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How to Fight The Sunday Scaries

For many of us returning to work or school after a weekend or the holidays, the thought of sitting down to video conferences, emails and phone calls may feel daunting, or even impossible. This feeling of dread is called “Sunday Scaries,” and it affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. Read on to learn more about what causes the Sunday Scaries, and how you can work through them and start your week off right!

What are the Sunday Scaries?

You settle down for bed Sunday evening feeling relaxed and refreshed, and suddenly find your heart and thoughts racing. “Did I spend my time off wisely and get to everything I wanted to do? This week is going to be so busy, how can I complete all the projects on my plate? How can I face my colleagues and/or classmates when I don’t feel like I can perform?” As your worry deepens, you may be unable to sleep, which may increase your anxiety as you realize you will not be well-rested for what you have convinced yourself will be a difficult week.

While Sunday Scaries may be a manifestation of existing general anxiety, their prevalence suggests external factors are a big trigger. On a societal level, a combination of economic insecurity and work-a-holic culture can leave us both driven to push ourselves and feeling that no amount of effort will protect us from an economic crash or other disaster.

On a personal level, the interruption of our biological clock’s weekday sleep cycles, hangovers and the resulting imbalance of feel-good chemicals in our brains, or just being in an unenjoyable or unsatisfying job, degree program, or lifestyle can make Monday morning feel like a death sentence.

How can I calm down, regroup, and prevent the Sunday Scaries from ruining the last day of my weekend or vacation?

Calm down with intentional breathing

If you find your heart racing and palms sweating, do a little mental health First Aid. Breathe in for four counts; hold in for four counts; breathe out for four counts; wait four counts before you inhale again. This practice increases oxygen flow to your brain and forces your autonomic nervous system (which regulates breathing, heartbeat, and other unconscious processes) to slow down. This can help you think more clearly, decrease anxiety, and ground yourself in the present moment. Right now you are not in the office or the classroom you’re so anxious about - this space and time belongs to you, and you have control over it in the same way you have control over your breath in this moment.

Journal to put your to-do list in perspective

When you’re in the grips of the Sunday Scaries, even normal responsibilities like doing laundry, paying bills, or just checking your email can get blown out of proportion. To get your thoughts calm and organized and remind yourself how capable you are, write down everything you have to do the next day. This may seem counterintuitive - won’t writing down all my responsibilities just make my anxiety worse? However, you will probably find that as you add things to the list, they won’t seem so daunting. Deadlines you thought were creeping up may be farther away than you thought. Projects that felt overwhelming as an abstract concept shrink to a manageable size when you define them. The list itself may be much shorter than you realized. Plus, once everything is written down, you may find that it doesn’t take up so much space in your head, and have a little room to relax.

Reduce drinking to prevent “hangxiety”

Many of us unwind over the weekend by getting a drink (or more likely, several drinks). Alcohol consumption triggers a release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine into our brains, but when the alcohol is gone, so is your artificially boosted mood. While drinking may help us forget about our stressful week in the moment, the resulting imbalance in our brain chemistry from even a few drinks can contribute to feelings of anxiety on Sunday evening. Reducing drinking can prevent some of this neuro-chemical blowback and help us stay on an even keel emotionally even after the weekend is over.

Stay on your weekday sleep schedule

While it feels great to hit the snooze button on Saturday morning to enjoy more sleep than you normally get on a weekday, messing with your sleep cycles can make it harder to get to bed Sunday evening, and leave you feeling less well-rested in general. Research shows that “sleep debt” can only be repaid like most debt - in smaller increments over time. If you feel you need extra sleep on the weekends, try to tack on those extra hours throughout the week instead, maintaining your weekday sleep schedule as much as possible to reduce this stress on your circadian rhythms.

Take a walk

Exercise is a great way to work off residual stress and make you feel more positive as you look to the week ahead. Even something as low-impact as walking helps your body to release neurotransmitters like endorphins that relieve pain and stress, and brain chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin that contribute to regulating your mood. In addition, exercising earlier in the day will make your body a little more tired and a little more ready for bed, which should help you settle down for the night.

While the Sunday Scaries can be overwhelming when you’re in their grip, most of us can work through the anxiety with some standard self-care. However, if you find yourself suffering repeatedly and intensely from feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression related to your job, school, or day-to-day life, self-care may not be enough.

A therapist can help you explore these negative feelings and identify their source, whether it’s distress from an anxiety disorder, dissatisfaction from a disappointing or stressful life path, or a tendency towards negative self-talk and pessimism that interferes with your quality of life. Most importantly, therapy can help you create a personalized toolbox to address these negative feelings when they arise, build confidence in your own resilience and ingenuity, and find a life path that is rich and fulfilling.