Perhaps you relate to that sinking feeling many people get on a Sunday afternoon? Anxiety, worry, and ‘dread’ about the week ahead making your heart race, and your thoughts go berserk. You may have approached a work week hundreds of times before (and know you’ll feel fine once you’re in it) – but the feeling persists. Every week.
And sometimes the feeling is more than a ‘feeling’. It can surface physical symptoms, like nausea, insomnia, headaches, or muscle tension.
While not technically a diagnosable condition, the ‘Sunday Scaries’ is a real thing. We’re here to look at why it happens, and what can help you overcome it – so you can leap into your work week full of positive energy, fuelled by something other than six cups of coffee.
So, what exactly triggers the ‘Sunday Scaries’?
Disappointment about the weekend drawing to a close isn’t actually the root cause of the Sunday Scaries. Rather, it’s a case of ‘anticipatory anxiety’ – worrying about things that are yet to happen. Presuming that the week ahead is going to be ‘hard’, ‘exhausting’, or ‘bad’.
You might imagine the annoying emails waiting for you in your inbox. Your Type-A boss making snarky comments about the state of your desk. An amassing pile of disenchanting work. Or the mad 5pm dash from office to daycare pickup that you know you need to make every day.
These expectations could be all in your mind, or they could be based on historical accuracy. Either way, take a moment to think about what specifically causes you to feel down in the dumps on a Sunday afternoon (usually kicking off at around 3.58pm, research indicates).
Some common triggers:
- An overpacked life – Do you fill your weekdays with long work hours, obsessive ‘productivity’ behaviors, social engagements, networking events, and more? AKA too much?
- FOMO – Do you worry that your weekend hasn’t been fully utilized? That you haven’t seen enough friends, crammed in enough self-care, or had enough fun?
- Unreasonably high expectations – Perhaps you’re already setting yourself up for failure for the week by setting unrealistic goals that you know you can’t achieve? Cue: anxiety-and-depression-in-advance.
- Burnout – Are you running on empty? Always stressed out? Endlessly busy? Unable to switch off from work?
- A job that isn’t serving you – Or perhaps the source of your dread is your work environment itself? If you’re not stimulated, learning, or fulfilled by your work, you won’t be excited to get up on weekdays and do it. Or even worse, perhaps you’re facing unfair bias, derogatory gendered language, lack of opportunity, or poor treatment.
The Sunday Scaries are often uncomfortable, but ultimately manageable. So we’ve rounded up some useful strategies to help you get on top of it.
Coping mechanisms for Sunday Scaries
Shift your mindset
Believe it or not, there’s a good reason for the Sunday Scaries, and all forms of anxiety for that matter. It’s our brain’s way of telling us that there’s danger imminent, and it’s an evolutionary side effect from days spent evading danger. Now we’re not running from predators, though. We’re running to catch the train on time. Or typing as fast as possible, in order to meet that project deadline.
What if you could view the Sunday Scaries not as a source of anxiety, but as your body’s way of fuelling energy and creativity for work? What if you tried converting your restlessness and worry into excitement? A positive reframe could help you start the week with a pep in your step.
Get into gear on a Sunday
While Sundays are commonly utilized as ‘lazy days’, avoiding the urge to sleep the day away might be a game-changer for you. Consider starting your day at a usual wake-up time, and doing a bit of prep for the week ahead. Simply writing your Monday to-do list can help you get in the zone, and realize that tomorrow is totally achievable.
Remember, Sunday Scaries are about anticipating things that might be challenging. In the moment, as you’re relaxing on the couch, you’re actually fine. Try to tune into that on a Sunday afternoon, rather than getting carried away with a mental enactment of the week ahead.
Mindfulness app headspace says, “By learning to be more present, we can put down the storyline in our head and instead conclude each weekend with a greater sense of ease, allowing us to step into the upcoming week with more intention.”
Check out headspace’s meditation exercise based on the Sunday Scaries.
Start your Monday off right
Consider shifting the most-hated day of the week to your most-loved. Plan to buy your lunch (treat yourself!), go out for drinks after work, or even simply start your day with a small slice of joy by reading a book or watching your favorite TV show for 20 minutes.
Plan midweek fun
Dotting some fun throughout your week can give you some things to look forward to, making the approaching week less daunting.
Ways to prevent or reduce Sunday afternoon anxiety
Identify what triggers YOU, and try to minimize those things on a Sunday. Some examples include:
- Social media – Scrolling through your feed seeing how much fun your friends have had this weekend could give you a serious sense of FOMO.
- Alcohol – A few glasses of wine on a Sunday afternoon might help numb the sensation of scaries, but alcohol can reduce sleep quality and increase anxiety.
- Sleeping the day away – Not getting up till noon may throw your circadian rhythm off balance, making it harder to fall asleep on a Sunday night and feel fresh Monday morning. It also gives you less time for activities on a Sunday, which could leave you feeling rushed and panicked.
- Partying all weekend – If your weekends are full to the brim of good times, they will bear an even more stark difference to the work week. It may help to give yourself more time to mentally prepare before Monday hits. Go for a quiet walk, do some journaling, or bliss out to some meditation.
In saying all this, we’re not the boss of you. Do what you want!
But we would challenge you to try testing out one Sunday where you stay off social media or get up before 8am, and see if it makes a difference to how you feel Sunday afternoon/Monday morning. It might be worth a shot!
Resources that might help
Read/listen to this book:
Two researchers outline what’s happening in the brain when you experience anxiety, and how you can ‘rewire it’.
Listen to this podcast:
Featuring expert interviews, tapping exercises and more, this series offers great support for overcoming anxiety.
Do these two things:
- Find a good therapist to help you sound out your worries and feelings about work.
- Connect to a community of empowered women thriving in tech, who understand the sort of work you do and challenges you face.