If you clicked on this article, then you’ve probably heard the term “Sunday scaries” before. You might have even experienced some semblance of the following: It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is starting to set, and—though you’re still laughing with your family or relaxing on your couch—it hits you that Monday is hours away. While you may call it by different names, you have probably experienced the unique anxiousness that Sunday nights bring. But what are Sunday scaries, can you avoid them, and if not, is it possible to manage the feelings? We asked an expert for advice on figuring it all out.
What exactly are Sunday scaries?
Let’s start with the very basics. “Transitioning from a weekend into what’s happening during the week often comes with a little bit of anxiety,” Regine Galanti, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Long Island Behavioral, tells SELF. In short: “Sunday scaries” is a cute name to describe some of the emotions we often experience when we anticipate the beginning of a week.
“Sundays contribute to a vicious cycle of stress when we let anxious thoughts about the week ahead get the best of us in advance,” Vania Manipod, D.O., board-certified psychiatrist in California, wrote in a SELF essay about Sunday scaries. This sounds intense, but regularly-scheduled Sunday nerves are pretty common, and they can include thoughts about the week ahead, a sense of dread, a bit of sadness, or even physical sensations like racing heart, sleeplessness, or lethargy. There’s no one way to experience Sunday scaries.
Can you avoid Sunday scaries?
“We generally have a [weekday] structure, and if weekends are less structured, those transitions are hard for people,” Dr. Galanti says. So even though there is no one surefire way to avoid Sunday scaries altogether, adding a little bit of routine might help make things easier. Here are some tips for doing just that.
1. Keep a consistent sleep-wake cycle. (Yes, even on the weekends.)
Many people have a weeknight sleep routine and a weekend one, but this can exacerbate the transition you’ll have to make on Sunday nights. Consistent sleep and wake times are also part of good sleep hygiene, which can set you up to have a better Monday morning, Dr. Manipod explained. To help make bedtime more appealing, consider a white noise machine or comfy robes and bedding.
2. Write down a to-do list on Friday evening.
Making lists can help you prioritize tasks (which can go a long way toward reducing stress). In a SELF story about making Mondays suck less, we talked about creating a to-do list on Friday before ending your workday. This can be a massive list of all the thoughts in your brain, which, hopefully, reduces those moments where random tasks you’ll probably forget plague you on Sunday nights.
3. Notice any Sunday scary patterns.
For some people, the first hints of Sunday anxieties might happen at the same time each week. Maybe it’s early evening or after you’ve gotten your kids into bed. If you know what time it typically happens, you can consider how you’d like to manage the onset.
4. Then, come up with a Sunday night wind-down routine.
Once you know when your Sunday scaries start, you can figure out ways to soothe yourself before they get underway. Much like sleep can help set the tone for the week, a Sunday night ritual can help you ease into the evening with a little less anxiousness. It can involve anything that makes you feel good—a spa-like soak in your bathtub, exercise, journaling about the week ahead, or your favorite podcast—whatever helps signal to your brain that you are ready to wind down.
How can you manage Sunday scaries in the moment?
1. Focus on what you need to do right now.
“Pull yourself back into the current moment,” Dr. Galanti says. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I doing right now, and what do I need to be doing right now?’” The emphasis here is on the phrase “right now.” If you have a big meeting on Tuesday morning, worrying about it on Sunday night isn’t necessarily helpful. But if you know you have an 8 A.M. meeting on Monday and you haven’t prepped, it might be logical to use Sunday night to get prepared.
2. Take five minutes to make a list of things to tackle on Monday.
If Friday night to-do lists feel like too much work, consider taking a few minutes on Sunday night to list your tasks. This is especially helpful if your Sunday thoughts involve emails you need to send or other details that could potentially slip your mind when the week kicks off. “Give yourself five minutes to think about everything you need to do that week and then close that book, and go back to what you were doing,” Dr. Galanti explains. Her “close the book” metaphor works literally—you can jot down a few notes for yourself in a planner (or Notes app) and otherwise try to put weekday thoughts out of your mind.
3. Consider taking some screen-free time.
Your Sunday scaries might not stem from all the time you spend doom-scrolling, but if you find that some of your Sunday scary symptoms include a racing mind and trouble falling asleep, putting limits around screen time might help. As SELF previously reported, the light from your phone or TV can mess with your body’s melatonin production, and melatonin is the hormone that enables you to fall asleep. And, let’s face it, even if falling asleep isn’t an issue, there’s a strong chance that scrolling on social media isn’t exactly helping any Sunday scaries you have.
4. Schedule something to look forward to during the week.
If your Sunday scaries include heaps of uncertainty around work tasks and responsibilities, you might consider scheduling something to look forward to, Dr. Manipod suggested. This is also good practice for dealing with uncertainty in general. Part of managing uncertainty involves figuring out what you can control and what you can’t. So finding a small pocket of time to do something you genuinely enjoy in the middle of the week can help you remember that you do have some control over your time—even during a busy workweek.
5. Consider doing a physical activity that you enjoy.
If you’re feeling physically worked up, you might think you can talk your way out of it. But your “fight or flight” response is probably active, so your best bet might be to try and do something physical to “release that adrenaline,” Neda Gould, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, previously told SELF. This can be a dance party or a rigorous floor cleaning session. But we have workouts galore if you’re looking for some inspiration.
6. Remember that Sunday scaries are normal.
Sunday scaries are uncomfortable, but they aren’t necessarily something you need to overcome or a sign that you need to make drastic changes in your life. Lots of people deal with them. You’re not alone.
If your Sunday scaries feel so overwhelming that you need additional support, there’s no harm in chatting about them with a therapist or other mental health professional. But, whether you decide to seek additional support or not, remember that we’re amid a global pandemic, and life is fairly chaotic. No one blames you if you have regular jitters before the week ahead. Just do your best, and, at the risk of sounding like an inspirational meme, try to remember that you’ve gotten through 100% of the Sundays you’ve faced.