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Sunday Scaries Are Totally Real

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If you spend Sunday nights filled with dread, you're not alone. A survey from Monster.com revealed that 80 percent of people have what they call the "Sunday blues." While the phenomenon is common, the stress that comes with it, although also normal, is pretty bad for you. Sundays are the No. 1 day of the week for panic attacks, according to a study published in PLOS One. And with the exception of holidays, Sunday is the biggest day for people seeking treatment for peptic ulcers, another health problem associated with stress, according to a study in World Journal of Gastroenterology.

Why do Sunday Scaries happen?

You'd think that by Sunday night you'd feel refreshed from two days off, right? Wrong. The reality isn't so simple. Many people don't devote enough weekend time to rejuvenating after the work week, says Jennifer Ragsdale, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa. So, when it's time to go back to the grind, you aren't mentally ready.

Sunday Scaries strike for other reasons too. "Some people are more oriented toward ruminating and worrying," says Ragsdale. If you have that tendency, you might be tempted to envision tomorrow's duties (see: dozens of unanswered emails, and piles of dirty laundry) over and over again even if the weekend went pretty well. Or, you might replay stressful scenarios from last week, creating a snowball effect of stress. "The cognitive mental representations we have of previous work experiences, especially those that are negative and stressful, elicit the same or a similar physiological stress response as the actual stressors when we're living it," says Ragsdale. Even worrying about what's coming next activates that stress response, she says. (Learn about the 5 Ways You Unintentionally Stress Yourself Out.)

Another problem is that Sunday night stress is particularly difficult to shake off. "On a Sunday night, you're trying to relax, so you're not going to do the adaptive fight or flight thing," Ragsdale says. "You're going to sit there and stew in those stress hormones." Even Netflix can't save you.

There's still hope, though. Stop the worrying before it keeps you up all night—Mondays are bad enough without being exhausted on top of it— and clear your head with these strategies to ward off those Sunday Scaries.

On Friday: Make a list
At the end of the week, make Monday's to-do list and leave it on your desk, says Ragsdale. Everything for next week will be in order, or at least on paper, and you'll be less likely to feel like you have loose ends during the weekend. If you forget, take 15 minutes on Saturday, make a list, and don't look at it again until Monday morning. (Shorten up that list with these 3 Ways to trim Your To-Do List.)

All weekend: Avoid work e-mail
If you don't truly need to check work e-mail on the weekend, don't. There used to be this expectation of having free time on the weekend to do the things that you need to do, says Ragsdale. Now, we can check in on work during off hours, which makes it hard to emotionally disconnect and relax.

All weekend: Have fun—but don't party too hard
There's nothing better than unwinding with your friends over the weekend to let out some steam. The key is to go out, have fun, and have a drink, without wearing yourself down. "One of the best things you can do for yourself is to sleep well," says Ragsdale. "That's where most of our repair and rejuvenation happens." And when it comes to drinking, remember the old "everything in moderation" line. Excess alcohol can impair sleep, leaving you out of sorts on Sunday.

All weekend: Do the opposite of your job
Think about the kind of energy your job requires. Mental energy? Physical energy? Spend your weekend doing the opposite. "If you have a cognitively demanding job where you're digging into data, spreadsheets, etc., do something not so cognitively driven over the weekend or something that doesn't require such precise focus, something that allows you to use your imagination and be creative," says Ragsdale. If you have a physical job, give your body enough time to rest and do something that might be more mentally stimulating. This allows you to replenish the mental or physical resources you need to have a successful week.

On Sunday night: Engage your mind
It's harder to worry when your brain is busy with other tasks. "Make sure you're doing something that makes you focus on other things," says Ragsdale. And sorry, but mindlessly watching (a.k.a. binging) on TV is less likely to do the trick.

On Sunday night: Give your coworkers a break
Big meeting with a difficult coworker Monday? Not seeing eye-to-eye with your boss? Social stress at work can make it harder to relax on Sunday evening and sleep well that night, suggests a study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. It's easy to let unresolved office conflict spill into the weekend, and it can also be stressful to ponder an upcoming interaction with a tough person, says Ragsdale. Try "cognitive restructuring," she suggests. "Think about the interaction and try to see, as much as you can, the good side of the person in the interaction or think about if there's any potential way you can have a good outcome," she says. Maybe if you try to see where that person is coming from, they might not seem so annoying.

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