Sunday Morning Coming Down

October 10, 2010 08:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
For many people, Sunday afternoons are a mix of cloudy yearning for the day before and dread of the week to come.

The Sunday Blues

After an arduous work-filled week, and a weekend teeming with social activities, the “down time” on Sunday should be a welcome reprieve. But many of us view Sunday afternoons as an unbearable void.

The Sunday Blues, according to one New York Times article, may be triggered by a number of factors, from job dissatisfaction, to a lower caffeine intake, to changes in sleep-wake cycles and the resultant mood shifts. Others blame seven-day rhythms.

Sandor Ferenczi, a Hungarian psychoanalyst, introduced the term “Sunday Neurosis” in 1919. Using several case studies, he explained that recurring anxiety, headaches, stomachaches, and nausea, were common among those who tended to fixate on the structure of their day. Ferenczi blamed the Sabbath, the day mandated as the day of rest according to the Fourth Commandment, for creating an open schedule that presented an unwelcome, even debilitating freedom.

Victor Frankl, renowned psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor, took Ferenczi’s ideas a step further, positing that Sunday Neurosis was a symptom of the “existential vacuum,” a feeling of boredom and meaninglessness. He believed that people, given time to reflect, begin to question their own value and purpose. Frankl explored this problem and its solution in his book "Man’s Search For Meaning."

Others have explored the meaning of the Sunday Blues through art. In the 1960s, a 29-year-old hard-living and recently divorced janitor penned a song about grappling with the rundown, empty feeling Sunday morning brings after the delirious high of the night before. The janitor was celebrated songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson, and the song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” became a chart-topping hit for Johnny Cash. Kristofferson wrote …

On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I'm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cause there's something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothing short a' dying
That's half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.

Of the smell of frying chicken, Kristofferson added, “Lord, it took me back to something that I'd lost [s]omewhere, somehow along the way.” Perhaps this lost “something” is precisely what Frankl meant.

In recent years, several writers have piggybacked on Frankl’s core principles, adding their own insights. Blake Morrison, writing in The Guardian, a UK newspaper, in 2003, recalled the Sundays of his youth: “Feeling alive on a Sunday was, at that time, more or less impossible. The shops were shut; trains and buses ran less regularly … With few museums or art galleries open either, Sunday was a kind of exhibit in itself—a still life, or marble statue, requiring everyone to creep around in whispers. Even for a child, the torpor and melancholy were inescapable.”

Yet Morrison did escape. Out of boredom, he begged his parents to go to church, and when the Sunday closing laws changed in England, he worked at his neighborhood bar. Having witnessed a marked change in the way Sundays are spent nowadays, Morrison recognizes a different problem. “The empty, idle day has disappeared and been filled with shopping, birthday parties, sports games, and work.” He laments, “What ever happened to Sundays?”

In a 2003 New York Times article titled “Bring back the Sabbath,” Judith Shulevitz expanded on Morrison’s ideas and countered Ferenczi’s assumptions about the Sabbath as a root cause of neurosis. Instead Shulevitz blames our own “workaholic culture” for the decline in religious worship, as well as a lack of appreciation of community, and pure and simple rest. Whether through church, the synagogue or one’s own private passion, she encourages readers to keep the Sabbath sacred. She explains, “The Sabbath is to the week what the line break is to poetic language. It is the silence that forces you to return to what came before to find its meaning.”

If you need a few tips on bringing life back into your Sunday and shaking off the afternoon blues, here is a solid start:

1. Take a moment to appreciate the enjoyable parts of your weekend and make plans to do to these same things again.
2. If you feel depressed or lonely, meet friends for coffee, a glass of wine or dinner and focus on positive conversation.
3. If you generally feel anxious on Sundays plan something relaxing. For example, bake a cake, take a walk, or fix yourself a warm bath.
4. Clean up your desk before you leave on Friday, then at least you can picture starting fresh on Monday.
5. Try to get the most difficult errands out of the way on Saturday. So that Sunday can be a day of relaxation.
6. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. This means setting your alarm for the same time Sunday as you would Monday. If you must sleep in, try to do so for only a half-hour.
7. Allow yourself 10 minutes to dwell on concerns or negative thoughts, but no more than ten.
8. Make a list of tasks you need to complete at work. (This will prevent your mind from repeating and worrying over the same issues.)
9. Make a second list of things you have to look forward to this week. If you don’t have a midweek activity on your calendar, plan one.

Background: Frankl’s history

Just before WWII, Victor Frankl worked in a Jewish-only hospital where he saved lives by purposely misdiagnosing his Jewish patients, who would have been euthanized. After losing his wife and parents during the Holocaust, Frankl went on to re-write the manuscript that was taken away from him in the camps. He later became the founder of “logotherapy” which asserts that our primary objective is to find meaning—the Greek word is “logos"—in our lives, according to Dr. C. George Booree.

Historical Context: ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

The Sun, a UK newspaper, profiles Kris Kristofferson, canvassing his family life, his Oxford education, and his friendship with Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin and others. Kristofferson pitched “Sunday Morning Coming Down” to Johnny Cash, despite the threat of losing his job as a janitor. Luckily for music fans everywhere, Cash bought the song. Read the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down."

Related Topics: Weekend Anxiety Syndrome and SAD

Reference: The Blue Laws and logotherapy


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