It’s Sunday, and you’ve had a lovely, relaxing weekend filled with downtime, fun, friends and family. But as you sink into the rest of your Sunday afternoon, you can’t help feeling plagued with the Sunday scaries — that’s the Sunday phenomenon in which dismay, anxiety and stress creep in as the weekend nears its completion and the thought of the workweek fills you with dread.
For some, it’s about all that’s on your to-do list for the week; for others, a stressful job, loneliness, sadness or even just going back to work may bring about feelings of anxiety. It could also be that it’s not anxiety (or not just anxiety) but dread that you’re experiencing.
“Either way, these feelings might be giving you a message that something in your life is not aligned with your values. This may signal that it’s time to take stock of what is and isn’t working and to start to experiment with ways you can change your weeks to make them feel more spacious, less overwhelming or more in line with what you want life to be like,” says Ashley Smith, PhD, a licensed psychologist, and cofounder of Peak Mind: The Center for Psychological Strength.
One LinkedIn survey found that 80 percent of Americans worry about the week ahead. Whatever the reason, before you let the Sunday scaries ruin another weekend, here are some things you can do to help yourself relax, organize, and prepare for a better week.
Decipher fact from fiction
Figure out what makes you anxious about returning to work. Is it based on reality or on something you only imagine? For example, are you apprehensive about your new colleague because you think she doesn’t like you? Is that true, or is it just something you’re worried about happening? “Focus on what’s within your control, not on what’s beyond it and certainly not on that which might be based merely on fiction,” says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.
Make a gratitude list
Focusing on what is going well and what you’re grateful for is an effective tool to combat anxiety, stress and depression. “On Sunday evenings, sit down and think of five things you feel grateful for and reflect on each one. Then, save your list and add to it each week,” says Carrie Howard, LCSW, CCATP anxiety coach, and founder of Thrive Anxiety Solutions. “Shifting your mindset to gratitude helps interrupt those negative thought spirals that can be so common with Sunday night anxiety.”
Prepare for Mondays on Fridays
At the end of each work week, take five or 10 minutes to prepare for the next week by straightening up your workspace, tying up loose ends and making a to-do list, advises Alpert. “Investing the time now will help ease your mind for the next 48 hours.”
Try self-care on Sunday evenings
Take a bubble bath, get outside for a walk with a friend, skip doing dishes or get takeout. “Too often, we only fill our Sunday evenings with chores that need to be done to prepare for the week. By adding in some activities that bring a sense of calm and enjoyment, we better prepare ourselves mentally to head into the upcoming week,” says Howard.
Don’t check email on Sundays, especially in the evenings
“You think you are getting ahead of the week, but you’re really just inviting tomorrow’s problems into today,” says Smith.
Write down everything on your mind and put it on paper or in your phone notes.
“This can include what you’re worried about, your week’s to-do list or possible solutions to your concerns,” says Whitney Richards, LMFT, an anxiety therapist in San Francisco. “This can free up space in your brain to enjoy the remaining moments of your weekend.”
Do something relaxing that doesn’t involve a screen
Since screens can be overly stimulating for our brains, give them a rest on Sunday if you tend to have Sunday scaries. If you keep in mind that we all have anxiety for a reason — anxiety’s job is to be on the lookout for potential danger, threat or problems so that we can, ultimately, stay safe — then this makes sense. When you’re using screens, you may be subconsciously scrolling for potential issues — in the news, your email and elsewhere.
Build a relationship with Sunday scaries instead of trying to push them away
“Imagine that your anxiety is just a part of you and you can converse with it. Ask your anxious part what its function is, why it’s working so hard on a Sunday and what is it concerned would happen if it didn’t make you anxious?” says Richards. “When you start to build a relationship with your anxious part by learning about and recognizing its underlying positive intent and how it’s trying to protect you, it tends to relax and be less disruptive in our lives.”
“Catastrophizing is a common thought pattern that is connected to anxiety. When we catastrophize, we imagine the worst-case scenario or make a problem seem larger or more complicated than it really is,” says Brenda Delmonte, LMHC, a Rockland County, New York, therapist specializing in adult anxiety in private practice at The Counseling Perch.
For example, are you imagining making a mistake at work which will get you fired and result in homelessness?
“These worst-case scenario thoughts can activate the fight or flight response of your nervous system, creating anxiety symptoms. Catch yourself when you do this, and reframe negative thoughts and worries to more manageable, more likely considerations,” says Delmonte. Remind yourself that those worst-case scenarios rarely, if ever, happen.
It’s important to know that Sunday scaries happen to many people, and not just those who don’t like their jobs or suffer from anxiety. Remember to set realistic goals for your week and that another weekend is always right around the corner. Give yourself time to unwind and destress before each workweek and know that these feelings are normal, which can help the scaries from ruining your Sundays.
How do YOU typically prepare for your week on Sunday evening? Let us know in the comments below.