Do you ever get a queasy feeling creeping up during the last hours of your weekend? The modern term for this weekend tick-away malaise is the Sunday scaries. There is something familiar about the uneasiness so many people feel on Sunday nights when people return to the hustle and bustle of school or work the following day.
Liza Meredith, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, explains why some of us are frightened by Sunday nights and offers helpful tips to ease the struggle.
What are Sunday scaries and why is it so common?
“Sunday scaries is the anticipated stress, worry or sadness related to the upcoming week ahead. Usually linked to starting work on Monday,” states Dr. Meredith.
As a practicing therapist, she hears her clients talk about having Sunday scaries. Even in her role as a professor on campus, Dr. Meredith can feel a difference in the room when she teaches on Friday compared to when she teaches on Monday.
“Human beings have the ability to look ahead and anticipate the future. We can have a stress response about an anticipated future,” she explains. “Even though we’re not actually facing the stressor yet, the anticipation of the stressor can make our body have a stress response. Our brain communicates with adrenal glands, resulting in an increase in cortisol–a stress hormone.
Tips to ease the Sunday scaries
To help understand the Sunday scaries, ask yourself why you might be struggling with your day of rest. It could be partly due to having a negative association with the start of a new week. Dr. Meredith recommends “trying to create a more positive association with the work week ahead.”
For example, if you really enjoy your weekend but have very little to look forward to with the week ahead, try planning activities you enjoy during the week. This might be particularly important on Monday.
Another tip is to “have some skepticism about the stories your brain is creating,” says Dr. Meredith. “Sometimes our brain tells us that situations are going to be worse than they are in reality, so the anticipation of the event is worse than how it actually is.” If your brain is telling you that your work week will be terrible, try to catch that inner monologue and be cautious about buying into your mind's story about the work week.
Lastly, “if there is something really bad about the work week, try to identify what it is and see if there’s any way to problem solve and change that stressor,” recommends Dr. Meredith.
Once you identify the stressor, ask yourself if there are ways you could address that specific stressor so that you don’t have to deal with it week after week. “That could be changing your job, asking to be in a different workgroup or maybe changing the days you can work. Think about what you have control over and what changes might be useful in your life,” she says.
When to seek help
First, consider how frequently the Sunday scaries happen. Is it happening every week or once in a while? “The more frequent the experience is, the more I suggest seeking help,” she notes.
Secondly, consider how intense it is. Is it something where the feelings are occurring, but you can still find a way to enjoy your Sunday? “If you can still experience positive emotions and the difficult emotions are tolerable, maybe you don’t yet need to seek help. But if it’s feeling like it’s unmanageable with your current efforts, it might be worthwhile to talk to someone,” suggests Dr. Meredith.
Third, if you do not see any change after trying some of these strategies, it might be helpful to have a bigger conversation. Try asking yourself, is it really Sunday scaries, or is there something else that might be contributing to how I currently feel?
Finally, ask yourself, do you want help? Do you want some outside perspective or someone to talk it through? “If you’re desiring help, it’s okay to ask for it even if it isn’t super intense or persistent in your life at this time,” she says.
A positive look at Sunday scaries
Use your feelings as an informational tool. “Sometimes we have feelings to help show us that something in our lives isn’t quite right. Using our Sunday scaries as a wake-up call that maybe something in our lives could benefit from shifting,” says Dr. Meredith.
Sunday scaries are also an indicator of how much you enjoy your weekend. That’s a good thing! Dr. Meredith says there’s a natural kind of sadness that comes with an end of a good thing, so use Sunday scaries as an appreciation for having time off and time to oneself to feel restored.