Dr. Elayne Daniels

Monday looms large, and last week’s unfinished business imposes regret. While Friday came in like a view of the Promised Land, every tick of Sunday’s clock is like an hour closer to Hell. You, my friend, have a case of the Sunday Scaries.

Yes, they’re real.

And yes, the name is, too.

What are Sunday Scaries?

An aversion to Sundays is common, especially as Sunday afternoon morphs into night. Quadruple the experience for anyone with high sensitivity or a Monday start on a diet or exercise plan. 

The Sunday Scaries are a form of what psychologists call anticipatory anxiety. 

Contrary to stress or anxiety brought on by the moment, anticipatory anxiety is brought on by expectation of what lies ahead. And many of us, regardless of age, experience it. 

We’re not even necessarily aware of it when it happens, perhaps because we’re so busy anticipating the future. 

After all, if we can accurately predict the unknown, we can stay a step ahead of its consequences. .  

Or so we think.

And so the proverbial, even biblical, “day of rest” becomes anything but. You stop enjoying yourself on Saturday because Sunday is just a 24-hour rabbit hole into Monday. 

The full-speed grind awaits: school, work, obligations, alarm clocks, traffic.

It’s like the downer when returning from vacation (which can happen any day of the week). Instead of the reality check happening in step with reality itself, it takes on a life of its own. 

Subsequently, it ruins the final days of your vacation…or the final day of your weekend.  

And the Sunday Scaries aren’t limited to just your mind. They permeate your body, too.

Maybe it’s a slight headache or a drop in your stomach.

Or maybe it’s an all-consuming focus on the week in overwhelming “what ifs.” 

Some people describe more intense versions, including binging or restricting food, consuming alcohol, and/or being unable to fall asleep.

How common is this?

A survey by the job site Monster found that about 75% of Americans self-report having “really bad” Sunday anxiety. 

Interestingly, that percentage drops to fewer than 50% of people globally.

According to Linked-In research, 80% of U.S. professionals have the Sunday Scaries. And, specifically, over 90% of Millennials and Gen Z’s report having them.

So this type of anxiety isn’t limited to Little Johnny dreading his third-grade Monday math quiz. Or tween girl Rachel pressuring herself to score perfectly on the Tuesday morning science test.

Data on the timing of the Scaries’ descent is Sunday at 3:58 pm.

What causes Sunday Scaries?

Even thinking about an upcoming meeting or hundreds of emails waiting in your inbox can open the cortisol faucet.

And why not add insult to injury with an endless to-do list and the loss of precious personal time? 

What is it that gets us so down about going back to school or work, especially here in the U.S.? And why is it so common, regardless of age?

  • Worrying about workload (60%); balancing professional and personal to-do’s (44%); thinking about last week’s unfinished tasks (39%). All are considered top causes for adults.

  • Unfulfilled expectations can cause us to feel behind and send us into an anxiety whirlwind.
  • Fear of the unknown. A new week can feel overwhelming for creatures of habit, aka humans. When we don’t know what the week will bring, we’re more inclined to anticipate the negative.

    Sunday is no longer “Sunday,” it’s “pre-Monday.” And nothing with “Monday” in it can be relaxing.
  • Cultural pressures. In our society (and in some work cultures more than others), busy-ness and success are equivalent. Weekends feel like they should be productive.

    Welcome to feeling like a failure before Monday even arrives.

The good news is there are ways to start the week off on the right foot. 

Saying goodbye to Sunday Scaries

Awareness is the first step toward change. 

On the one hand, anticipating stressful situations is normal.

On the other hand, you have to understand and acknowledge your triggers to find ways to soothe the Sunday Scaries.

For example, I know that any trip involving an airport is going to be filled with predictably unpredictable stressors. So I leave for the airport extra early.

Having a plan, even for things that may not happen, provides comfort. It allows us to feel prepared and in control. 

That’s just human nature, especially for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs).

