It’s Sunday evening and, like clockwork, a sense of dread is washing over your mind. It’s like a figurative cloud has suddenly materialized to cast a shadow over the rest of your night.
You start flipping through a mental calendar of your to-dos for the upcoming week as your emotions ping between disbelief, regret and dismay.
How can tomorrow be Monday already? I didn’t even get through half the stuff I needed to get done this weekend. And I have that huge presentation at work that I haven’t even started yet. Ugh, this week is going to be the worst.
Looks like the Sunday Scaries have arrived.
What are the Sunday Scaries?
“The Sunday Scaries, or Sunday blues, are a type of anticipatory anxiety that gives you a sense that what’s going to happen is going to be really hard,” explains Dr. Meghann Gerber, a psychologist who sees patients at Hall Health Center on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.
Basically, the anticipation that you soon have to do something you don’t want to do — aka go back to work — can increase your anxiety and stress ahead of time.
The other part of it, Gerber explains, is that you’re lamenting the end of your time off, whether that’s not accomplishing everything you wanted to or simply wishing you had done more with your weekend.
“You have this free time where you get to decide what you do and then you have to go back into the world where you’re meeting the demands of other people,” she says.
According to a survey from job networking site LinkedIn, 80% of Americans experience the Sunday Scaries in some form or fashion. Many workers are worried about how much they have to do at their jobs, while others are concerned about being able to balance their personal and professional lives.
To be clear, even though this form of anxiety has a cutesy nickname that mentions a specific day, people who don’t follow a traditional 9-to-5 work schedule can experience it, too. Shift workers, self-employed people and those who work from home can also feel a sense of dread whenever switching between time off and their jobs.
How do the Sunday Scaries affect your mental health?
All this worrying over work may seem like adulting 101, but regular doses of stress can add up. On top of that, all that anxiety only diminishes the quality of the time off that you actually do have.
“In those moments when you’re fretting over losing your free time, you’re not actually experiencing your Sunday,” Gerber notes. “You’re allowing your awareness to spend more time in the unpleasant future than you need to.”
In some cases, that worry about the upcoming workweek can drag you deeper into a vortex of negative emotions.
“What happens a lot of the time is that you end up feeling awful about feeling bad,” Gerber says. “It’s bad enough that you have the Sunday blues but what really makes it painful is that you’re then disappointed in yourself for having them in the first place.”
What causes your Sunday Scaries?
If the Sunday Scaries are an unwelcome presence in your life, you’re probably wondering how to banish them once and for all. While that’s a natural sentiment, Gerber says, it’s always a good idea to examine those thoughts first.
“You don’t want to ignore or avoid those feelings,” she explains. “You want to investigate things and focus on what it is that you’re not wanting to do.”
For example, are you just bummed that your free time is almost up or are you feeling glum about your job? Are you worried about something in the upcoming workweek? Do you feel like your current career path just isn’t the right one for you?
Asking yourself these questions allows you to probe a little further into why you’re feeling the way you do. You might soon realize the Sunday Scaries are actually a symptom of a deeper problem that you can then try to remedy, from talking to your boss about your workload to looking for a new job.
How can you keep the Sunday Scaries away?
Let’s say you’ve tapped into your feelings and come to the conclusion that it’s not really work — it’s just that you regret not having a better weekend than you actually did. If so, Gerber suggests looking at how you’re structuring your time off and making minor adjustments.
If you notice that you’re leaving tedious chores — hey there, laundry — until the very end of your weekend, then it’s no wonder your Sunday evenings suddenly feel all gloom and doom compared to your fun-filled Saturdays.
“Maybe it makes sense to get your laundry out of the way Saturday morning and then you can do satisfying, rewarding things Sunday,” she says.
If your anxiety stems from something else — like feeling as if you didn’t take full advantage of your time off — Gerber says it’s important to be kind to yourself instead of harping on the idea that you wasted your weekend.
“Maybe you get half the laundry done and call it good,” she says. “Maybe you acknowledge that the weekend wasn’t the one you dreamed of but it’s the weekend you got and that’s fine.”
Try your best to redirect your energy from negative thoughts over what you could have, should have, would have done, to something that you can accomplish or enjoy in the present.
“Be compassionate toward yourself,” Gerber says. “Acknowledge that you feel that way, but find ways to cut yourself some slack. The important thing is that you want to experience being mindful of the present so you’re not always doing this mental time travel and then missing out on your life.”