Sunday Scaries: 7 Ways to Beat the Dread
In a poll I did on Instagram the other week about Sunday scaries, 22% shared they experience it regularly, 56% shared they experience it every now and then, and 22% shared they hardly ever experience it.
If you belong to one of the two first categories, I feel you.
What feels like many lifetimes ago, 18 years to be exact, I experienced Sunday scaries on a regular basis. My anxiety on Sundays used to be sky-high. For two years.
On the day normally reserved for rest, fun and easing back into the week, I frequently found myself overwhelmed by a sense of dread, commonly called the “Sunday scaries.”
If you’re experiencing this now, I want you to believe me when I say: Things can be so different.
I get emotional when I think about this because, thankfully, those worries feel like a world away.
Sunday scaries is a term that describes a feeling of anxiety rising before heading back to work after the weekend. It often starts building up early in the afternoon and peaks later in the evening. Although not a scientific term, Sunday Scaries are extremely common – according to a 2018 LinkedIn Survey, 80% of professionals say they experience it.
Make no mistake, a version of it can happen even if you love your job, so don’t be quick to draw conclusions. The answer to Sunday scaries isn’t necessarily quitting your job, there are many strategies (which I’ll be sharing with you below) you can explore before you start thinking in that direction.
However, if you are dreading work on a weekly basis, the answer might require a bigger change.
While the reasons for dreading the week ahead may vary – a stressful work week, balancing professional tasks with personal to-dos, poor work-life balance, worrying about a specific project – the underlying cause is often the same – uncertainty.
Uncertainty triggers anticipatory anxiety, which essentially means we stress and worry about an event in the future. In other words – we’re future tripping. The part of our brain that is wired for safety (our limbic brain) perceives uncertainty as a threat, which sets off a physiological response in our body (fight or flight). Adrenaline and cortisol flood the system, which is why Sunday scaries anxiety feels so real.
Considering that, here are a few ways to help you put those icky feelings to bed, reclaim your weekend, and arrive to Monday morning refreshed and ready to rule the upcoming workweek.
Set weekend intentions. We often emphasise the importance of setting goals and intentions for the week but forget to do the same for the weekend. And then the weekend flies by and we don’t feel recharged by the end of it. Take a moment on Friday evening to reflect on the week – What was your week like? How do you feel by the end of it? (Satisfied? Full? Empty? Drained? Overwhelmed? Content? Happy? Healthy? Relaxed? Accomplished? Frustrated? Resentful? Stressed? Underwhelmed? Bored? Hectic? Rushed? Messy?) Next, ask yourself: How do I want to feel this weekend? What would feel really good? What would make this weekend feel amazing? What will help me start a new week feeling good, energised and nourished? What will make my weekend feel nourishing? (Is it a lot of rest and relaxation? Doing fun activities? A combo of both? Do you need more solo time or more time spent with family and friends? Who do you want to spend your weekend with? What will you be doing?)
Go on a digital detox. Most of us get to the end of the week with a lot of tabs open in our brains – there’s a whole lot to keep mental track of in this lifetime. At any given moment we’re holding mental space for all kinds of tasks and to-dos… scheduling dentist appointments, emails, laundry, meals, projects, client work, personal finances… It's a lot. So it only makes sense that it takes our brain a while before it can switch off and relax. Because we are 'always-on' we never really allow our nervous systems to rest, restore and regroup – which heightens stress and anxiety levels. Taking some time away from social media, emails, apps and our devices, in general, can help us reduce the information overload we’re all experiencing and find some peace and calm.
Create a transition ritual. Having a transition ritual/routine like a Sunday evening yoga class, a luxurious bath or a meal with friends gives us a sense of control and over time helps to change the negative association our brain linked with Sunday afternoon. Grab a pen and paper and jot down some ideas. You can create a few categories like – fun, relaxing, soothing, exciting, inspiring, and creative – and fill each category with relevant activities you might want to try out.
Add joy to your calendar. If you find that you’re not looking forward to participating in your Monday-to-Friday, sit down on Sunday morning or evening with a cuppa and think about what you can schedule in your calendar that would make you feel more excited about the week. What do you want to do this week? Maybe you want to go for a run two mornings, book a massage, go to the cinema, get dinner with a friend you haven’t seen, and buy a birthday present for your sister. Instead of worrying about all that you may have to do, start your week by carving out “me time”.
Come back to the present. If worrying about the week ahead is the trigger for your Sunday scaries, learning to come back to the present moment is an essential practice to cultivate. You can turn to practices like meditation, mindfulness or deep breathing to help you shift from focusing on the future to focusing on the here and now.
Take note of your negative self-talk. Sometimes Sunday scaries can be a result of having a very strong inner critic (hello imposter syndrome, perfectionism, people pleasing…), especially at work. If this is the case for you, first, I want you to know that we all have an inner critic. For some or at certain periods in our lives, the inner critic’s rants have become like water we swim in; we’re so used to its voice, we no longer hear it. We need to learn to notice it and identify it. This is simple as noting: “Oh, I’m hearing my inner critic right now,” when it speaks. In that simple recognition, we become an observer of its voice, and we then have a choice about how to respond to it. Once we identify it, we need to remember what it is. The inner critic is usually our fear of failure, change, or being visible, using a very sophisticated strategy of bullying us, in an attempt to get us to shrink right back into our comfort zones.
Reflect and redesign. For some, this might be an opportunity to reflect on and reevaluate their work and life. If you’re plagued with negative Sunday thoughts, take some of them to paper. Why are you feeling down? What did you do the night before? What is coming up this week that makes you anxious? By beginning to keep track of these thoughts and putting pen to paper, you can better understand why you're feeling this way. Once you’ve gathered enough information, try to pinpoint what is the root cause for your anxiety and based on that think about how you might want to address it. Is it a lack of work-life balance? Perhaps pursuing a hobby outside of work could help with tending to your personal needs. Is it stress around balancing your professional and personal tasks? Perhaps try reaching out for help with your house chores, or perhaps preparing lunches for the week, planning what you’re going to wear to work, etc. If it's a specific issue around your work, you may want to consider speaking with your manager about it.
If the seven tools/practices above got you feeling better, fabulous! Go put them into practice. But, if you are feeling too depleted and unmotivated to even use them, you might need to look deeper. Sometimes Sunday scaries can be our body's way to communicate with us that something needs to change. While it's necessary to learn to manage and cope with stress, sometimes an external change has to occur, too. If for example, the organisation you are working for isn’t aligned with your personal core values, or there is a mismatch in what you are expected to do and the resources you have to do it, or you are feeling undervalued or working in a toxic work-culture if your work is boring or unfulfilling... These may all be signs your Sunday scaries is trying to tell you something: love it or leave it. Find ways to make your job feel more aligned or consider other alternatives. Love, Naama