Summer often feels like a time of optimism — months on end where the sun is out, the weather is warm, and ice cream is abundant. But come the end of the season, you might begin to experience the “August blues.” What are the “August blues,” you ask? According to Science of Us, the short version is this: They're basically the “Sunday Scaries” — just for an entire month instead of a day. Awesome. In that not-so-awesome kind of way.
“Sunday Scaries” — also called the “Sunday Sads,” the “Sunday Fear,” and the “Sunday Weirds,” among other things — isn’t quite a technical term, but colloquially, it refers to the phenomenon wherein, as the end of Sunday approaches, we start to feel anxious due to moving from a weekend full of unstructured time to a work week full of structured time. But even though there isn’t an official diagnosis called the Sunday Scaries, the effects of this rise in anxiety have been fairly well documented: Research has found that people have more trouble sleeping on Sundays than they do on any other night of the week, that Sunday is a prime day for panic attacks in people with panic disorders, and that people with peptic ulcers — which may be a symptom of stress — seek treatment more on Sundays than on other days. (Note, though, that the sleep study wasn’t peer reviewed; it was the result ofa YouGov survey connected to a meditation app. Do with that what you will.)
The Sunday Scaries don’t affect everyone the same way. As University of Tulsa assistant professor of psychology Jennifer Ragsdale, Ph.D.told Shape in 2016, “Some people are more oriented toward ruminating and worrying” — and if that’s you (it’s definitely me), you’re likely to feel the Sunday Scaries worse than others might (also me). You might, therefore, find yourself thinking about everything you have to do when you get back to work on Monday and feeling increasingly anxious about it. As Ragasdale put it, "The cognitive mental representations we have of previous work experiences, especially those that are negative and stressful, elicit the same or a similar physiological stress response as the actual stressors when we're living it."
And, it turns out, all of that is kind of what’s going on with many of us throughout the month of August. Katie Heaney at Science of Us recently spoke with Westchester Medical Center director of psychiatry Stephen Ferrando to make sense of why she always feels so anxious during this particular month — and he chalked it up to what he calls “August blues, which are sort of like the Sunday night blues for a month.” What’s more, as Heaney noted, you’re likely to feel the August blues regardless as to whether you love summer or hate it: “If you’re a summer hater, you’re antsy to be done with it and move on already, and if you’re a summer lover, you’re probably feeling some panic about it coming to an end,” she wrote. And whichever side you come down on, you might even feel some guilt for not having “made the most” of the season.
Worth noting is that the August blues aren’t quite the same thing as summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder (although summer SAD is certainly real). As Ferrando explained to Heaney, specific criteria need to be met before a mood disorder like SAD can be diagnosed; it involves experiencing “at least two weeks of pretty persistent symptoms that don’t really get better,” according to Ferrando. The August blues, meanwhile, are considered “subclinical” — that is,they’re “insufficiently severe and/or consistent to merit diagnosis.” Additionally, disorders are generally triggered by something biological, while subclinical issues can be triggered by a wide variety of different things — like knowing you’ve just entered the last month of the summer.
For what it’s worth, I kind of wonder whether the August blues might be kind of connected to having grown up with a particular school schedule. From a very early age up until at least the age of 18, but very often longer (for college, graduate school, and so on and so forth), many of us associated the end of August with going “back to school ” — and even once we’re no longer bound by the school year, we keep thinking of it in that same way. Unless you work in a school setting, many jobs don’t have seasons — and while it’s true that some things might shift at work depending on what time of year it is (are you lucky enough to have summer Fridays?), we can’t necessarily count on having the entire summer off, like we could when we were in school.
I’m also kind of curious as to whether what we consider the “August blues” will shift over time. August often doesn’t truly mark the end of summer anymore; a lot of schools from the elementary all the way up through universities begin in August rather than September now, which kind of destroys the idea of August being the last month you have to spend on fun before hitting the books again in September. Maybe we’ll end up with “July blues” eventually. Who knows.
In any event though, if you’re feeling the August blues, know that you’re not alone. If you’d like to do something to alleviate those feelings of anxiety, it might be worth checking out some strategies for dealing with the Sunday Scaries and seeing if they’re adaptable for your current situation, too. Treating yourself kindly during this weird and stressful time will likely go a long way towards helping you feel a bit better. After all, it’s not the end of the world... right?