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Sunday Syndrome: Mourning the Weekend That Got Away

Do you ever get that sinking feeling as you watch the weekend ebb away?

It was a while back, when my three children were in middle and high school, when I first had time to consciously recognize that as far as weekends went, Sundays lacked all of the hope, optimism, and promise that a Saturday offered to the world. Up until that period of parenting, I'd spent a bigger chunk of each day overseeing the “health and wellbeing” of my kids. It was too little time to even think about my own work week, as getting the kids ready for their school week seemed to take the lion’s share of my mental and physical energy. One Sunday afternoon, my middle child walked into the kitchen and announced, “I think I’ve got a case of Sunday Syndrome, you know, that yucky feeling that Monday's coming and I can't stop it..."

That was about the time that Sundays began to change their flavor for me. I had reached that point in parenthood that allowed “free time” for personal pursuits on Sunday afternoons – I’m talking about reading, reflection, ambitious recipe following, for instance; not quite sky diving or rollerblading. By the time Sundays showed up, I’d find the house more subdued, perhaps even a bit morose. No matter what the weather was outside, the mood inside the house seemed sadly fixed, something akin to homesickness, dread, fear, and inertia-infused. The sun could shine, the rains could pour, snow might be piling up, or unicorns might be frolicking on the lawn beneath candy rainbows. Regardless of the climate, the weather inside the house was always glum.

Sunday Syndrome is what this mood has been termed; it describes the aversion we have for the Monday return to work/school to come, the mourning we feel for the weekend’s passing, and the general sense of despair or homesickness we feel for the promise that Friday afternoons offer as they kick off a new week-end. In some cases, it’s called the “Sunday Fear Syndrome,” as the fear of another Monday in the rat race is the root of its development.

Treating the Symptoms, Not the Cause?

Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to attack the cause of Sunday Syndrome. Most of us live in a world organized in a 5-day on, 2-day off type set-up. It’s interesting, however, that a close friend of mine who worked in retail management did not quite understand the “Sunday Syndrome” that others experienced. Since work schedules varied from week to week, there never seemed to be a period long enough to develop the 2-day build-up of anxiety and dread that most of feel about Mondays. Thus, as long as our schedules provide a significant length of continuous downtime, we may need to find the tricks that keep our worst symptoms at bay since it would be harder to treat the cause. Here are six proven tips for beating the “end-of-the-weekend-dreading-the-work-week blues.”

Beat the Sunday Syndrome Bues

  1. Get a head start on the next work week by tying up as many loose ends as you can on Friday. Knowing that you’ve handled all of the known potential crises prior to Monday morning can cut down on some of the dread and anxiety that creep in on Sunday evenings. A clean desk Friday at 5 can lead to a better attitude Mondays at 8.
  2. If you’re a parent, encourage the kids to lay out a plan for getting assignments done before ending up with a Sunday evening meltdown. Cartoons, video games, whatever your kids want to do all day on Saturday morning, can be interspersed with a little bit of “get ahead of Sunday” time so that you’re not having to determine and print out iconic images and the state motto of all 50 states on Sunday evening when you’d rather be focusing on another aspect of civics – such as NFL games or PBS miniseries.
  3. Routines can be comforting, but if it’s the routine of Sunday trying to take care of prepping for the week, change your routine. Pack up your Monday work bag on Friday evening or first thing Sunday morning so that all you have to do on Sunday night is pack your lunch or put up your feet for a while instead of hunting down keys, iPads, etc.
  4. Plan a “break-the-blues” activity every Sunday – whether it’s getting out of the house right before dusk (when Sunday Syndrome seems to really set in deeply) or building in an hour of time to “do something fun and amusing,” which could be a family event, trying a new cooking method/recipe, spending time on a computer game, listening to good music and dancing or just losing yourself in the sound, whatever works for you. Take a mental health break and just lose yourself in something fun.
  5. Change your attitude – do you hate Mondays because you hate your boss? Well, reinvent the relationship – decide to accept the idiosyncrasies or irritating ways of your boss. Hate the commute? Turn it into adventure – take the train rather than driving; park further away so that you can turn the approach into a mini fitness routine by adding 5-10 minutes of walking to your day. Hate the alarm clock? Find a new way of waking up on time – an alarm clock that uses a daylight-simulating light bulb, a nature sounds alarm, adopt a kitten or a puppy and let their own internal alarm clock motivate you to get on out of bed and feed the kitty or walk the dog. Be creative in how you start your day – if you really dread the work week, let each morning be a countdown to Fridays at 5! Shake up your life and shake up your attitude!
  6. Get a good night's sleep! Plan a ritual "bedtime story for the kids" or a cup of warm milk and a gentle, relaxing yoga routine and train your body to go softly into sleep as you celebrate the weekend past and count your blessings that you have a job to go to in the morning.

We can’t prevent Sundays from coming and dreading the start of the work week won’t keep it from commencing. Embrace your power to change your attitude and rev up your Sundays – it’s all about personal choice.

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More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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