On Sunday evenings, Lauren Tynan watches the animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers” while maybe sipping a glass of wine. She’s trying to stave off the Sunday scaries: A tendency to overthink the workweek ahead, her mind busily running through everything she needs to accomplish and sometimes landing on worst-case scenarios.
Tynan, who lives in New York’s Queens borough and works in communications, finds solace in “watching something that’s light and airy.” She also reminds herself that Sunday is still the weekend; it’s still her time.
Natalie Zisa experiences a similar phenomenon, but because she works a Sunday-through-Thursday retail schedule, the anticipatory anxiety hits her on Saturday evenings. She spends many of her days off visiting family and friends in New Jersey, so heading back to her home in New York when it feels like everyone else still has one more day of freedom is hard. “On Saturdays when I wake up, I’m still pretty excited for the day, but those Saturday nights create so much anxiety,” said Zisa.
Instead of enjoying every minute of the weekend, many American workers, like Tynan and Zisa, describe being seized by anxiety, dread or simmering sadness because their precious days off are evaporating so quickly. The feeling usually creeps in on Sunday evenings and is “like a visceral reaction to the realization that the weekend is over,” said Pallavi Yetur, a Los Angeles-based licensed professional clinical counselor. “And the weekend meant a sort of freedom, or ease, that is now being threatened.”
So much for Sunday Funday.
The term “Sunday scaries” has become a catchphrase over the past decade, frequently popping up on social media platforms. It’s so enmeshed in the common vernacular that even the White House has adopted it: “There’s no Sunday scaries when you get to work for the American people every day,” the official government account tweeted in July, accompanied by a photo of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. That prompted a flurry of responses, including: “The fact that you acknowledge Sunday scaries shows a level of compassion for working people that I appreciate.”
Yetur theorizes that, for many people, the Sunday scaries worsened during the pandemic, as we began sleeping at the “office” and repurposing our kitchen counters as boardrooms. “I noticed it in myself, where I was starting to feel more exhausted constantly, and then I started hearing my patients talk about it, too,” she said. The intensification may be rooted in the sameness of the pandemic — the sensation of being boxed into the same four walls, day after day, night after night — and in the fact that, for many people, the workweek has spilled over into what should be personal time.
“When we’re not treating our weekends like actual weekends, with a real clear delineation between a work-life and a life-life, it does take a toll,” Yetur said. “Ideally, we would be getting a sense of vacation vibes from a weekend, but during the pandemic, everything was the same.”
For the most part, experiencing the Sunday scaries is a normal reaction to holding a job and wishing it didn’t take up five days of the week. Many people find that their anxiety dissipates once they’ve been back into the grind for a day or two, said Jessica Stern, a clinical psychologist at NYU Langone Health. But if it doesn’t? That could signify something is seriously amiss — you could be burned out and need a break, or you could need a new job.
“If you’re noticing the same types of worry and dread repeatedly, week after week, that’s when it becomes a pattern,” Stern said. “And that’s when you want to look at it and say, what is this pattern telling me?”
For those who experience the more fleeting — but still unpleasant — Sunday scaries, there are ways to cope. Experts suggest these strategies to keep the buzz kill at bay:
Aim to have a truly recharging weekend. Yetur coaches her clients to examine what activities and obligations they find recharging and which are unnecessary or cause them to overextend themselves. “Because that’s what’s going to catch up with you,” she said. “Even if it feels like, ‘Oh, it’s a weekend, I’m going to go out, I’m going to meet these people, I’m going to go to a bar now that we can kind of do that,’ that might not actually be the best thing all the time.” Have a frank talk with yourself, and pull out of activities you don’t find truly meaningful. Otherwise, she said, you’ll have to deal with “the resentment of not having had any time” for yourself when Sunday night rolls around, which can exacerbate your dread of returning to work.
Write a to-do list for Monday, and beyond. One way to quash anticipatory anxiety is to get organized by writing to-do lists, said Vania Manipod, a board-certified psychiatrist who’s based in Ventura, California. You can start by making one for what you need to do on Sunday to feel good about the week ahead, such as buying all the ingredients for your workday lunches. Then craft to-do lists for the coming workdays. Getting ideas and tasks out of your head and onto paper will minimize the anticipatory anxiety you feel about the looming workweek, Manipod said.
Create a Sunday routine in which you prep for the week ahead. Getting things done for the week that’s staring you down can be “very empowering — it can give you a sense of control,” Stern said. Your routine might include doing laundry, selecting your outfit for the next day(s), going grocery shopping and planning your meals. “It’s an opportunity for you to power up for the week,” she said. “That way, it feels a little less overwhelming on Monday morning.” And make it fun: She suggests blasting lively music, drinking your favorite cup of coffee or watching an entertaining TV show as you prep for the next week.
Manipod adds that structuring your Sunday so it’s similar to a Monday can help. “Wake up at your usual time so you’re already in that mode,” she said. “Then, start the day on a productive note,” like by exercising, cleaning or making breakfast. Beginning Sunday on a positive note, and getting a lot done, often tamps down the Sunday scaries, she said.
Plan to wind down on Sunday evening. This could mean watching your favorite comedy sitcom, doing yoga or playing video games for an hour, Stern said. Such activities help you “come off the weekend” and transition into a calm state of mind, primed to face the workweek. Don’t check your work email unless you know it will help you feel prepared, and make sure to get plenty of sleep because that helps curb anxiety.
Schedule a Monday morning treat. What would thrill you at the start of a workday? Perhaps it’s a fancy latte from your favorite coffee shop or an indulgent, gooey cinnamon bun. Whatever it is, make a date with it for Monday morning. “Having something to look forward to on Monday can mitigate a little bit of that sense of dread about the new week,” Stern said.
Plan something fun for midweek. Romanticizing the weekend as the end-all, be-all to our life’s joy puts a lot of pressure on those two days. Remind yourself: You can have fun on workdays, too. Manipod suggests scheduling something you’ll look forward to midweek — maybe watching a movie at your favorite theater, going on a shopping outing or catching up with a friend over coffee. Treating yourself to takeout on a random Wednesday can also spice up the week. “Then we feel like we’re rewarding ourselves throughout the week, and it doesn’t have to be just on the weekend that we get to relax,” she said.