What are the Sunday Scaries? 12 ways to fight off your pre-week dread

Whitney Vige headshotWhitney Vige23 juni 20229 min. leestijd
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Summary

The Sunday scaries are the dread you feel as the weekend comes to a close and the workweek closes in. A form of anticipatory anxiety, the Sunday scaries are often caused by poor work-life balance and burnout. Want your weekend back? Here’s how to banish the Sunday Scaries for good. 

You probably know the feeling: It’s late on Sunday afternoon, and you’re wrapping up your weekend fun. Suddenly, a sense of dread creeps in—intrusive thoughts about your Monday meetings and upcoming to-dos overshadow your remaining weekend hours. 

You’re experiencing the “Sunday scaries,” a widely acknowledged phenomenon characterized by a feeling of dread that shows up the night before you return to work or school. In addition to ruining your Sunday night, the Sunday scaries also go hand-in-hand with work-related challenges like burnout and imposter syndrome. 

If the Sunday scaries are cutting into your weekend, don’t worry. We’re here to help. Read on to learn more about what causes your sense of Sunday-night dread—and how to put the “fun” back into “Sunday Funday.” 

What are the Sunday scaries? 

The Sunday scaries, also known as the “Sunday blues,” are the sense of anxiety or dread you feel on a Sunday night before returning to work on Monday. You might recognize the Sunday scaries as the pit in your stomach that forms on Sunday evening as the last hours of the weekend tick away and the beginning of the workweek closes in. The Sunday scaries are a form of “anticipatory anxiety” since they cause you to feel anxiety about an event that hasn’t happened yet. 

If you suffer from the Sunday scaries, you’re not alone. While not a recognized clinical diagnosis, the Sunday scaries are a widely acknowledged phenomenon, especially for members of the Gen Z and Millennial generations. In fact, a recent study from LinkedIn found that 66% of Americans suffer from Sunday night anxiety. 

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped—41% of respondents say that the pandemic has either caused their Sunday scaries or made them worse. 

So, is there a cure for the Sunday scaries? You’ll be happy to hear that there are ways to lessen your end-of-the-weekend anxiety. First, let’s look at the symptoms and common causes of Sunday night dread.

The Sunday scaries don’t always happen on Sunday. Depending on your schedule, the Sunday scaries can pop up any time. For example, if your work week starts on Wednesday, you might experience the Sunday scaries on Tuesday night. 

[inline illustration] Sunday scaries work worry (photography)

What are the symptoms of the Sunday scaries? 

The Sunday scaries manifest in a number of physical and mental symptoms. As the clock ticks closer to the end of Sunday night and the countdown to Monday morning begins, you may notice yourself feeling different anxiety symptoms, including:

  • A sense of dread or doom

  • Resentment or anger 

  • An upset stomach

  • Difficulty sleeping 

  • Headaches

  • Restlessness 

  • Irritability 

  • A sense of unease

  • Intrusive and unwanted thoughts about the upcoming week that you can’t shake

Doesn’t sound like a very good way to spend your Sunday night, does it? We don’t think so either. Luckily, understanding the causes of the Sunday scaries can help you narrow down why you’re feeling so much dread—and what to do about it. 

What causes the Sunday scaries? 

Typically, the end of the weekend and the knowledge that our return to school or work is fast approaching triggers the Sunday scaries. But often, the cause isn’t as simple as not wanting the weekend to end. A number of complex factors that play into our overall mental health and well-being can cause Sunday-night anxiety, including: 

  • Declining mental health due to overwork or burnout

  • Lingering effects of a toxic work culture or poor work environment

  • Feeling unprepared for tasks you have to complete in the next week

  • Worrying about unfinished tasks from the previous week

  • Struggling with imposter syndrome (feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy around work accomplishments)

  • Feeling like you have to sacrifice your free time and well-being for work, which results in a poor work-life balance

  • Dealing with project scope creep and underscoped tasks that lead to weekend work

Love your job but still hate Sunday night? That’s normal—often, the Sunday scaries have more to do with the factors that play into your overall health and well-being than if you like the work you do. If you’re happy at work but still get stressed on Sunday night, read on for tips and tricks to keep your scaries at bay. 

Are the Sunday scaries generational? 

A surprising factor that plays a role in whether or not you experience the Sunday scaries is your generation. LinkedIn’s recent study found that the youngest professionals are the most likely to experience Sunday night dread—with 78% of Millennials and Gen Z saying they experience anxiety before the start of their week. 

