How to Overcome the ‘Sunday Scaries,’ According to a Therapist

Feel like you're missing out on half your weekend dreading Monday's arrival? Experts share how to overcome these all-too-common Sunday Scaries.

How to overcome your Sunday Scaries

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most Americans are working more than eight hours a day—spending more time on the job than on their household activities, caring for family, education, meals, personal care and leisure combined. If this grind sounds familiar, you probably don’t need scientific data to tell you how much Mondays can suck (though back in 2011, University of Vermont researchers used Twitter data to confirm indeed, we all hate Mondays the most). In recent years, these Monday blues have crept into our off-the-clock hours, too: a phenomenon that’s increasingly coming to be known as the “Sunday scaries.”

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“The Sunday scaries is an overwhelming feeling of dread and anxiety about going to work or school the next day,” says Renée L. Goff, PsyD., PMH-C, a licensed clinical psychologist and the owner of Orchid Wellness & Mentoring. Depending on your schedule, this anxiety doesn’t necessarily have to hit on a Sunday, but whenever you’re spending what’s meant to be personal time stressing about upcoming work.

And what do the Sunday scaries feel like? “Some people describe it as a heaviness they can feel in their body, while others feel so jittery they could jump out of their skin,” Dr. Goff says. “You’re also very aware of the time ticking away and the freedom of your weekend coming to a close.”

It’s also extremely common. Based on different polls, 75 to 80% of people experience the Sunday scaries, says Amanda Stemen, a licensed therapist and owner of Fundamental Growth in Los Angeles, California. But just because it’s widespread doesn’t mean it’s not manageable. Here’s how experts say you can ease your Sunday anxiety.

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Structure your Sunday

“Structure can be a best friend when [you’re] feeling the Sunday scaries,” says Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, Massachusetts. “Instead of sitting on the couch and watching the clock, go do something that you enjoy.” You might still get whiffs of that sense of dread, but that feeling is harder to hold onto when you are engaging in something that makes you feel good, she says. Plus, research tells us that adding structure to our days can help give us a greater sense of control and improve mental health. That’s why it’s not just important to structure your Sundays, but to be consistent with it, Ficken says.

And when that Monday alarm sounds, here are 7 morning brain exercises to clear your mind

Don’t forget to relax

That Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows just how little time we have during the week to tend to non-work activities—but when you’re planning out your Sunday, try not to cram in too many errands and chores. If you’re feeling more stress in general, it’s important to make space for relaxing activities in your Sunday plan to ground yourself, says marriage and family therapist Naiylah Warren, LMFT. And there’s no right way to relax. “Maybe a body scan meditation, maybe a mid-afternoon shower or bath, maybe an engaging movie or show,” Warren says. “[Whatever] feels like a helpful distraction to reground from the scaries.”

Need some inspiration? Check out 10 proven strategies to relax and soothe your mind

Pinpoint anxiety sources behind the Sunday Scaries

Anxiety is a normal human experience, and one of the main ways to manage it is to identify your personal triggers. “Try to pinpoint what is really causing you to dread the week,” Dr. Goff says. “Is it a deadline, meeting or presentation?”

Even if there’s not a sole reason behind your Sunday anxiety, organizing the stress you expect from the week ahead into bite-size chunks can help make it all more manageable. “Create multiple to-do lists,” Dr. Goff recommends. One list for tasks that need to be completed immediately, another for tasks that are less urgent, and a final list for tasks that you’d like to complete at some point. “Seeing these can help put into perspective what is important and what you can let go of for now,” she says. “This can help decrease the anticipation of the stress and dread of the week.”

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Create some excitement for the week ahead

Getting rid of the Sunday scaries isn’t just about tempering the doom-and-gloom of the week ahead, either. “Having something to look forward to also gives you something to think about that’s pleasing rather than only focusing on the dread you feel,” Ficken says. It’s a form of reframing your thoughts: instead of focusing on the awful things you expect from the week, build excitement over a coffee or lunch date with a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. “This gives you the opportunity to shift your thoughts to something fun and will help improve your mood.”

One idea: have a friend join you for these fun workouts for people who hate exercise

End your Sunday with the right energy

Whether you want glowing skin, a sounder sleep or a mental health boost, a great nighttime routine can come with major health benefits. But if you suffer from the Sunday scaries, you may want to build a special routine for these more anxiety-ridden evenings, Warren says. “This is an opportunity to give yourself proper wind-down time—maybe you want to journal, do a face mask, read a few pages of your book—allow yourself to decompress so you can feel empowered and confident you’ll be ready for the next day,” she says. And do your best to honor this “you” time.

That means, when possible, make Sunday night about your self-care—and leave the work emails for Monday morning.

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Sources

People:

Renée L. Goff, PsyD., PMH-C, a licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Orchid Wellness & Mentoring

Amanda Stemen, a licensed therapist and owner of Fundamental Growth in Los Angeles, California.

Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, Massachusetts

Naiylah Warren, LMFT, therapist at Real

Websites:

US Bureau of Labor Statistics: "Average hours per day spent in selected activities on days worked by employment status and sex"

University of Vermont: "Study: Happiness Down"

Journals:

Journal of Global Health: "Regularizing daily routines for mental health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic"

Leslie Finlay
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.