Ah, the Sunday scaries: We’ve all experienced them. One minute you’re kicking back with friends enjoying bottomless mimosas at brunch, the next, you’re spiraling in a pit of “oh-god-tomorrow-begins-another-hellishly-long-workweek” despair.
If you’re very unlucky, you might come down with a case of Saturday scaries: You still have two days of free time but you can’t stop thinking about Monday. (Hard to care who wins that Auburn vs. Oregon game when you’re preoccupied with all the emails piling up in your inbox.)
Kids get the scaries, too. The Sunday scaries that occur on the last day of summer or winter break are particularly unsettling for kids and parents alike.
Nearly everyone gets them. Back in 2015, Monster conducted a poll in which 76% of respondents said they felt a creeping sense of anxiety about the workweek come Sunday night. This was in comparison to the 42% of European respondents who claimed the same. (Chalk it up to an office culture ― more paid vacation time, laws banning after-hours work emails ― that leaves Europeans with a better work-life balance.)
Even those more or less content with their jobs can feel a sense of foreboding on Sunday night, said Kurt Smith, a therapist in Roseville, California.
“A doctor I treated hated Sundays because of the fear of Monday that would begin,” Smith said. “It would build and build through the day and culminate in an almost unbearable drive to his office on Monday mornings.”
What was driving his anxiety?
“He didn’t want to face all the problems that he knew would be there waiting for him, especially staff-related ones,” Smith said. “But he doesn’t have this Sunday dread anymore. We re-programmed his thought process and changed how he responded to or avoided problems before and during the weekend.”
How do you “re-program” your weekend self so you’re not dreading this upcoming Monday? Below, Smith and other experts share a few self-care habits that will help you stave off the scaries. (Keep in mind, if you’re regularly experiencing tension, irritability, low motivation, apathy or sadness, it could be more than the Sunday scaries and it’s worth talking to a mental health professional about it.)
1. Tackle Monday on Friday.
So much of Sunday scaries anxiety is pegged to the unknown: “What if I sound ill-prepared at that meeting I have to lead on Monday?” “What if my clients are annoyed that they haven’t yet received their invoices?”
To get control of your anxiety, it helps to tackle Monday before the weekend even begins. Plan out your workweek ahead and think about what you can do on Friday afternoon that will make life easier for you come Monday, Smith said. (For instance, in the examples above, make a short list of all the points you want to make at that staff meeting, or get a head start on emailing some of your clients their invoices before you leave the office.)
“Knowing you already have a plan in place to get you started when you arrive at work can be helpful when your thoughts start to spin over what you’ll face on Monday,” Smith said.
2. Remind yourself that “feelings aren’t facts.”
Self-sabotaging thoughts about Sunday ― “The weekend is basically over. Ugh, time to start getting ready for Monday morning” ― ruins what should be a good, non-working, relaxing day.
That’s because we use our feelings as a compass for how to behave: If you constantly tell yourself Sunday is a prelude to the workweek instead of a day off where you can do whatever the hell you want, you’re bound to have a bad day, said Allison Hart, a psychological assistant at Wellspace SF in Northern California.
“When this happens, we stop treating ourselves like we’ve earned another day of rest and disengagement from our ‘work brain,’” she said. “Instead of waiting around for feelings to change, we have to be willing to notice dread and anxiety for what they are: Feelings that tell us how much we care about what we want from our weekends, so much so that we don’t want them to end.”
Instead of focusing on the dread, try to be intentional about your Sundays: You’ve worked hard all week and you deserve to enjoy them.
“Ask yourself: What matters to me on the weekends?” Hart said. “What was I waiting to do all week that I now have space for today? If you learn to follow through on those Sunday ideas for yourself, your head will hit the pillow at night and you’ll know you’ve treated Sunday like it was yours.”
3. Be more thoughtful about planning your Sunday.
If your weekends seem instantly devoured, take inventory of what areas of life need more attention and address those needs on Sunday, said Brittany Bouffard, a psychotherapist in Denver.
“Are you lagging come Friday in terms of solo time, social time, play, reflection, sleep, human connection, nature, movement, rest, family time?” she said. “Also ask yourself if there are any categories where you feel overfilled. Once you do that, make the tweaks needed to aim closer to filling your empty areas and energies more equally, where you’re left more recharged than bitter and going on empty.”
4. That said, don’t default to the thinking that planning out your Sunday means chores, chores and more chores.
“When you’ve had a full week of responsibilities, it’s natural to feel compelled to lean into your playful, carefree, free-spirited selves,” she said. “They’re an essential part of our being that are so important to honor.”
But often, when we start transitioning into the week, “the inner critic likes to come out and judge everything your playful self did over the weekend,” Seely said. Such as, she added, “You weren’t productive enough,” “You didn’t do what you said you were going to do,” “You should have done this instead.”
To counter those downer thoughts, Seely gives herself permission to be playful and set aside her responsibilities for a few days.
“Our culture tends to prioritize achievement, but making time for fun is just as important,” she said.
5. Make work something you look forward to — even on Sundays.
To combat her Sunday scaries, Saniyyah Mayo, a psychotherapist in Rancho Cucamonga, California, changed the entire way she approached her Mondays.
“I try to use positive self-talk and focus on all the positives of the job versus the negative,” she said. “And on Monday morning, I’ll put on a podcast I like to help cultivate a positive mood on my way to work.”
Setting some long-term, big picture professionals goals can help you get amped about the workweek, too.
“Let’s say you want to get promoted: Focusing on the position you want will transition your mind from negative to positive,” Mayo said. “Or maybe you want to pick up job-acquiring skills so you can seek out better opportunities. Either way, you’re making professional goals that help you stay focused on the end goal and not the workweek.”
6. Consider cutting back on your alcohol intake on Saturday night.
A hangover often comes with a heavy dose of anxiety the next day. If your weekend includes alcohol, the Sunday scaries can often be accompanied by detox symptoms such as anxiety, feeling down on yourself, critical thoughts about yourself, your job and everything else ― and that’s on top of the physical symptoms that come with a hangover.
“If you think this might be the cause of or is influencing how scary Sundays can feel, try limiting your alcohol intake or engaging in a substance-free weekend activity to see if you notice a difference,” Seely said.
7. Talk about the Sunday scaries with your friends.
While you don’t want to spend the entire day complaining about the week to come to anyone who’ll listen, sometimes simply talking about your anxiety with someone you trust makes it easier to deal with, Bouffard said.
“Mention it to friends or family and you might find that they can relate or at least offer a good ear,” she said. “Plus, this gives you a chance to process aloud how you might feel stuck or unfulfilled in your position or career.”
But what if you and that friend are both big Sunday-scaries sufferers? Consider having a weekly phone call on Sunday evening where you prep and plan out what a successful work week might look like for you both, respectively.
“When you can objectively name the parts of work that get you down, you can then explore avenues to change and improve them,” Bouffard said.