There are a few reasons younger generations may be more likely to feel anxious as their weekend comes to a close, including:

12 tips to combat the Sunday scaries

If you’re struggling with the Sunday scaries, we’re here to help. While the dread that fills your Sunday nights can feel overwhelming, there are several actions you can take to reduce—or even eliminate—the fear that takes hold on Sunday evenings. 

Remember, you’re not alone in this. The Sunday scaries are related to self-care, but they're really a work issue. They’re also a valid feeling of anticipatory anxiety that many people, likely including your colleagues and peers, struggle with. By taking steps to identify the cause of your anxiety and prioritize your well-being, you can overcome your Sunday night dread. 

1. Determine the cause of your Sunday scaries 

Without a clear root cause, the Sunday scaries can feel insurmountable. One moment you’re enjoying your weekend, and the next you’re hit with a feeling of impending doom or unease that you just can’t shake. Instead of writing off this sense of dread as a natural reaction to the end of the weekend, focus on what might be causing the feeling. Ask yourself, is there anything going on at work that you feel unprepared for? Are you happy in your role, or are you feeling stagnant? What’s your work-life balance like? 

Determining the specific source of your Sunday-night dread is the first step to overcoming it. Once you have a better idea of what might be causing your feelings, you can brainstorm steps to fix the origin—like prioritizing your most important work to increase your productivity and reduce missed deadlines.

2. Try anxiety-coping techniques 

The Sunday scaries are both a work and a well-being challenge. Since the Sunday blues manifest in feelings akin to feelings of anxiety, using anxiety-management and relaxation techniques can help you manage your levels of Sunday-related stress. Try coping strategies like:

  • Practicing mindfulness and gratitude 

  • Using deep breathing exercises 

  • Keeping a work journal to provide clarity and awareness around complicated work situations

  • Taking a long walk or meditating 

  • Using visualization techniques or reciting positive affirmations 

Of course, these are short-term strategies that will help control your feelings of Sunday-night anxiety in the moment. To curb these feelings long-term, you’ll want to focus on actionable changes you can make to your work routine. 

3. Create a relaxing Sunday

Since the Sunday scaries lead to increased stress, one of the best ways to combat them is by prioritizing an otherwise stress-free Sunday night. Even though it’s tempting, try not to push all of your weekend responsibilities, like household chores or grocery shopping, to Sunday. Instead, knock out your essential weekend to-dos on Friday evening or Saturday morning to give yourself space to breathe and relax on Sunday. 

You can also incorporate a relaxing routine into your Sunday night. Creating a routine will help you wind down, reducing the stress you’d otherwise feel about the upcoming week. Plus, creating a relaxing routine you enjoy gives you something to look forward to on Sunday night, which can reduce your anxiety around the end of the weekend. Try adding stress-management techniques to your routine, like reading a book before bed, taking a warm bath, or meditating. 

4. Plan something fun on Monday

Like giving yourself something to look forward to on Sunday evening with a Sunday night routine, planning something fun for Monday can make the start of the week a little less intimidating. It can be something small, like grabbing a cup of coffee before work. Or you can schedule time for something you enjoy, like watching a favorite TV show or cooking a favorite meal. Bonus points if it doubles as something relaxing, like taking a walk or doing yoga. Or, plan an event that will make Monday your favorite day of the week, like a standing happy hour or dinner with a friend. You could also create a productive morning routine to start your Monday fresh and energized. 

5. Prioritize your work-life balance 

As you may have guessed from our first few tips, prioritizing your work-life balance is key to curbing the Sunday scaries. And while making time for yourself is an important part of developing a successful work-life balance, it will take more than a few bubble baths. 

Truly prioritizing your work-life balance means reframing how you think about work and what’s required to succeed. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, 40% of all workers think burnout is an inevitable part of success. 

While these feelings are understandable, the inability to set and stick to boundaries in the workplace erodes your well-being, impacting both you and your organization. If you’re struggling with your work-life balance, the first thing to do is communicate your needs by talking to your manager about how you’re feeling. Then, use strategies to achieve a healthier work-life balance. These could include: 

  • Setting clear boundaries around when you’re online

  • Reducing the amount of work activities you do outside the office

  • Learning how to say no if you’re overscheduled

6. Take a mental health day or sabbatical leave

If your company supports them, taking a mental health day or sabbatical leave can be beneficial for those struggling with burnout and the Sunday scaries. A mental health day is exactly what it sounds like: a day off to relax and recharge. Mental health days can help improve your mood and energy and revitalize you when you’ve been struggling with work anxiety—however, they’re not a long-term fix for burnout or overwork. 

