture certainly isn’t helping, feeding into that anxiety by eroding the boundary between ‘on duty’ and ‘off.’
"It’s really important to have a balance in life, and modern communications have made it easier for us not to switch off and for people who we work with to get hold of us," says Dr Lovett.
Drafting email replies to get a handle on Monday’s workload might seem like a good tactic on Sunday night, but it’s unlikely to do you any favours in the long term.
"The clients I’ve worked with who have put a ban on Sunday work have noticed a real difference to their quality of sleep," says Dr Sampaio.
"Burn out is a common consequence of overworking and not enough rest time. You’ll be more effective if you start the week feeling rested than you will if you 'just reply to that email' at 11pm."
It’s clear that switching off (in all senses) is the secret to nixing Sunday fear, but with so much of our lives now tied up in our online presence, it’s not always easy.
For Catherine Asta Labbett, a psychotherapist and success coach from the UK, changing the pace of your weekend is a good place to start.
"'Slow weekending' is about recognising that yes, your Monday to Friday is full on, and that what you need more than anything is for your weekends to be at a slower pace," she says.
"Try switching off your devices, disconnecting from social media and re-connecting with your life. Don’t overplan. Don’t feel under pressure to have to 'do things' and 'go places'. When was the last time you did nothing? Quite. Exercise (it doesn’t have to be strenuous) and good ‘sleep hygiene’ – a proper bedtime routine that starts about an hour and a half before you want to be ready to sleep – can help, too.
While, yes, the Sunday blues are common, they’re normal, and they’re beatable, it’s important not to dismiss or bury these feelings – to pay attention to how regular they are, how persistent they are, and whether they are spilling out into the rest of your week.
"Just remember that whatever your Sunday is like, you’re not alone," says Dr Sampaio.
"You can see it on people’s faces on a Monday morning. If you think you need to sort out some bigger things in your life, book an appointment to see your GP and have a chat about what else could help you."
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