Do you feel filled with dread on Sunday night, in anticipation of Monday morning? Do you feel a wave of trepidation, sadness, or anxiety before the night you go back to work after a day or days off, regardless of what day of the week it is? Does the whole weekend feel like a countdown until your freedom expires? If so, the sensation you’re experiencing is likely nicknamed “the Sunday scaries.”
“The Sunday scaries” is slang for a very real phenomenon where people find themselves anxious, overwhelmed, and even depressed before going back to work for the week. It doesn’t mean that you don’t like your job; but it can hint at burnout and overwhelm.
According to dictionary.com, the term Sunday scaries showed up in urban dictionary in 2009. They can hit during the day or at night, on any day, in anticipation of the next work day. A lot of people feel it setting in midday on Sunday, when they realize, “I’ll be back at work in less than 24 hours,” “I have to set my alarm for 5 AM tomorrow,” or “didn’t the weekend just start?”
You might picture your commute or spend part of your Sunday getting things done that are centered around your workweek; laundry, getting meals ready, doing chores you won’t have time for, and so on. Most people reserve the weekend not for rejuvenation, but to catch up on pressing responsibilities, household tasks, or, well…work that they couldn’t get done during the week.
So when Sunday afternoon rolls around, and you feel like you haven’t even begun to relax? Well, that really is scary.
It feels like you’re always running and never catch up. The weekend just isn’t enough to prepare you for the week ahead. And guess what? It’s not your fault.
You don’t have a bad work ethic, you aren’t lazy, and the ever-famous quote – “you have as many hours in a week as Beyonce” is there to gaslight you. I don’t know you, but I can only guess that your life isn’t much like Beyonce’s, and whenever you hear anything akin to that quote (or say it to someone else), I’d like for you to think critically about three things:
The conditions that produce the Sunday scaries are cultural, and not a personal failing on your part.
It’s not healthy to work yourself to the point that you’re sick, anxious, exhausted, or have no time for the rest of your life.
Unhealthy work culture drives perplexing phenomena like the Sunday scaries, but it doesn’t have to be the norm. Research on shorter workweeks shows that a 30 hour workweek benefits employees’ mental health, physical wellbeing, familial relationships, and work performance. A shorter workweek also correlates with higher worker productivity rates. In short, businesses function more efficiently when unhealthy work culture is mitigated.
The Sunday scaries are not a mental health condition, but can mimic or exacerbate other mental health struggles. This phenomenon differs from clinical anxiety or depression, in that the symptoms show only in certain situations — namely, Sunday afternoons. In the worst of cases, the Sunday scaries consume the entire weekend.
The scariest part of the Sunday Scaries might be how common they are. According to Market Watch, the Sunday scaries impact more than one out of every three people in the professional world in the United States. It’s no secret that the United States doesn’t have norms that are particularly healthy when it comes to working; many people work several jobs without a choice, barely scraping by, and coping with job insecurity — even longtime employees.
The answer to the question, “who gets the Sunday scaries?”: anyone can.
Here is a progression of events that might seem familiar:
You worry about how your productivity is viewed at work. You begin to constantly go above-and-beyond (even after hours) just to keep your place. Eventually, you start working extra hours, “off the clock.” Over time, this unhealthy work culture comes with a cost. You might feel exhausted or agitated, without knowing why. This lowers your productivity, and leaves you dreading work.
The above series of events reflect a recognizable pattern: the genesis of the Sunday scaries.
Many of us have experienced these feelings, but they shouldn’t be minimized. Why would you want to get used to dread, anxiety, and anticipatory depression, when you could fend off the Sunday scaries, themselves?
Here are some things that you can do to curb the Sunday Scaries and enjoy your weekend (possibly, even your week) more.
I know. Setting boundaries in the workplace is particularly hard, and it’s not always feasible, but in some cases, it is. Setting work boundaries may look like telling your clients your business hours and sticking to them; a.k.a, if you say “my business hours are 9-5,” or “my business hours are 10-6,” you will only work or reply to emails and calls during that time. Not everyone has this luxury, but one thing that you can do is leave thoughts of work behind when you clock out.
