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Since the U.S. adopted the modern 40-hour workweek in the first half of the 20th century, Monday has probably been the most-hated day of the week for most Americans. But it turns out that our dislike for Mondays can also taint our Sundays. In fact, a 2015 survey from the job-search website Monster found that 76% of respondents in the U.S. felt “really bad” Sunday blues. In recent years, the term “Sunday Scaries” has taken off as people grow more comfortable talking about their sour Sunday feelings. So we asked two licensed mental health professionals what it really means to have the Sunday Scaries and what we can do to start the week off on a happier note.
First, what are the Sunday Scaries?
While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, the Sunday Scaries are a real thing that can have mental and physical consequences. “It’s anticipatory anxiety that comes with returning to a different part of ourselves,” says Amy Cirbus, Ph.D., LMHC, LPC, director of clinical content at Talkspace. “We are relaxing on the weekend and work is a different part of ourselves. We treasure that time and now have to transition back.”
At its core, the act of anticipating is not new — it’s a survival tactic that humans adopted long ago so they could think about and avoid potential dangers before encountering them. We face much less danger on a day-to-day basis now, but that instinct to worry about things around the corner (literally or figuratively) is still ingrained in us. The result? You waste away hours on a perfectly fine Sunday afternoon fretting about work projects, coworkers, waking up early and commuting when you could be sitting back and relaxing. Essentially, you shortchange yourself out of your own weekend.
What do the Sunday Scaries feel like?
While the experience varies from person to person, these are some of the emotions someone with the Sunday Scaries might feel on the brink of their workweek:
The Sunday Scaries can also cause physical symptoms like these:
What causes the Sunday Scaries?
“Anyone can have these feelings,” says Cirbus. “You don't have to have a history or current experience with depression or anxiety.” That said, here are a few things that might increase the chances that you feel anxious come Sunday night:
Not being able to disconnect from work: When you’re getting pinged with messages from coworkers at all hours of the day on any day of the week, you might feel like you never really have time to unwind and regroup.
Too much to do at work: If you’re short-staffed and overworked, it can be impossible to finish everything on your to-do list. As a result, you may not feel comfortable pausing at the end of the week because you know your next project is already waiting on your desk.
A bad work environment: Working under an unfair boss, with a toxic coworker or toward a promotion that never comes can put a damper on every workday, not just Mondays.
Uncertainty or a loss of control: When something in your life goes off the rails (like a relationship or your routine), it’s natural to cling to what you think you can control. For some people, that thing is work so they strive to do their job perfectly even if it means not letting go of work on the weekends.
A lack of fun: If you don’t prioritize joy and make time to do fun things, your weekend will never feel long enough.
A lack of rest: If you’re always on the go and never let yourself reboot, you’ll naturally feel burned out and unprepared for the workweek.
How to Get Rid of the Sunday Scaries
Here are nine therapist-approved strategies for overcoming the Sunday Scaries and giving yourself a fresh start every Monday.
Schedule joy in your weekend.
“In the week leading up to the weekend, put things on your calendar from your Friday night through Sunday that you’re scheduling for pleasure,” suggests Asha Tarry, LMSW, psychotherapist and certified life coach and author of Adulting as a Millennial. It could be anything — going on a hike, visiting a friend, attending a concert or even just setting aside time to read a good book. “They don’t have to be rigid in case things change, but at least preparing for it tends to decrease people’s anxiety of not knowing how to maximize pleasure on the weekends,” Tarry explains. It also gives you something to look forward to during the week.
When you start to feel stressed or worried about the looming workweek, do what Tarry calls a “brain dump.” “What that looks like is, either in a notebook or preferably for some people in their phone, just empty out all your thoughts,” she says. “They don’t have to be congruent. They don’t have to have sentence structure.” For some people, the process of acknowledging what’s going on in your mind can help quell worries. If you’re more of a list-maker than a diary-keeper, Cirbus suggests spending just a few minutes on Sunday writing down a task list of what you’re going to do on Monday and then set it aside. That way you have an action plan and can feel better knowing things will get taken care of.
Make Mondays happier.
If you buy lunch one day a week, make it Monday and pack your lunch the other days. If you get weekly drinks with a friend, do it on Mondays. If you have weekly TV shows you love, watch them on-demand on Monday night. Turn the first day of your workweek into something you look forward to instead of dread.
