Sunday night: it’s the wet blanket of the weekend—and if you’ve ever felt your TGIFs morph into OMGs as Sunday comes to a close, you’re not alone. According to a 2015 poll by Monster.com, 76% of Americans report “really bad” Sunday night blues.
One reason Sundays seem to end on such a low note: we might be unconsciously stuck in the emotions of childhood. “Many children experience a sort of separation anxiety when it comes to leaving their parents and home and getting back to school on Monday,” explains Gail Saltz MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell School of Medicine and ‘s contributing psychology editor. “That Sunday-night anxiety can become the mind’s habit, even if you’re years or decades out of school.”
The typical Monday-to-Friday workweek structure also plays a role. “Getting back to a regular schedule can trigger your mind to start creating all sorts of predictions and reflections,” explains Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “And that tends to go two ways: you start to feel some form of anxious or sad.”
Closing out the weekend with a slump doesn’t have to be the norm. The thoughts we have on Sunday night can be tamed, so we’re less anxious, less sad, and actually still savoring the last few hours of the weekend. Here’s how to overcome the sucky Sundays and stay in chill mode—at least until Monday morning.
Even if you love your job, Mondays are tough—especially when you have an overflowing inbox or a pile of unfinished assignments staring you down. To keep you from worrying on Sunday about what the workweek will bring, it’s important to try to take a step back and put your stress into perspective. “A lot of times with anxiety, we’re not always dealing with realistic thoughts,” explains Rego. “We can create worst-case scenarios in our head that we then believe are true, even though they are not.”
The solution is to stop the cycle of what-if. “Don’t give these anxious thoughts a free ride,” Rego continues. “Every time you catch yourself thinking them, stop yourself and think, ‘Is this something that would really happen or has ever really happened in the past?’ Remind yourself that it’s going to be ok and you’ve actually managed quite well in the past.”
If you have time, Rego encourages clients to take “productive action” where they can. Read your work email for 10 minutes (but 10 minutes—set a timer!) or practice that presentation. “It can be helpful to do a little work and it can alleviate some of those worries about feeling underprepared if you can knock some tasks off,” says Rego.
It’s easy to lose sight of all you accomplished on Saturday and Sunday when you remember the things you do: you forgot to call Grandma, your bathtub’s still dirty, you never dropped off the dry cleaning. Guilt sets in, putting a dark mark on your otherwise productive weekend.
“Guilt is an emotion that we experience when we think we have violated our own moral code or ethical rules for living,” explains Rego. “People who feel guilty often tend to have very high standards for themselves, sometimes ones that aren’t realistic.”
To shake it, first make amends with the fact that yes, you may have ditched your plans, but that’s not a reflection of who you are as person. “People sometimes forget that things like our relationships or our approach to exercise aren’t based off one big event that we do—they’re a sum of small, everyday behaviors,” says Rego.
Rego adds that it’s helpful to approach the situation with compassion. “Think about what you would say to a friend if they told you they skipped the gym or didn’t take the kids to the zoo—you probably wouldn’t be so critical and would tell them that it’s no big deal. You deserve to speak to yourself the same way.”
You were perfectly happy with your low-key weekend at home—until you spotted your friend’s amazing concert photos on Instagram. “Comparison is an instinctive way to gauge how we’re doing, but there’s rarely any benefit to it,” says Rego. “Often you just end up making yourself feel worse,” says Rego.
To dismantle the cycle of compare-and-despair, skip the Sunday evening social media trolling—nothing good comes out of it. Then, if you’re going to compare yourself to others, do it objectively. “We generally only compare up, meaning we hardly even consider what the people who have less accessibility than us or are less fortunate than us are doing,” says Rego. “Do you ever think about how the homeless spend their weekend?” (Probably not.) As cliché as it sounds, he suggests counting your blessings—you’ll quickly come to realize that you have much more in your life than your social media account lets on. If you’re truly disappointed with how your weekend went, make plans for the next one.
It’s true: Monday morning spreadsheets are not nearly as fun as Sunday brunch, a backyard barbecue, or even binge-watching on Netflix. Still, spending Sunday evening moping about that won’t do you any good. This sadness often washes over people when they’re hanging out at home and not doing much, says Dr. Saltz. “If you tend to be more of the sad type on Sundays, it’s actually good to add some activities to the end of your day that can give you a sense of accomplishment,” she says. Invite friends or family over for dinner, head to the gym, or pick up a book you’ve been meaning to read. By staying occupied, you’ll end the weekend feeling happier and more relaxed.