Setting work boundaries doesn’t just have to do with the people you work with. You might also have to set boundaries with yourself. It is tempting to spend all night getting things done in anticipation of the next day, but it isn’t always the most adaptive approach. If you set a time limit for yourself, stick to it. For example, if you tell yourself that after 6 PM, your time is reserved strictly for family and self-care, shut the laptop at 6 PM and turn your phone volume down.
Mantras such as, “I can only do what I can do” or a good way to stick with this. Even if you have an abnormal schedule and can’t set a regular timeframe for when you disengage with work, having a mantra like “I can only do what I can do” can help you when it is time to rest and disengage.
We often get so caught up in work that we forget to do the things we love. Scheduling time for the things that you enjoy is beneficial. For example, you can plan to get home at 5:30 PM and spend time with family for the evening, or you can say, “once I am done with this project for the night, I will go for a walk and reserve this evening to turn off my phone and work on art.” There are ways to adjust this to go with your schedule, whether you’re a freelancer or an hourly employee.
It can be especially difficult to disengage from work when you work remotely or are adjusting to working remotely, but it is possible. A lot of people are going through this learning curve right now due to COVID. Even if you love your job, it’s important to set aside time for something else. If you’re working remotely and spend most of the day online, you’ll want to give your eyes a break. Set aside some time to take a walk and use mindfulness to soak in your surroundings, spend time with your family, partner, or friends (even if it’s a phone call), or listen to music.
If possible, move those responsibilities that plague you on the weekend, such as laundry, grocery shopping, and so on, to a work day. This might mean washing your work uniform on Friday night so that you have it on Monday morning, or it might mean that you spend all of Friday wrapping up on any work that could fall into your weekend hours. If you do that, you’ll have more time to really take off on the weekend.
Reworking your schedule could even mean engaging in a psychological exercise where you pledge to stop thinking about work as soon as you get off on Friday and remind yourself, “I don’t need to think about that until Monday” when anxiety is about the week ahead pop into your mental space.
Be realistic and give yourself compassion. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed for no tangible reason, and need to acknowledge that. If you notice that you are overwhelmed on a regular basis, you may consider adjusting where you allot your energy, how much time you spend on certain things (and on certain thoughts), or even looking for a new work position.
Due to the coronavirus, the Sunday Scaries are literally scarier than they used to be. People who didn’t necessarily fear for their safety at work prior to the coronavirus outbreak do now. You worry about infecting yourself or others, and that’s hard enough, but that’s not all there is to it.
Even if you like your job, there might be additional stressors such as change schedules, change of workspace, change in protocol, dealing with extra nervousness or agitation from customers, and so on. Many people who work with the public are facing issues such as clients who refuse to wear masks or adhere to state-wide or company-wide safety precautions.
This is upsetting and stressful for a multitude of reasons. Why don’t people care about potentially infecting others? Why are they blaming you for what you can’t control? Will you run into particularly aggressive people or situations when you return to work?
There’s no real sense of knowing how things will go, and as a result, these anxieties can affect you both at work and outside of work. Maybe, you don’t agree with your company’s business practices in relation to COVID, or maybe, your household or financial status has changed. The same is true for students, whether they do or don’t have a job outside of school yet. Online classes are perfect for some, whereas for others, they don’t work quite as well. You might feel a lot of grief during this time. No matter what your circumstances are, if you feel overwhelmed, you don’t have to cope with it all alone.
Access to help when you need it is something you deserve. One way to cope with the anxiety or low mood that the Sunday Scaries can bring is to talk to a professional. This is particularly vital if you acknowledge that you experience the Sunday Scaries but can’t seem to manage them on your own or if the way you feel is overwhelming you.
If your work stress, or stress in general, is heightened and you just want someone to talk to at the moment, it’s also crucial to know your options. A peer support network like the one at Supportiv may be beneficial to you, or you may turn to friends and family to chat. You can access the support network on Supportiv 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, and you can try it for free.
No matter what, know that you’re doing enough and that you are more than enough. No matter how spooked you’re feeling about the work week!