Learning how to manage anticipatory anxiety is important so that any downtime — vacation, weekend, date night, naptime — can be restorative.

This is especially true for HSPs, who need regular downtime simply to function in a loud, overstimulating, “too-much” world.

Managing Sunday Scaries

Some people have Sunday Scaries on other days of the week or more frequently than once a week. 

Techniques for managing anxiety and depression in general can be helpful in managing Sunday Scaries. Check these out.

Here are a dozen techniques to practice:

  1. Take a step back and reflect. What have you accomplished recently that you’re proud of? What’s something you learned last week to help you grow? What inspires and motivates you?
  2. Give yourself space to look at your path with perspective. Doing so will help you stop sweating the small stuff and generate momentum to continue moving forward.
  3. Create mindful Sunday rituals. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine. Moments of quiet reflection can help ground you and diminish anxiety.
  4. Make a plan for the week. Organize your week. Knowing what may (at least tentatively) come up will help take the stress out of the unknown and give you a sense of control over your schedule.

    It will also make you feel like you’re ahead of the game, which is a boost.
  5. Cultivate gratitude. List what you’re grateful for each Sunday. Dedicate a special notebook or keep a note in your phone.

    Shifting your focus can cultivate contentment. And looking back on these lists is a great way to spike your appreciation.
  6. Give yourself a Monday treat. Having something to look forward to can make the Sunday-to-Monday transition more seamless. Maybe it’s your favorite breakfast? A fancy coffee? A post-work zen yoga class?
  7. Prioritize sleep. Lack of sleep worsens stress. Get a good night’s sleep on Sunday, even if the emphasis is on winding down properly with a relaxing bedtime routine. This improves the chances of waking up feeling ready to face Monday morning.
  8. Make time for movement. Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress.

    It doesn’t have to be long or intense. It could be something as simple as a walk to your local coffee shop or stretches in the evening.
  9. Set a mindful intention for the week ahead. Mindful intentions are an anchor if you feel lost.

    Maybe it’s a word (“breathe”), phrase (“I got this”), affirmation (“I am strong”), or feeling (flow) you want to carry through the week.
  10. Spend time with BFFs. Hang with people whose presence you enjoy. If you know you benefit from time alone (HSPs, I see you!), that’s OK, too.
  11. Try a digital detox. Sunday is a great day for turning off your devices, even if for an hour. Notice how it helps you disconnect from the stress.
  12. Prioritize self-care. Plan time for something that is relaxing and makes you feel good. Hello warm shower or bath!

Remember the key to beating the Sunday blues is understanding what you need and choosing techniques that work for you.

For a basic, hands-on survival kit, with help from the app Calm, check these out:

  • Breathe deeply. When anxiety pops in, focus on your breath for a minute.
  • Be creative. Doodle, draw, paint, even if you aren’t an artist. The goal is to provide a creative outlet for thoughts.
  • Move your body. Some yoga, a walk, or even stretching may help.
  • Listen to calming music or sounds. Calm and other apps offer soundscapes, like nature sounds or soothing music, to relax your mind and body.
  • Journal. Write your feelings and thoughts on paper. No censoring! You can always shred the paper after you get your feelings and thoughts down.
  • Do a short mindfulness exercise. Close your eyes and focus on your senses. What do you hear, feel, smell, touch, and taste?

In conclusion, you’re not the only one who dreads Monday morning. The Sunday Scaries are common and may even happen every Sunday (or not).

Experimenting with the techniques offered above may just help you neutralize the Scaries or banish them altogether. 

Imagine trading the Sunday Scaries for the Sunday Curiosities. A simple shift in perspective can help even the most Monday-apprehensive person.

“Hmmmm. I wonder what this week will bring?”  

And just like that, your trepidation has transformed into a spirit of possibility.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a private-practice psychologist, international consultant, and coach. Over the last 25 years, she has helped people heal from and deal with depression and anxiety. To learn more about how she might help you, contact her here.  To read more of her blog articles, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *