No matter how fun or relaxing Friday evening and Saturday were, the so-called “Sunday Scaries” tend to creep up while we’re enjoying the last hours of the weekend. One moment, we’re laughing with friends at dinner or watching the dramatic final scene of a movie. The next, our mind’s laser-focused on worries about the week ahead: a to-do list, a project deadline, a big meeting, a not-so-great boss. Not an ideal way to wrap up time off.
It’s normal to anticipate stressful situations. That’s why many of us head to the airport early. It can be comforting to have a plan, even for things that may not happen. We might think: “If the gate attendants make me check my carry-on, I have a backpack big enough to squeeze in my essentials.” We feel prepared.
But for an increasing number of us, this mental worry and prep don’t only happen on rare, high-stress occasions. They happen every single week.
If the Sunday Scaries hit like clockwork, there’s more we can do than wish Mondays would go away. Using mindfulness and meditation basics, we can change the way we relate to our feelings about the upcoming week, learn better ways to deal with worrying thoughts about the future, and feel less stressed while we’re off the clock.
The Sunday Scaries are triggered by fixating on weekend FOMO or the work week ahead
Meditation can help us better manage Sunday work thoughts so we can feel less stressed and stay present during time off
Try meditations to help beat the Sunday Scaries with Headspace
The Sunday Scaries (or Sunday blues, as they’re sometimes called) are feelings of anxiety or dread that happen the day before heading back to work. According to a LinkedIn survey, 80 percent of professionals say they experience the Sunday Scaries, with over 90 percent of Millennials and Gen Z reporting they feel it.
We all know how a micromanaging boss, snippy co-workers, a long commute, or grinding to the brink of burnout naturally can lead us to feel stressed about work. But with hybrid and remote roles more popular than ever, it’s hard to leave that stress at the workplace. Participants in that same survey also said they get the Sunday Scaries about how to find better work-life balance.
With that insight, it’s easy to see how we might shudder at Sunday work thoughts if we feel like we haven’t maxed out the weekend. Maybe we didn’t chill as much as we had hoped, or we think we should’ve had more fun to justify another week of hard work. Or maybe we think we procrastinated too much, and now we have to fit last week’s chores into this week’s schedule. As time ticks away on the weekend, we might think thoughts like this more frequently and experience the worry that can come along with them.
Even if we did have a fulfilling weekend and don’t have a particularly stressful work week coming up, we can still get hit with the Sunday Scaries if we frequently associate work with stress. The more we think that, the easier it gets for our brains to identify any work thought a sign of tension or anxiety. Then, something kind of incredible happens: we think a work thought and our fight or flight response gets triggered. We experience a real stress reaction to a threat that is only perceived. Nothing’s happened yet. But it feels like we’re in the thick of work stress — at home, on Sunday.
If fixating on weekend FOMO or the week ahead is the catalyst for a case of the Sunday Scaries, we can use a tool that helps us focus less on the past or future and more on the here and now: meditation.
We can’t stop thoughts about the Sunday Scaries or anything else — the mind will always think. But meditation can help us manage our thoughts so we can snap ourselves back into being more present and stress less about the week ahead.
How? Say we start to think about that one standing meeting on Tuesdays that’s hard to get through. We don’t know who invited us or why we need to attend. We want to skip it, but we don’t, because we feel an obligation to show up … even though it’s always unproductive and eats up our time.
We could go on and on listing more ways we’re annoyed by that meeting, which may seem therapeutic, but only fuels the Sunday Scaries and keeps us trapped in this weekly thought cycle of worry. Instead, we could try what we learn to do during meditation: we can simply notice the thought, refuse to run with it, and let it go.
A regular meditation practice helps us build awareness and resilience so we don’t get so stuck in thoughts. Once we’re able to notice, “Oops, there I go thinking about that Tuesday meeting,” we can choose to acknowledge the thought clearly, calmly, and compassionately. We see what the mind is doing, and we choose to step away from it. Then, we’re able to get out of our heads and get back to weekend-ing.
