What Are the ‘Sunday Scaries,’ and How Can You Beat Them?

What Are the ‘Sunday Scaries,’ and How Can You Beat Them?
Photo: DreamBig, Shutterstock

You probably know the feeling: The night before you have to go back to work or school after being off for a couple of days (or longer), you start to feel anxious. You can’t focus, can’t sleep, and find yourself imagining all the stressful or annoying things that await you at work in the coming week. Welcome to the “Sunday Scaries.”

While the name sounds cute, the Sunday Scaries is actually a form of what’s known as “anticipatory anxiety,” a generalized sense of fear and worry around events that haven’t occurred yet — things that might happen in the future. It isn’t specific to Sunday; it can afflict you on any evening before you have to go back to work or school. And it’s incredibly common — about 80 per cent of Americans have experienced this sense of impending doom the night before heading back to the grind.

People typically report a growing sense of depression and anxiety as the day progresses, culminating in a dreary evening spent worrying. There are often physical symptoms, including headaches, nausea, agitation, and poor sleep, all of which combine to ensure that your Monday morning will be awful, thus justifying your anxiety. If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s time you took control of the Sunday Scaries and learned how to manage them, if not banish them entirely.

What are the Sunday Scaries?

Your first step to a Sunday Scaries-free existence is to understand the mechanics of it. There are two fundamental things happening here:

  • A sense of dwindling opportunity. The Sunday Scaries are essentially the emotional opposite of Thank God It’s Friday. Where Fridays represent the end of our labors and the beginning of a glorious period of free time, Sundays represent the opposite. And that feeling that the clock is winding down is partially responsible for preventing us from enjoying that time because it already feels lost. You’re out of runway and about to crash into work or that dreaded 8 a.m. class.
  • Assumption of negativity. You’re assuming the coming work week or class schedule will be awful. You might have good reason to believe this, but again this is anticipatory anxiety. None of the bad things you’re imagining have actually happened.

Knowing how the Sunday Scaries wears you down is one thing — but how do you actually deal with them?

Determine the source of your anxiety

Step one is to deal with your anxiety head-on and ask yourself what you’re anxious about. For some folks, this will be extremely specific — perhaps you have a weekly meeting with a boss that is stressful, an unpleasant weekly task that looms, or a class first thing in the morning that you’re struggling with. Narrowing down the precise cause of your anxiety will arm you with information you can use to diffuse the dread.

For some, the Sunday Scaries have more to do with Sunday than Monday. If you dedicate your Fridays and Saturdays to cutting loose and load up your Sundays with chores, that eliminates some time you might use to relax and catch your breath, leaving you with the sense that you’re racing through your Sunday and are unprepared for what’s coming.

For others, there’s no specific cause. Your entire job might suck, or your school career could be a hot mess up and down your class schedule. But knowing this is still helpful because there are strategies you can use to deal with it.

How to lessen your Sunday Scaries

Once you’ve identified the cause of your Sunday-night anxiety, you can take some steps to curb it:

Make your Sundays better

You might not be using your Sundays well. If you’ve packed Sunday with chores and to-do lists, try redistributing those and freeing up some relaxation time, especially at night. Fighting anxiety often involves the same strategies as trying to improve your sleep: You need to settle down and reset your brain a little.

Also consider adding some “grow time” to your Sundays by learning a new skill, engaging in a hobby, or reading up on a subject you’re interested in. The feeling of accomplishment will be very satisfying and relaxing. Keeping busy — but not crazed — on Sunday will keep your mind occupied, as well, which can help keep it from racing over and over the same anxiety points.

Change your schedule

If your Sunday Scaries are tied to a specific event during the coming week, investigate whether you can shift some things around. Dreaded check-in with the boss on Monday mornings? Ask to shift it to another day. Challenging class first thing? Consider dropping it and switching to another time.

This is also the time to consider your work/life balance. With the rise of remote work, many people are struggling with the line between work and personal time — when you’re constantly doomscrolling your work email, are you ever really “off”? That stress exacerbates the Sunday Scaries, so try to enforce some hard lines between your work and personal life, starting with never checking work email outside working hours.

Make a plan

If you can’t avoid stress-inducing stuff at work or school, you can make a plan to deal with them. Instead of viewing your Monday (or the entire week ahead) as a frothy soup of undefined dread, sit down and work out how you’re going to handle that terrible meeting or how you’re going to prepare for that dreaded presentation or project. Just having a plan will reduce your stress, and help you feel more in control.

Live clean, bro

If you live for the weekend, you might be unintentionally driving your Sunday anxiety. Hangovers are never pleasant, but spending your Sunday moping about nursing one can set off a chain reaction of self-loathing and regret because you may feel like you wasted the whole day. If that’s a pattern you recognise, pulling back a bit on your Saturday bacchanalia will make your Sundays clearer and more productive, which in turn will lessen that sense that you just dropped an entire day of your life into the garbage.

Consider making a bigger change

Finally, if you’ve seriously considered all of your options and tried several ways of reducing your end-of-the-weekend stress with no success, you might consider the Nuclear Option: Changing jobs, switching majors, or otherwise altering some other fundamental aspect of your life.

If you do decide that a more substantial change is in order, use what you’ve learned about your Sunday Scaries to avoid similar scenarios in the future. If there were specific aspects of your job that inspired dread, look for jobs and office cultures that don’t include those things. If your classwork made you lose sleep, consider whether you’re in the right field. In other words, look at this as an opportunity to leave the Sunday Scaries behind forever.

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