“Sunday scaries” might sound like something from a children’s book, but don’t let its cute name fool you. The feeling of doom that shows up the evening before another week begins can make you miserable and can suck the fun out of your remaining free time.
A form of anticipatory anxiety, the Sunday scaries involves nervousness and dread about something that hasn’t happened yet: the week ahead.
As the minutes pass on Sunday afternoon, you’ll probably notice some anxiety symptoms building up, such as:
- stomach issues
- a vague sense of unease
Despite its name, the Sunday scaries can pop up any day of the week, depending on your schedule. If you work or attend class Tuesday through Saturday, for example, it’ll probably show up on Monday night.
We’re pretty much stuck with Sundays, but these strategies can help prevent stress from coming along with them.
While scientific research has yet to explore the Sunday scaries, an informal 2018 survey conducted by LinkedIn suggests this feeling is very common. Among the 1,017 adults surveyed, 80 percent said they experienced Sunday night anxiety.
Sure, this knowledge won’t fix the problem, but it might help to know that plenty of other people are feeling the same way you are as the weekend winds down.
Sometimes, you can trace these feelings back to a single cause.
Maybe your least favorite class is also your first of the week, or your weekly check-in with a demanding supervisor happens bright and early Monday morning.
In either scenario, identifying the cause can help you find ways to manage your feelings, whether that involves a little extra studying or getting a pep talk from your partner.
Other times, Sunday anxiety has more complex causes.
Many people find their days are getting busier and busier. Your usual responsibilities might involve:
- going to work (and doing well enough to keep your job)
- running errands
- preparing meals and eating
- making time for hobbies
And the list goes on. If you live with a partner or other family members, more people can pitch in to share the work — but you’ll also have more responsibilities.
In the end, it generally boils down to one inconvenient truth: Two days off doesn’t always cut it.
When anxiety centers around a task or project you need to handle, it generally doesn’t go away until you’ve resolved that problem. That might be tough if you can’t handle work issues over the weekend. (Even when you can, you probably shouldn’t — maintaining work-life balance is important.)
Check those worries in the meantime by writing them down. Take 15 minutes to make a to-do list or explore possible solutions on paper.
Overwhelmed by the number of things you need to get done? Quickly divide them into three categories:
- things you have to do
- things that can wait
- things someone can help you with
Even accepting that you can’t fix your problem right now can still interrupt anxiety. Remind yourself you don’t have to deal with it alone by writing down the names of anyone you plan to ask for help.
Once your time is up, set the list aside somewhere safe. If anxiety pops back up, remind yourself you’ve done everything you can — and then gently return your thoughts to enjoying the moment.
You had big ambitions for your weekend. After getting up early and taking your dog to the beach, you planned to do chores and small projects around the house, start reading a new book, and prepare a few meals to last the week.
On Saturday, though, you felt so exhausted you slept in and then spent the day watching TV and texting friends from the sofa.
Sunday morning, you lectured yourself for your lack of productivity. You rushed to cram everything into one day, which left you cranky and unable to get much enjoyment out of the beach or your book.
Next time, ignore what you didn’t finish and focus on what you did do. You got good sleep, which you probably needed. You also caught up with your friends, read a little, and completed a few chores.
Getting down on yourself for not doing enough will only worsen Sunday anxiety. Instead, be kind to yourself by acknowledging you can only do your best. Then, make the rest of your weekend more meaningful by doing something you enjoy — and keeping your thoughts on that activity.
If you regularly try to do too much, it’s no surprise you dread each week before it arrives.
Say you sign up for two group workout classes that knock out three evenings every week. By the time you get home, you barely have enough energy to eat dinner and crawl into bed.
Most weeks you also accompany your best friend to trivia night at the pub, since she doesn’t like going alone. That fills up a fourth evening, one you’d really rather spend alone, but you tell yourself that this is your “fun” night to go out.
When every week involves nonstop running from commitment to commitment — even if they don’t seem all that stressful — you’ll probably be too drained to use your weekend productively, much less enjoy it.
If just imagining your packed schedule exhausts you, it may be time to let some activities go.
Even though it’s the coming week that scares you, making Sunday night enjoyable can help relieve some of your distress. Thoughts of the week ahead may not distract you as easily when you’re having fun.
Try these tips for a more restful Sunday:
- Do the worst first. Don’t leave the worst chores until the end of the weekend. Get those things done Saturday morning (or Friday night if you’re really ambitious). Leave the remaining time for fun and relaxation.
- Pace yourself. Try doing a few chores and errands during the week. It’s tempting to sink onto the sofa after a long day, but doing just one thing each night can help you free up some time on Sunday.
- Make it exclusive. Dedicate Sunday to relaxing activities only, whether that’s heading to a yoga class, going for a long hike, or curling up with a good book.
- Treat yourself. Plan a special treat for yourself on Sunday evening, like ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant or taking a long bubble bath.
- Make Mondays a special occasion. Schedule things you look forward to, like a video call with distant friends, for Monday to take the edge off some of the dread.
- Log off. Ignore work-related texts and emails, if possible — turning off your phone can help. If you’re off the clock, stay off, unless an emergency comes up.
Making a habit of prioritizing relaxation during your free time can help reduce Sunday stress and better equip you to face the demands of your week.
You probably can’t quit your job, but you can likely tweak your schedule a bit.
Instead of taking it easy on Friday afternoon, why not get a head start on some of your Monday tasks? This not only makes Monday feel less stressful, but also helps you feel more confident and productive. You might even catch yourself (gasp!) looking forward to the week to come.
Also consider scheduling less demanding tasks for Monday. A lighter to-do list can help you slide back into your workflow more easily. Avoid setting big deadlines or anxiety-producing meetings for Mondays whenever possible.
If you’re still feeling Sunday dread, use this as a signal that something about your job life needs to change. Brainstorm what it could be, then make a plan to do something about it.
It’s totally understandable to feel a little blue as you watch the last moments of your weekend slip away. But the Sunday scaries can sometimes be a sign of something deeper.
A therapist can help you identify specific causes of your stress and share ways to address them productively. You can also learn helpful tricks for of challenging and reframing unwanted thoughts, including the distress you feel on Sundays.
Pay attention to anxiety that begins earlier and earlier each week or never seems to go away, especially if it occurs alongside other symptoms like:
If you notice these or find that you struggle to enjoy your usual activities, it may be time to consider some professional help.
Since Sunday scaries can also happen when you feel trapped in an unsatisfying job, a therapist can be a great tool. Many provide career guidance and tips on improving your current situation.
Ready to make the leap? Our guide to affordable therapy can help.
The creeping sense of dread you feel on Sunday may be partially a product of the times we live in, so there isn’t always an easy fix.
Instead of letting this feeling take over your night, acknowledge it, accept that you might not be able to completely get rid of it, and return your thoughts to your favorite hobbies and the company of your loved ones.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.