Beating the Sunday Scaries will take practice, especially if we have a bad case of them. We’ll end up doing it over and over and over: have the thought, notice the thought, and let the thought go. But doubling down on meditation for Sunday Scaries really does help retrain how we think. One study found that Headspace reduces stress in 10 days, and 30 days of Headspace reduced stress by a third. Just five or 10 minutes a day can help us feel more prepared to tackle the challenges of the week ahead more comfortably and confidently.
As we get better at letting go of Sunday work thoughts, we free up space in our mind that was spent worrying for something practical and beneficial: seeing our options more clearly.
With this new perspective, we realize we can change certain things that contribute to the Sunday Scaries, right now. Maybe we delete work-related apps off our personal devices, schedule “no meeting” times throughout the work week (and stick to them!), or even practice a short meditation in between client meetings. In this less reactive, more observational state, we might even feel like it’s time to really shake things up, like level with our boss about our overwhelming workload or start hunting for a job at a company that’s a better fit.
Research shows how we speak to ourselves has a powerful impact on our mental and physical health, including managing stress.
If we experience constant negative self-talk about work, it’s hard to hear anything else. We believe our self-talk and assume how we feel in the moment reflects the way things are — “I feel it, so it must be true.” In reality, that’s not always the case. Our thoughts and feelings don’t need to control our moods or behavior. Meditation won’t stop negative self-talk. But it will help us put more space between our thoughts and chatter that drag us down, so we have the chance to choose kinder words. “I hate my commute,” could turn into: “I have a long commute, but it’s my podcast catch-up time.” When we choose less critical words, we train our brain to stop automatically stressing about it. Practice Sunday self-care.
We can also rewire associations of “Sundays = anxiety” by doing things that make us feel good at the end of the weekend. This way, Sundays become a day we start to cherish or look forward to.
For some, sitting down to meditate may be the perfect Sunday self-care routine. We might also think about the things that bring us joy and make a point to schedule those activities — including resting or doing nothing — on Sundays.
Creating a practical intention on Sundays for the week ahead can help us navigate workplace stressors more effectively. Why? We’re choosing to act a certain way, even though we don’t have to. We’re making a commitment to ourselves, for our sake.
Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe says, “The clearer your intention, the more likely it is to happen and the more likely you are to experience the benefits.” And remember, the way we speak to ourselves is really important. So use supportive language when we state our intentions, versus using demanding words like “I must” or “I need to.”
Try: “This week, I want to listen to others more.” “Starting Monday, I’ll practice patience.” “My aim for this week is to try to take feedback less personally.”
If we’re determined to live it up on weekends and perform well at work, the best thing we can do to connect with the moment and accomplish more is to stop multitasking. Plenty of research shows that our productivity tanks when we multitask. As little as a three-second distraction can produce significantly worse results.
It’s a hard truth: multitasking is a waste of time. So the next time we have work that needs to be done or downtime that deserves to be enjoyed, try approaching the task mindfully, giving full focus to that one thing for a specific amount of time, with as little distraction as possible. With practice, we might start experiencing a flow state, totally in the zone, immersed in what we’re doing, and working (or relaxing) with a sense of fulfillment.
The Headspace app has hundreds of guided exercises to help you build your practice. Start by searching these three meditations to help you manage Sunday anxiety and work stress. A happier, healthier you is a few breaths away.
Identify Anxious Thoughts video. It’s not uncommon to feel anxious at the start of a new week. This exercise is about identifying anxious feelings and coming back to the body.
For the Weekend meditation. Avoid carrying the weight of the week into your well-earned days off. Practice letting go of the past so that you can enjoy the valuable down-time (and the present).
Easing Into Work video. Rushing into your week can often have an opposite desired effect, making it more difficult to focus and get things done. Try slowing down instead with this mini-meditation to help you settle into your week with ease.