January 13, 2014

Once a day of rest, Sunday has become Sad Day

The “Sunday night blues” are real and surprisingly widespread – affecting schoolkids, office workers, even recent retirees.

For Lara Mueller, it kicks in at the same time every week, like clockwork.

“Sunday just has this sad feeling to it, after about 5 p.m.,” said the St. Louis Park, Minn., resident. “There is a sort of umbrella hanging over the evening.”

The 27-year-old tries to buoy herself, buying a few “goodies” at the grocery store, making plans for midweek. Still, every Sunday evening, when she thinks about “the stress of the week, the busy-ness of the week,” she feels her mood descend.

What Mueller suffers from isn’t debilitating or particularly new. Austrian psychotherapist Viktor Frankl coined the phrase “Sunday night blues” in 1946. But it is real, and surprisingly widespread – affecting schoolkids, office workers, even recent retirees.

Dreading the workweek

The symptoms, said Golden Valley, Minn.-based psychologist Jenna Bemis, can include “a sense of dread that the fun of weekend is coming to an end, a sense of anxiety about … the pressure of the workweek that is soon to return and a yearning to prolong the weekend in order to spend time as we wish.”

Whether our nonstop schedules, our embrace of technology or the economy have upped the ante, the growing prevalence of the Sunday blues signals a change of heart about our day of rest.

“We have less time on Sundays dedicated to doing what we want to do now,” said Bemis. “There’s more time devoted to paid work, housework, running errands, child care, and less time devoted to personal care, socializing and free time.”

In fact, Bemis, who has studied the malaise, notes that “positive feelings peaked on Sunday afternoons” in the mid-1980s. But by 2003, “Sunday afternoons were marked by an emotional downturn.”

Her findings are echoed in a recent Monsters.Com poll of 3,619 people, which found that 78 percent of adults around the world experience some degree of late-Sunday doldrums. In the United States, 59 percent of respondents said they have a “really bad” dose.

And early darkness could contribute, as well. A poll in Britain, where the winter days are even shorter than here, pegged the onset of Sunday sadness at 4:13 p.m.

A loss of family time

Bemis attributes the down-grading of Sunday not only to our warp-speed lifestyles: She also lays the blame on loss of connection.

“Even just a few decades ago, Sundays represented more family time, family meals and worship,” she said. “Today, there is less time focused on meals and connecting with family members.”

Generations of teens have set themselves up for the Sunday doldrums by putting off homework assignments until the last minute. But for today’s students, there’s “a bigger combination of things going on,” said Cheryl Meger, dean of Lakeville (Minn.) North High School.

“We have put together this whole big package we want kids to do: work and volunteer work and activities and athletics,” Meger said. “So they get to Sunday evening and they’ve been to their job and a basketball tournament and everything else. Sometimes you wonder if we’ve overdone it with them.”

An unfulfilling job

Young adults like Mueller, who are entering the workforce after a severe recession, also face fresh challenges.

“For someone in their 20s trying to find their career path, my jobs have sometimes been less than perfect,” said Mueller, “making Sunday nights that much harder when Monday is around the corner and a job that you are not thrilled about is waiting for you.”

People of any age who have mundane, unchallenging jobs have legitimate reasons to sing the Sunday blues, said Fran Sepler, owner/president of Sepler & Associates, a Minneapolis human-resources firm.

“If you’re in that pure utility relationship with your job – just go to get a paycheck, suck it up and get it done – the contrast with the weekend (when you can sleep in and be with friends) with work (where you have no control) is the most significant and profound.”

Some companies have taken heed, Sepler said, and refrain from scheduling major meetings on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings. Some take pains to frequently measure their employees’ engagement and, when possible, give workers more control over their hours.

“Having the flexibility to work from home on Monday morning and come in later, or just spending less time at work seems to improve the way people feel,” Sepler said. “Otherwise they might get to feeling like they’re on a little gerbil wheel.”

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