Adopt a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be meditation. “Any mindfulness exercise — trying to be present, actively engaging with the folks in your household or with yourself, making sure that you are taking good care of yourself — that really relates to some of the anxiety about Monday,” says Cirbus. She says it can also help to pause and acknowledge the feelings you’re feeling and reassure yourself that the weekend is your time to relax and once it’s time to work you will take care of work.
Prep for the week ahead.
That doesn’t mean cook a week’s worth of meals on Sunday night. Instead, on Thursday the week before, think about what you might like to eat in the coming week and buy your groceries. If there are certain outfits you might want to wear, get them out and iron them before the weekend starts. “We want to change the framework around how people view the first day of the week,” says Tarry. “People generally have this malaise or feeling of dread, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you plan ahead to take care of yourself.” When you wake up Monday morning and have no clean clothes and an empty fridge, you’re bound to start your workweek in a bad mood, but if you plan ahead that alleviates some anxiety and frees up your Sunday night so you can actually relax.
Give yourself time to rest.
You know your body needs sleep, but it also needs rest — and those are two separate things “For a lot of people, resting and planning for rest is something that’s unusual,” says Tarry. “We conceptualize work and productivity as the things that we’re supposed to be doing all day, but that actually creates more mental exhaustion and physical fatigue.” Especially during the pandemic, Tarry says she’s encouraged her clients to pay attention to how their bodies feel. “How do they feel in their chest? How do they feel in their shoulders? What, generally, is the content of their thoughts?” she asks.
She says tuning in to these things can help you see how what goes on in your mind affects you physically. Then, block off 30 minutes on your calendar, pause to observe how you feel and then do whatever it takes to turn off your brain. It could be as simple as putting your phone in another room if it's always in your hand, letting your partner make plans for dinner if you’re the usual decision-maker for your household or lighting a candle and doing some deep breathing if your mind is always racing. “Rest is not equivalent to sleep,” says Tarry. “Rest is just not being productive both physically and emotionally.” Giving yourself permission to do nothing for a period of time will recharge your battery, lower your blood pressure and allow you to think more clearly.
Find a buddy.
If loneliness is the root cause of your Sunday Scaries and you live alone, Tarry recommends figuring out if there’s a trusted friend that you can snuggle or cuddle with, and maybe even have a sleepover with. “Sometimes it helps for people to feel close to people,” explains Tarry. “If you don’t have someone that you can buddy up with or sleep over with, if you have someone close that you trust, just having an item of theirs or putting something close to your skin — that helps you to feel a sense of closeness to someone or something that gives you a good memory.”
If that feels like too much, try scheduling a group FaceTime on Sunday nights or a group text in which you and some of your friends check in and share what you accomplished last week and what you’re looking forward to in the week ahead. “When you do that with other people, it actually makes you feel like you’re a part of something,” says Tarry. “It can also remind you that you’re probably doing all the things that you need to do for yourself and you just need to recognize it or have someone else recognize it for you. That type of interpersonal exchange gives people a sense of belonging and that’s what we really need now.”
Reevaluate your job.
If the Sunday Scaries become the Monday Scaries and then the Tuesday Scaries, but things outside of work seem to be going fine, it might be time to ask yourself some hard questions about your current job. “Is it that you don’t really feel like it’s a place for you?” asks Cirbus. “Is it the work environment itself? Is it a coworker or a manager? Is there something you can pinpoint?” Obviously some aspects of work are easier to troubleshoot than others and it’s not always feasible to walk away and get a new job, but you have to consider the toll that your current position is taking on your mental health. If you’re lucky enough to have unused vacation time, make an effort to use some of those days. “Take a holistic look at what parts you can control immediately as you’re trying to soothe yourself,” says Cirbus. “And protect that time that you’re disconnected from work the best you can because we know that you’re going to perform better at work and feel better at work when you’ve had proper time off.”
Consider talking to a therapist.
The Sunday Scaries affect everyone differently. You could have fleeting feelings of anxiety that last just a few minutes or spiral into several hours of worry. “When it really feels like it has been interfering with your day — that it feels overwhelming, you’re not able to sleep the night before, and no matter what you try it doesn’t help,” Cirbus says, “it’s a good time to talk to a therapist.” Remember, you don’t have to be in the midst of a serious crisis to benefit from therapy. A mental health professional can help you get at the root cause of your Sunday Scaries and formulate a plan to healthfully move forward.
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