How to Shut Down the Sunday Scaries and Reclaim Your Weekend

Your weekend doesn't have to be riddled with anxiety. Mental health experts break down how to combat the Sunday Scaries and prevent them from occurring in the first place.

woman laying in sun spot on floor
Photo: Getty Images

Historically, Sundays have been reserved for rest and recharging after grinding through the taxing workweek. But in the current era of hustle culture and girl-bossing, this day of relaxation has been turned on its head, transformed into a day for panicking about the future and the insurmountable workload to come, a phenomenon known as "the Sunday Scaries."

In fact, 14 percent of U.S. adults reported experiencing the Sunday Scaries every single week in 2021. And among the individuals who claimed they "hated" their job, that statistic jumped to 27 percent, according to a YouGov survey of more than 30,400 people. Unsurprisingly, all this stress can do a number on your mental and physical health, according to mental health professionals.

Thankfully, though, there are steps you can take to put your Sunday Scaries to rest, both in the moment and in the future. Here, your game plan to do just that.

What Are the Sunday Scaries?

Just as the name implies, the Sunday Scaries are the feelings of anxiety, dread, or impending doom about the upcoming week, which typically crop up on Sunday afternoon and evening, says Michelle Dean, L.P.C., a therapist with Connections Wellness Group in Denton, Texas. "I think I would describe it as just this simmering feeling of uneasiness and dread [that comes with] knowing we have to step into a fresh new week on Monday — we have to let go of the freedom of the weekend," adds Leah Katz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon.

The driving force behind the Sunday Scaries may be as simple as the anticipation of a stressful work week or the idea of having to finish a major project, says Dean. And if you seriously dislike your job, you might feel this sense of dread week after week. "If you've experienced the Sunday Scaries a couple of times, it can become this conditioned response that you have because your brain is perceiving the upcoming week as a threat," she explains.

Still, some people may suffer from the Sunday Scaries on repeat even if there's not a "threat." "In my opinion, if you tend to be more of a ruminator, an over-thinker, an over-analyzer, you might be drawn more to the Sunday Scaries because you have that pattern of getting caught up in the thinking about what's to come," says Katz. The same goes for people who tend to get stuck on the negative aspects of a situation rather than the good and exciting ones, she adds.

Sunday Scaries Signs and Symptoms

When you start feeling anxious about your Monday to-do list or worrying about an impending deadline, your brain's fight-or-flight response may become activated, says Dean. Your breath might quicken, your heart may race, your muscles could tense up, and your blood pressure might rise, and if this is happening at night, you might have trouble sleeping, she explains.

Other times, you might just freeze. "It can be paralyzing too," says Dean. "Sometimes you're just avoiding things, and you stay in bed all Sunday and you're not enjoying your day. All you're doing is lying there, worrying about what's going to happen Monday, thinking 'I don't think I'm going to have enough time to get this finished,' or feeling just overwhelmed with home life and work life."

It's this rumination about the future that can cause you to be less present, which can actually exacerbate your Sunday Scaries, says Katz. "The sad thing about the Sunday Scaries is that it takes away from what we do have," she says. "You still have the weekend, you still have this time where you can enjoy yourself, but we're caught up in the future, and that detracts from the ability to enjoy what's right before us."

The Impact of the Sunday Scaries

When you regularly suffer the Sunday Scaries, you might experience burnout, defined as a syndrome "resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn't been successfully managed," according to the World Health Organization. Typically, burnout is marked by three key characteristics, says Dean. First, you'll feel emotionally exhausted 24/7 from spending so much of your time thinking about your to-do list, what your co-workers think about you, and all the components of your job you dislike, she explains.

The second component is depersonalization, or developing distant or indifferent attitudes toward work. "You're really emotionally avoiding confronting your fears, and so it's almost like you're blocking yourself off from really feeling those emotions," says Dean. "And then you start to feel like it's an out-of-body experience — you're just watching yourself do things." This burnout symptom may also manifest as negative behaviors toward colleagues or cynical comments toward the people receiving your work, according to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

While suffering from burnout, you'll also feel a decreased sense of accomplishment, and you won't find joy in their tasks and achievements like you used to, says Dean. And this hit to your mental health can also have physical consequences. "This stress cycle — of feeling burned out and not being able to end it — [can make] your immune system compromised and your body not heal as quickly," she explains. Not only can burnout increase your susceptibility to illnesses such as colds and the flu, but it may also increase your risk of headaches, gastrointestinal issues, type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems, and musculoskeletal pain, according to research published in PLoS One.

