We all know the feeling -- as the sun sets on a perfectly lovely weekend, a sense of gloom, anxiety, or even dread starts to settle on you as you think about returning to work the next morning. Your energy dips, your mood darkens, and you know one thing for certain: the Sunday blues have arrived.

Pretty much everyone has been afflicted with this feeling at some point in their professional lives. That's why there's a ton of advice out there on how to fight it, from distracting yourself with a hobby to getting an organizational jump on the week ahead.

Depending on your particular situation, these can all be sensible short-term techniques, but according to philosopher and author Alain de Botton, the right response to the Sunday blues is rarely ever mentioned -- don't fight or mask your feelings, celebrate them.

Why your Sundays are haunted

Wait, what? Why would you celebrate your feelings of low-grade depression about your crappy work situation? Because, de Botton answers in a fascinating recent blog post, those feelings, however uncomfortable, are a useful signal of what is going wrong in your work life. Respecting that and listening to them carefully is ultimately a better way to respond than just binge watching your favorite comedy or implementing a new Friday afternoon productivity routine.

You don't just get the Sunday blues because you have to go back to work on Monday, de Botton points out. You get the Sunday blues because you're going back to the wrong work for you. By paying attention to your Sunday grumpiness, you can better ascertain what exactly is wrong with your working life, which is the first step to fixing it. De Botton writes:

We all have inside us what we might term a true working self, a set of inclinations and capacities that long to exert themselves on the raw material of reality. We want to turn the vital bits of who we are into jobs, and ensure that we can see ourselves reflected in the services and products we are involved in turning out. This is what we understand by the right job, and the need for one is as fundamental and as strong in us as the need to love...

We normally manage to keep the insistent calls of the true working self at bay during the week. We are too busy and too driven by an immediate need for money. But it reliably comes to trouble us on Sunday evenings. Like a ghost suspended between two worlds, it has not been allowed to live or to die, and so bangs at the door of consciousness, requiring resolution. We are sad, or panicked, because a part of us recognizes that time is running out and that we are not presently doing what we should with what remains of our lives.

Just ignoring that annoying poltergeist of professional angst by going on a Netflix binge or cracking open a bottle of wine isn't going to make the knocking and moaning go away. What will? Sorry, de Botton doesn't have any easy answers for you. But he does insist that the first step is to pay attention to your feelings.

"We should place these feelings at the center of our lives and let them be the catalysts for a sustained exploration that continues throughout the week, over months and probably years, and that generates conversations with ourselves, with friends, mentors and with professionals," he writes, warning us that "something very serious is going on when sadness and anxiety descend for a few hours on Sunday evenings."

The good news

All of which is extremely necessary to point out, but also a little gloomy. So let me add a few more cheerful notes.

First, your nagging anxiety that your life isn't quite what it should be is probably a sign that you're actually already doing pretty well. If your life were really off course, you wouldn't have the Sunday blues. You would have acute stress about finding any job at all, paying bills, saving your marriage, etc. Niggling worries are annoying, but because they're niggling they're probably a sign that you are a striver who is already more successful than you give yourself credit for.

Second, addressing the lack of fit between what de Botton calls "your true working self" and your current work reality probably doesn't require as dramatic a change as you imagine in the depths of your Sunday blues. Rather than quitting, many jobs can be reverse engineered to be more fulfilling, and even if a more radical change of course is required, chances are good that process will start with small experiments rather than one momentous, weighty decision.

Published on: Oct 13, 2017