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It is noon on a typical pandemic Sunday. You’ve just drained your Bloody Mary, and as the buzz wears off, reality sets in. You feel this familiar pain. Maybe you even momentarily think it’s Saturday, until your stomach falls. This is it – the weekend is over.

Maybe you even momentarily think it’s Saturday, until your stomach falls. This is it – the weekend is over.

The term “Sunday scare” was probably coined somewhere around the turn of the last decade, but the phenomenon has been around much longer. Very generally, this refers to the fear that sets in at some point on Sunday when you realize that there are only hours between you and the start of another work week. It’s the pivot point between what – at least for many – is a vital rest period and the transition to work mode. But now that we’re in our 40s with so many people working from home, that pivot has become less and less distinct. As work and life become blurred, and days turn into weeks without a traditional socio-economic structure, it’s no surprise that some people experience even worse ‘scares’ than before Covid-19.

I began to notice my own fear about six months after the start of the pandemic – a general sense of resistance at the start of a new week. It was a much more intense sensation than I had felt before. As a practicing psychotherapist, of course, I wanted to understand why this was happening. Even though I had eliminated the headache of a commute and expensive office rent, I headed for Mondays feeling exhausted. That’s when he clicked. I felt existential fear because of how the pandemic has mixed up our sense of time. We have no sense of forward movement, and it affects us emotionally.

In December, the Pew Research Center reported that 71% of employed US adults work from home all or most of the time, up from 20% before the pandemic. While this appears to have been a preferable situation for many, Pew’s data also showed that young workers reported having problems with motivation and parents struggled to work while keeping. Even as remote workers achieve greater flexibility, the nature of stress has changed as it infiltrates our personal spaces. And any Monday respite that we could have enjoyed by socializing with colleagues or going out for lunch is no longer available.

According to a UCLA study examining Gallup poll data from 2014 to 2016, Americans were happier when they took vacation days. The study authors therefore suggested that people can improve their psychological well-being by treating their weekends as if they were mini-vacations. People who did this said they felt happier on Monday.

But even these types of coping mechanisms are much harder to do now, with travel and social restrictions. Instead of trying to treat our weekends like a vacation, we find it hard to treat them like weekends.

Divorced from their primary function, weekends feel like empty rituals at best.

Divorced from their primary function, weekends feel like empty rituals at best. At worst, it has become just another day’s work. In fact, the Society of Human Resource Management reported in December that nearly 70% of professionals who started working remotely during the pandemic are now also working weekend hours.

Kaycie Belangeri, a third-grade teacher in the City of San Bernardino Unified School District, embodies the millions of Americans who now find it nearly impossible to take breaks from work – even if they don’t work on weekends. Although he taught third grade for several years, Belangeri explains that distance learning involves creating weekly plans and strategies. “Everyone I talk to feels like a first grade teacher,” she says. For Belangeri and his colleagues in the district, lesson plans are due on Monday, so Sunday has long been a working day in some ways. But without being able to count on previous years of established work, Sundays now demand much more work. “The work week starts on Sunday,” she says.

And this is obviously not just a problem for teachers. With work and life combined, we are indefinitely in adjustment mode.

Beth, a change management consultant for a New York-based company, said of pre-pandemic weekends: “Because you’re doing something different, it feels longer. You are having an experience. “But now, without the same freedom for an outing or an excursion or even a social event, Beth – who requested that I only use her first name due to sensitivities with her employer – wonders’ how is Sunday already ? “

Before the pandemic, Beth is said to be feeling anxious about specific events to come. A particularly demanding week ahead could trigger an increase in “scares.” After the closure in New York, Beth was no longer traveling or commuting, which lightened her schedule. But since her job is to mentor leaders to communicate through change, the challenges of the pandemic have kept her and her clients busy. It also meant helping the corporate world alleviate the effects of burnout. “My day-to-day job is to manage this,” Beth said. An avid watcher of real crime documentaries to chill out, Beth echoed the recent ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit when she said, ‘I have nowhere to escape this subject except all of them. my murder shows. ” (Even though that says a lot about American life, our common vice of evasion would be so based on aggression.)

New York psychologist Dr. Sarah Mitchell confirmed my hypothesis about the worsening of “scares.” Mitchell, who went from working in a hospital to private practice during the pandemic, told me she has known about this anticipated fear of Sunday for a long time. But now, “rather than dreading an aggravating commute, administrative meetings, or the onslaught of potentially stressful situations – interpersonal, logistically or clinically – I think about how similar each week is.”

Having to hold back the emotions of others in addition to our own has always been a professional risk in mental health work, but the current level of emotional demand is completely new. In her patients, Mitchell says she has seen the “scares” increase “with the warning that all symptoms seem to be on the rise – anxiety on all levels.”

“Most of us don’t do brilliantly with the unknown,” Mitchell said. Add to that months of turmoil and socio-political divisions, and you have a national problem. She also notes an increase in substance use, so “Sundays can also mean healing, hangover, regret.”

Ultimately, however, the pandemic only exacerbated the existing problems entrenched in our capitalist system. So while giving ourselves grace and implementing self-care routines and setting limits will continue to be necessary for day-to-day maintenance and burnout prevention, what we really need to do is to rethinking our relationship to “productivity”. Even in the midst of unprecedented viral spread and death, human rights abuses, racial injustice, electoral strife and insurgency, we continue to expect productivity from ourselves and others.

The “Sunday Scares” are a pretty name for a serious problem. Now, the angst we feel about our stagnant lives, the utter exhaustion of this never-ending new grind, the lack of any sense of “future” – not to mention the guilt we can feel for complaining then. that so many people struggle – has made this serious problem even worse. Whatever “scares” many of us have felt before, they have become scarier because we didn’t anticipate it. Sunday becomes an extension of the work week, even if only in the spirit. But this surge was happening before the pandemic. We cannot allow Sunday to be the day we run the engine before the race, even though we are now running on smoke.

Simply put, we all need a break. Friday nights cannot be the only times when we really feel free.

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