How to Deal with the Sunday Scaries

When you're experiencing the Sunday Scaries in real-time, there are a few steps you can take to cool your jets.

Practice Journaling

By writing down your thoughts and worries, you're able to clarify if there are actual, concrete things worth stressing over and, if so, devise a game plan to tackle them, says Katz. Say you're working on a project that just doesn't feel right for you and your career goals, and it's causing you to feel anxious about the upcoming week. By taking a beat to write down the exact aspects of the project that are causing you to panic,you have the opportunity to consider what actions you can take to change it, such as asking a co-worker to swap tasks with you, says Katz. Not to mention, journaling about all the activities you're looking forward to throughout the week will help ease some of the dread, she adds.

Get Moving

When you're feeling overwhelmed and on-edge about work on Sunday night, consider putting all your adrenaline — the hormone responsible for increasing your heart and breathing rates in response to stress — to good use with exercise, says Dean. "I would say exercise is a great way to break your stress cycle and really just bring more clarity," she explains. Plus, "when you have that much adrenaline in your body, you're going to be able to run, workout, do all those things probably with a lot better ability…I tell people to do push-ups or sit-ups in their room. You don't have to leave your house."

Embrace Your Creative Side

Creating art, drawing in coloring books, or trying an adult craft kit can all help you calm down and relieve stress when you're suffering from the Sunday Scaries, says Dean. In fact, a small 2016 study found that participants had significantly lower levels of cortisol — known as the body's stress hormone — after making art for 45 minutes, and they reported the crafting session to be relaxing and enjoyable.

Plan For Monday

Taking some time on Sunday afternoon or evening to plan out your week and mentally prepare for your upcoming to-dos can help put your mind to rest, says Dean. "A lot of times Monday is this zero-to-100 feeling, and nobody does well in that — that just creates anxiety," she says. "Having a Sunday night planning what [your week's] going to look like [makes it] so you're not overwhelmed." For example, if you're stressing about a project due on Friday, you can spend a few moments scheduling out how you'll tackle it bit by bit throughout the week. In doing so, you'll ease any in-the-moment anxiety and be less likely to have the Sunday Scaries that turn into Thursday Scaries, says Dean.

How to Prevent the Sunday Scaries

Thankfully, the Sunday Scaries don't have to be an inevitable weekly occurrence. Put these practices into action to help stay cool, calm, and collected — and actually enjoy your weekends.

Be More Intentional with Your Weekends

To ward off the Sunday Scaries altogether, you'll want to be intentional about how you use your free time throughout the weekend. "I think what happens is that [by Sunday], we don't know what we did and the time just went through our fingers," says Katz. "So if we bring more intentionality about how we're using that time, that might help [the weekend] feel more rejuvenating or help sustain us more." On Friday, plan out exactly what you're going to do to recharge and make the most of those 48 hours of free time, she suggests. Follow through with those plans, and you'll feel more satisfied with your weekend and less likely to experience the Sunday Scaries.

Reflect On Your Daily Activities

On a typical workday, write down all the activities you take part in from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, says Katz. Then, next to each activity, write "N" for "nurturing" or "D" for "draining," she suggests. By reviewing which tasks leave you feeling nourished and fulfilled and which leave you mentally and physically exhausted, you'll have a clear-cut idea of the forces driving your Sunday Scaries. Then, you'll have the opportunity to think about how to adjust them so they are nurturing, says Katz. "[It's about] creating more balance for yourself because, realistically, there are things that we might be able to change about how we're spending our time at work and sometimes there aren't," she says. "But what can we tweak and what can we change outside of that?"

Speak with a Mental Health Professional

If you tried all of these tactics to stifle the Sunday Scaries without any improvement in your symptoms or it's affecting your ability to function, consider chatting with a mental health professional, says Dean. "If you're having a lot of avoidance and then it's impacting your ability to feel that sense of accomplishment during the week, I definitely would say it would be helpful to talk to someone," she explains.

Meeting with a therapist or other expert will help you glean more insight into why you're experiencing the Sunday Scaries in the first place, says Katz. And just as importantly, working with a professional one-on-one will help you conquer your Sunday Scaries in a way that's going to work best for you, adds Dean. "If someone is experiencing other stressors, there's an inability to exercise, or there are no resources to do some of the things I mentioned, it's important to find someone to help you get the appropriate resources that are going to help you," she says. "Everyone's different."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles