Sunday scaries: discover 3 ways to tackle them properly

Have you ever heard of the Sunday scaries? Is it something you suffer from at the end of every week and are not sure what causes this feeling?

Are Sunday afternoons particularly difficult for you? You may relate to the following situation. It’s Sunday, maybe you’ve had lunch with your family, maybe you’ve had a drink with friends, maybe you’re with your partner relaxing at home, or maybe you’re alone resting after an intense Saturday night. There is nothing special to do urgently just this afternoon, it’s your day off. However, a slight uneasiness grips you inside.

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Sometimes it is a melancholic feeling, difficult to associate with a concrete cause. At other times that feeling of uneasiness might be somewhat more intense, bordering even on a state of uncomfortable anxiety. The truth is that this situation is not at all uncommon in modern life. In fact, it has been defined as a clinical phenomenon within psychology by several authors. We are talking about the so-called “Sunday scaries”.

Who coined the term “Sunday scaries”?

Several authors have defined the term. The famous psychiatrist and creator of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl, defines “Sunday neurosis” as existential emptiness, of which he speaks extensively in his famous work Man’s Search for Meaning.  On Sunday, a day of little activity, we face the reality of our existence.

For Frankl, it was not possible to live a full existence if we did not confront ourselves with this existential question: what is the true meaning or purpose of our days? Can it make sense to get up every morning and go to work hoping that the day will just go by? Suddenly it seems that during the Sunday scaries the grandiloquent questions became more present.

Viktor Frankl lived an extreme experience of human survival in a Nazi concentration camp, where he saw his wife and parents die. This experience led him to form a theory and a therapy based on the existential search for the meaning of life. In his own words, “There is nothing in the world that enables a person to overcome external difficulties and internal limitations as much as the awareness of having a task in life”.

Sandor Ferenczi, another illustrious psychoanalyst, and disciple of Freud, also contemplated this phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th century. In one of his writings, he recounted how he had observed that many of the symptoms of the discomfort of his neurotic patients were exacerbated on Sundays.

His explanation is that such symptomatology remained partially repressed during the week due to obligations but, when the dreaded freedom arrived, such symptoms had a free runway. As Ferenczi said, “when presented with an unstructured weekend or holiday, the usual defense mechanisms are ‘offline,’ and they may suffer anxiety, conversion reactions, dissociative states, obsessions, compulsions, phobias“.

Why do we feel low on Sundays?

The reality is that there are many and varied possible causes. As is usually the case, the most probable cause of this well-known syndrome is to be found in the combination of all these variables. Let’s take a look at some of them:

-Tomorrow is Monday. Yes, as if we were small children who do not want to go to school, sometimes adults can have a very similar feeling. Start thinking about the pending tasks we left on Friday without further delay. Experiencing nervousness about some appointment or work meeting that we know we will not be able to decline. Even the fear of dealing with a boss or superior position. All of them are frequent reasons that lead to the Sunday scaries. 

The environment of high demand and performance that we live in today’s work environment has only increased stress and anxiety syndromes associated with our professional performance. If you feel that this is the cause of your feeling of anxiety every Sunday afternoon or that you do not sleep well that day, maybe you should rethink if you are really where you want to be. Think about what real conflicts are at play in this area of your life and work directly to find solutions.

Running away from it every Friday will not make the problem you may have in your professional life just go away.

-Change of routines and biorhythms. This is a seemingly simpler explanation but full of common sense. On Sunday we do not get up early, caffeine consumers reduce their daily coffee dose with the consequent withdrawal syndrome characterized by high irritability and headache.

In addition, eating and digestion routines change. And yes, all this alters our complex physical balance and, therefore, we are more prone to slight alterations in mood.

-Alcohol consumption during the weekend. It goes without saying, although it seems obvious, that if we abuse alcohol on Friday and Saturday nights, the discomfort caused by the hangover will only contribute to increasing psychological restlessness. Here it is enough to know the limits of our body and to be prudent in this respect.

How to face the Sunday scaries

1. Plan your weekend

Sometimes we leave our free time to improvisation, but it is not always possible to come up with attractive plans. Take control of your free time: it is limited, think about what you want to do with it during the week.

2. Physical and social activity

Spending too much time on the couch without leaving the house is not usually the best way to make the most of your free time. Activate your body through sports routines, much better if they are outdoors and even better if they are in a group.

3. Finally, here is a different recommendation

Far from avoiding emptiness, it is a good option to listen to it, for sure it has something valuable to tell us. To do this, simply accept the feeling of anxiety, take a few moments to pay attention to your body and your mind: what messages is it trying to send you? If we allow ourselves to listen to our emptiness we can make it into something rich.

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