You worked hard all week and it felt like Friday would never come. Now you have just 48 hours until it’s time to start dreading Monday. You need to relax hard but also do all the cool things. Maybe hit that party a work friend mentioned. But you can’t stay late because you need to squeeze in a hike before brunch on Saturday morning—a friend went hiking last weekend and their Instagram posts were unreal. That night, your friends want to go see a stand-up show. But what if it’s terrible and you waste your Saturday night? You might go for a run Sunday morning, but if it’s too cold you may just opt for a noon spin class a few blocks away instead.
Although it’s not an official medical term, Weekend Anxiety Syndrome cripples my weekend, every weekend. I had to figure out what was behind it. “Because people are working so hard and so many hours, they’re feeling the pressure to make the weekend perfect,” says Catherine Cook-Cottone, a mindfulness and yoga researcher at the University of Buffalo who specializes in psychosocial disorders. “Is it fun enough? Is it exciting enough? There’s a lot of pressure socially, perhaps perceived, to have this great weekend.”
These short blips of time off stress people out for multiple reasons. Social media often disrupts our ability to be present and increases our fear of missing out. I’m constantly seeing friends flaunt their good times in a flattering filter. It feels like I never do anything fun, but my friends are skiing in Colorado or backpacking in South America every week. The flaw, of course, is I’m holding myself to a standard that isn’t real. “People post pictures of themselves at that peak moment,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. “It leads to the false impression that everyone’s life is filled with those moments.”
This isn't a shocker, but I find myself feeling disappointed if I peruse social media too much. My own time off, however relaxing, starts to feel like a waste if I don’t start doing some of those Instagram-worthy activities. I need to go on a bike ride. Hit up a brewery. Go to a concert. And I need to do it all before sundown, or I’ll get antsy.
Social media isn’t the only cause of weekend anxiety. If work consumes you and you fail to take care of yourself—eat balanced meals and sleep at least seven hours a night, for example—during the week, you can view the weekend as your only time to relax. This puts a lot of pressure on those two days. A weekend can’t undo you neglecting your needs all week, Cook-Cottone says. “Our nervous system doesn’t work that way.”
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Anxiety weighs people down especially hard as the weekend draws to a close. The Sunday scaries affect people everywhere (they even have CBD gummies designed to treat the affliction—I haven't tried them yet). Although the stress of Monday morning plays a major role, Sunday night depression is also tied to weekend anxiety. If you view the weekend as the only time to enjoy yourself, it’s hard to not be depressed and feel kind of threatened when it’s over.
The Sunday scaries don’t necessarily mean you hate your job or your life, by the way. They could quite simply be an existential crisis that bubbles up at the end of the weekend. It's common to feel like you're in a cycle of overworking, Cook-Cottone says. “On weekends I’m either hiking 50 miles, or I’m binge drinking, and I’m not sure where all this is headed.” So your life doesn’t necessarily suck, but you still shouldn’t write off this anxiety. View it as a messenger, she says. Examine what's missing in your life that makes you dread the start of each week.
Avoiding social media can make a major difference in reclaiming your weekend in the name of relaxation. “If your cell phone reminds you of the outside world, turn it off for the weekend,” Immordino-Yang says. You might not be able to turn your phone off, but dialing back the news and social media will help. “Get away from the constant barrage of the outside world.”
A note on the Sunday scary spectrum: If you get easily agitated with loved ones, have a hard time focusing at work, or feel anxious for the better part of a few months, these are signs that the issue is larger than weekend anxiety. Cook-Cottone says it could be an anxiety disorder and that means it’s time to see a mental health professional.
Another coping mechanism for weekend anxiety is to allow some time for just “being” instead of doing, says Metta McGarvey, lecturer on education and the faculty chair of the Mindfulness for Educators program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “It’s important to develop a more mindful approach as we go through our daily routine,” she says. Your weekend should involve some time just focusing on one simple ritual. “Drink tea or coffee, take a bath, give a loved one your full attention, or do any chore more slowly and [be] fully present.”
We can also relieve our weekend anxiety by enjoying ourselves more during the week. If you take the time to do more of the things you love during the week (including after work), the weekend won’t hold all the pressure to deliver good times. Cooke-Cottone tells patients to think of their day in three-hour cycles. In those three hours, you should take time to eat something, drink water, and take a break. When the weekend rolls around, schedule affordable events you actually enjoy with people you actually like.
One last tip: Spending time in nature can decrease stress. Taking deep breaths, listening to music, and spending time with friends can also help you enjoy the present moment. But do yourself a favor and keep the experience to yourself. “I would refrain from posting it on Instagram,” Immordino-Yang says. If you’re posting all your experiences, you’re still comparing your weekend to that of your friends. “Calm down and don’t feel the need to share everything you’re doing.”
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