Even after the best of weekends (or especially after the best of weekends), there’s a cloud that descends. Chances are, you’ve felt it. In a 2013 poll from the career site Monster.com, 81 percent of American respondents said they get Sunday-night blues—and 59 percent said they experience them “really bad.” As laid-back “weekend you” begins to morph into uptight “weekday you,” anxiety over anticipating an overflowing in-box, the drudgery of packing school lunches, and the tyranny of a mile-long to-do list sets in.
“Sunday nights aren’t considered the end of a great weekend but the beginning of something neither the child nor the adult is looking forward to,” says Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and the founder of the National Institute for Play, in Carmel Valley, California. But what is the cause of this dread? And what can we do to change it? If you’re prone to Sunday-night blues, try one (or, uh, all) of the following tips. And welcome to a future with no more sad Sundays.
Do Sunday on Saturday
Typically we schedule fun stuff on Saturday, obligations on Sunday. This only reinforces the blues. Instead, take care of buzz-killing chores, errands, and commitments on Saturday, when you’re naturally in a better mood. This could also change your experience of tougher tasks. For example, visiting your great-aunt in the retirement home when you’re already feeling down may remind you of the shortness of life; seeing her with a fresh Saturday-morning mind-set might move you to reminisce about summers at the cabin (happier for her, too). This weekend switcheroo leaves you open for “moments of unencumbered joy” on Sunday, when your psyche is in need of them most, says Cassie Mogilner, Ph.D., a happiness researcher and an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Homework is yet another Sunday downer. Nagging kids to hit the books creates an angst-filled evening. “Children may feel more positive on Monday morning if Sunday night is free of last-minute preparations for tomorrow’s school day,” says Erika A. Patall, Ph.D., an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Slot time for homework on Saturday, with a little extra on Sunday morning. (Hash it out with your children beforehand so you can work around soccer games and birthday parties.) This can be a hard sell for teenagers, but if you have little ones, instilling this habit now can really pay off in a multitude of ways. “In general, students learn more if they distribute their studying over time, rather than trying to cram the learning into one long session,” says Patall.
Become a Forward Thinker
Another reason you feel off on Sunday, of course, is that your head is swirling with tasks for the upcoming week. Spare yourself this stress by ending your workweek with a plan. “Before you leave the office on Friday, prep your desk so you can jump in Monday without missing a beat,” says Peggy Duncan, an Atlanta-based professional organizer. Create a Monday-specific to-do list, line up necessary files, and tag e-mails that require attention. If you have to check your work calendar over the weekend, do it Sunday morning to avoid having the prospect weigh on you all day, then dive into a distraction (exercise, playtime with the kids) to keep yourself from becoming consumed with work thoughts. If it is within your control, don’t schedule Monday-morning meetings. “They just add to the sense of dread,” Duncan explains.
Getting your act together at the end of the week can be a boon to all aspects of your life, from planning meals and organizing carpools to managing long-term school projects. Anticipating challenges preweekend will prevent late-night dashes to the market and Staples, and the headaches that go with them.
Be a Social Animal
Slipping into hermit mode is all too easy come Sunday, especially in the short days before daylight saving time kicks in. But there is plenty of research that shows that people who are less social tend to be less happy. And a Sunday already potentially mired in the blahs is when you’ll need contact with others the most. Can you stay in your pj’s and communicate on Facebook? “Perhaps,” says Mogilner. “But connecting over a computer isn’t as effective as connecting with living, breathing humans.”
Any regular Sunday social ritual—church for some, yoga or softball for others—can lift spirits. In fact, a 2010 study published in American Sociological Review found that people who routinely attend religious services were more satisfied with their lives than were those who didn’t. The reason, researchers determined, isn’t just related to faith; it’s also about having friends in the congregation who give people a sense of belonging and, in turn, higher levels of well-being.
You may get similar benefits without joining a formal group. Institute a standing date with pals to skip the exhausting back-and-forth of making plans, suggests Gretchen Rubin, the author of Better Than Before ($19, amazon.com), a book about mastering good habits. “Being accountable makes it much more likely that you won’t back out at the last minute,” she adds. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. (Who wants to wash a fondue pot on Sunday night?) And it doesn’t have to involve many people. Something low-maintenance—like a scheduled phone call with your sister, margaritas with the neighbors, or even Yahtzee night with the kids—can make all the difference.
Volunteering is one more way to connect, but it has an unexpected perk, too. Giving away your time makes you feel as if you have more time, reports a 2012 study published in Psychological Science. Hence, it extends your weekend. “You get a sense that you’re doing a lot with your time,” says Mogilner, who worked on the study. “That inspires you to do more later on that day,” which leads to more satisfaction. It’s a tactic to fend off that “Where did the weekend go?” spiral.
Make Over Sunday Night
Why is it that 7 p.m. on a Sunday feels like 11 p.m., but on every other day of the week 7 p.m. is just the start of the evening? Maybe because our idea of “doing nothing”—say, binge-watching Game of Thrones—is not necessarily the best medicine for relieving the Sunday blues.
Active leisure—a book club, practicing yoga, or even going to the movies—will make you happier than choosing something that is passive. “If you’re engaged in an activity that keeps you moving, you’re absorbed in the moment and your mind has much less room to allow workweek worries to sneak in and take hold,” says Mogilner. So while we’re forever grateful to HBO for transforming Sunday nights, you may want to DVR your favorite episodes and watch them on a night less fraught with anxiety—say, hump day.