A Case of the Sunday Scaries

I remember when I was working my very first job, I would curl up on the bathroom floor in a pure panic the night before returning to work. I had a bad case of the “Sunday Scaries. Things have much improved (obviously) but often I get a pang of anxiety on Sunday nights.

Though it may not be an official medical diagnosis, Sunday Scaries can be described as a feeling of dread or anxiousness that can creep up midday Sunday due to Monday morning (and the impending work week) being right around the corner.

A 2018 survey commissioned by LinkedIn found that 80 percent of working American adults worry about the upcoming workweek on Sundays. Steven Meyers, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, says the technical name for this feeling is “anticipatory anxiety”. It’s a tendency to worry in advance of an event. He says that some of these feelings can be well-founded, but more often than not these things aren’t as threatening once we experience them. 

What It Feels Like And Where It Comes From

Meyers shares that particular type of anxiety presents itself through three channels: cognitively (troublesome thoughts), behaviorally (AKA fight/flight/freeze), or physically (increased heart rate, muscle tension, dry mouth, stomach pain, and/or headaches).

This feeling comes from a mix of “Have I been productive enough?” or “Have I relaxed enough?”. Or what Jonathan Abramowitz, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill, calls “shoulding” ourselves. (Should I have used my time differently this weekend?) For me, if I spend my weekend with a fun social schedule, I start to stress that I haven’t had enough time to relax and prepare for the upcoming week. If I truly relax during a weekend, I feel uneasy that I haven’t taken time to enjoy myself. 

It turns out, working from home has made things worse. 

A large part of the population used to go into an office Monday through Friday and had a clear break for the weekend. With increased remote work, it feels like we are “on the clock” 24-7. Increased workload (often with no increased compensation) and no off time is the perfect formula for Sunday Scaries.

Let’s Find Solutions

It sounds like I’m not alone in this Sunday experience. But here are a few pieces of advice from the experts to get in the right space to start the week: 

  1. Stay Busy: Schedule activities you really enjoy or high-impact tasks, like exercise, deep breathing, and adequate sleep. 
  2. Brain Dump: Write all your thoughts down with no proper outline. This could include what you are worried about, your growing task list, or plans for the future that are dancing around your brain. 
    1. Last year I discovered scribble journaling, which has been weirdly helpful in getting deeper into what’s going on in my brain.
  3. Meditation: Just a few minutes a day can help you notice unwanted thoughts and let them go. I really like this quick (and cute) 3-minute meditation from Headspace.
  4. Writing Exercise: Grab a piece of paper and write out the answers to the questions below.
    1. If the worst thing happened, how bad would that be? 
    2. What would it feel 3 weeks from now? 3 months from now? 
    3. What evidence do I have to support this intrusive thought?
    4. If a friend came to me with this exact situation, what would I say to them?

The feelings of Sunday Scaries can happen to anyone, even those who aren’t diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Abramowitz warns that if these thoughts are causing you a great deal of stress, loss of sleep or appetite, you may need to consider cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). You all know that I’m a big fan of therapy and there is no shame in asking for help when life gets hard. In the meantime, you can catch me scribbling down all my thoughts in an effort to make Sunday a little bit less scary.