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Dealing with the weekend blues

For some people, free, unstructured time on weekends can feel overwhelming

Learn to appreciate pockets of rest in ways that are nurturing.
Learn to appreciate pockets of rest in ways that are nurturing. (iStockphoto)

A 32-year-old female client tells me: “I am so glad we are doing the session on Saturday. I want you to witness how I feel and sound on weekends. While I am supposed to rest and be free from work, all I feel is despair, irritability, fatigue and then anxiety. It’s as if my sadness waits for the weekend and then it comes back with a vengeance. By the time it’s Sunday evening, I start answering my mail and it seems to go into hiding, only to reappear next weekend.”

Over the last 18 years, clients across age groups, including teenagers, have talked about the loneliness, sadness, even anxiety, they experience on weekends. Over the years, the number of people who bring this up in therapy has increased significantly. Often, men talk about this from a lens of struggling to sleep or excessive drinking, while women talk about binge-eating, binge-watching and endless scrolling.

Passive scrolling for hours is unhealthy behaviour that clients across gender seem to talk about; this is followed by feelings of loneliness, “not being good enough”, feelings that their life is boring. Social media often creates a false narrative of happiness, which can make it seem like everyone other than you has their life in control, whether it’s work or play, and this can sneak up on you particularly on weekends, or if you struggle with self-esteem issues.

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Over the years, my sense is that sadness and anxiety are a reminder of all the concerns we consciously or unconsciously park or suppress during the week. On weekends, we allow ourselves permission to feel—and that’s when their intensity seems overwhelming. This is a reminder of how “what we resist, continues to persist”.

Given the pandemic and increased work stress clients have been reporting, I use this sharing to differentiate and investigate if it’s burnout, exhaustion or weekend sadness. Sometimes, it may be exhaustion and burnout combined. Fatigue can be felt in the body and mind as fogginess, lack of interest or motivation to engage with others or life tasks, lethargy and a low-lying mood.

Ask yourself about your relationship with rest. Do you associate your self-worth with being productive and busy?

For individuals who choose to see themselves as high-performing when it comes to work goals, burnout can often show up as feelings of sadness, cynicism and a sense of withdrawal that becomes more evident over weekends. So, learning to maintain a log of one’s moods, looking for cues to see if the mood settles on Monday/Tuesday, choosing to plan the weekend differently are some ways we can learn to recognise and cope with what we are feeling.

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If the low mood and anxiety linger and persist in some form through the week, it’s a good idea to reach out to friends or a mental health professional.

If it’s sadness or anxiety you feel specifically on weekends, it helps to build movement and structure into your routine. Heading out for a walk or just setting time in the mornings to read, listen to a podcast or cook a new dish can be simple ways of structuring your day. What we eat and drink has an impact on our mood. So, ask yourself if your Saturday was hectic socially, do you need Sunday to catch up on sleep, have some down-time and eat light home-made meals? Watch out for how alcohol and aerated drinks impact your energy levels and mood.

It helps to plan for the weekend, particularly if you are a social person and want to line up a plan with friends. In adulthood, last-minute plans can be difficult, given that everyone is either too tired or has multiple responsibilities.

Lastly, ask yourself about your relationship with rest. Some people associate their self-worth with being productive and busy, so free, unstructured time can feel overwhelming on weekends. Begin by learning to appreciate and savour pockets of rest in ways that are nourishing and nurturing.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health With Sonali.

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