A sabbatical is a lengthier period of leave, typically taken for personal or professional development purposes. Whether you’re eligible for sabbatical leave and the length of the sabbatical depends on your organization. When possible, a sabbatical can be restorative and improve work-life balance.

7. Use “do not disturb” and block notifications when you’re off the clock 

Technology has connected us—and also made us more distracted. According to the Anatomy of Work, over a third of workers feel overwhelmed by persistent pings. What’s more, workers are facing technology overload: 42% of workers are spending more time on email than one year ago, and 56% feel they need to respond immediately to notifications. 

Despite this, only 37% of all workers snooze notifications to limit notifications. Look for tools that offer a “do not disturb” function so you can block app notifications when you’re offline. This sets clear boundaries and gives yourself time away from the hustle and bustle of work on evenings and weekends. After all, your time is your time. When you’re off, you should be fully off(line). 

8. Plan out your work week

One root cause of the Sunday scaries is feeling overwhelmed or unprepared for the week ahead. Perhaps you have looming deadlines you’re not sure you’ll be able to meet, or you have an upcoming presentation you don’t feel ready to present. Creating a weekly work plan can help. 

A weekly work plan breaks down and organizes your weekly tasks into a manageable overview, so you can see what you need to do and by when. Weekly work plans also allow you to prioritize tasks and set due dates, giving you visibility into your upcoming week. Since weekly work plans help you break down large tasks into smaller to-dos and give you a view of your week at a glance, they’re perfect for balancing your workload. And a balanced workload means less stress during the week—and less anxiety on Sunday. 

Create a weekly schedule template

9. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to identify what work is actually important

Once you’ve identified what work you have coming up, use the Eisenhower Matrix to determine which upcoming tasks you need to prioritize—and which you can delegate, or better yet, eliminate. 

The Eisenhower Matrix is a time management technique that helps you determine how to organize and prioritize work by breaking tasks into four quadrants: urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent but important, and not urgent or important. By figuring out how your to-dos fit into each quadrant, you can quickly identify what work actually needs to get done and what work you can schedule for later, delegate, or delete altogether. 

A clearer understanding of your tasks and how to prioritize them will help you work more efficiently and reduce work about work, removing stressors. Take that, Sunday scaries. 

[Inline illustratie] De vier kwadranten van de Eisenhower Matrix (infografiek)

10. Delegate and remove work that’s not a priority for you

Your Eisenhower Matrix will give you a better view of what work you need to get done yourself and what work you can delegate. Effectively delegating work to other team members will free up your time to work on high-priority projects and give your team members the chance to work on projects that better align with their skills or offer them new opportunities. What’s more, delegating tasks helps reduce burnout and overwork, two big causes of the Sunday scaries. 

11. Talk to your manager about your career path 

What happens when focusing on your mental health and prioritizing your to-dos doesn’t ease your Sunday-night dread? If you’ve taken the above steps and still dread the upcoming workweek, it might be time to look for other causes, like your current career role or path. 

If you consistently feel stagnant or unfulfilled, it’s probably time to talk to your manager about next steps. Make a list of the things you’ve loved about your current or past roles, as well as what you find fulfilling—in work and in life. 

Then, meet with your manager to see if there’s an opportunity to adjust your current role to meet these needs or if there are other roles in the company that you’d be better suited for. Finding a role better aligned with your career goals and personal mission will increase your overall happiness at work—an antidote to the Sunday scaries. 

12. Know when to ask for help

It’s important to recognize the signs that the Sunday scaries are becoming something more serious, like depression or an anxiety disorder. If the above strategies aren’t helping diminish your feelings of Sunday-night dread, or if your work anxiety is significantly impacting your work or personal life, it might be time to take further action. Talk to your manager, mentor, or HR department about workplace benefits that might help. Remember, mental health is health. It’s important to prioritize it—in the workplace and beyond. 

[inline illustration] tame your work worries banner (photography)

Find balance with task management

The Sunday scaries can be overwhelming. If left unchecked, they can fill your Sunday with anticipatory anxiety, taking away much-needed relaxation time and further driving burnout. Luckily, you can fight off the Sunday scaries by prioritizing your work-life balance and streamlining your workflow to reduce unnecessary tasks and overwork that cause stress. 

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