No matter how enjoyable or relaxing Friday evening and Saturday were, the so-called “Sunday Scaries” often begin to creep in just as we’re trying to enjoy the last hours of the weekend, flooding the mind with worries in anticipation of the week ahead. But what exactly is to blame for this end-of-the-weekend anxiety? And why does it often feel so inescapable?
According to a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 80 percent of professionals say they experience the Sunday Scaries, often triggered by a rush of hormones associated with work-related stress and dread. That’s far from an ideal way to wrap up our weekly time off.
So whether stressful Sunday work feelings hit like clockwork, or the Sunday Scaries definition is something you’re just starting to understand, know that it’s possible to feel less caught up in this weekly storyline. By learning to be more present, we can put down the storyline in our head and instead conclude each weekend with a greater sense of ease, allowing us to step into the upcoming week with more intention.
The Sunday Scaries can trigger our fight or flight response
Mindful Sunday routines can help curb feelings of anxiety
Try 8 meditations to help beat the Sunday Scaries
The Sunday Scaries (or Sunday blues as they’re sometimes called) are feelings of anxiety or dread that many of us experience the day before heading back to work after the weekend.
Even if we don’t have a particularly stressful work week coming up, this feeling can become a conditioned response. That’s because if we frequently equate work with stress, our brains begin to identify work thoughts as a perceived threat. In time, this association can trigger anticipatory anxiety, when we experience increased anxiety and stress about an event that will happen in the future.
Anticipatory anxiety sets off the body’s fight or flight response: when we’re in this mode, adrenaline and cortisol flood the system and we begin to experience a real stress reaction to a threat that is only perceived.
Aside from that chain of events, we may also experience the Sunday Scaries if we feel as though we haven’t maxed out the weekend enough to justify another week of hard work. Maybe we didn’t relax as much as we had hoped, or we think we could’ve had more fun or been more productive. Or maybe 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.
So how might we escape this weekly cycle? Mindfulness and meditation can help us reset our approach to the upcoming week with an increased sense of acceptance and calm.
If fixating on the week ahead is the catalyst for a case of the Sunday Scaries, we can turn to the practice of meditation to help us focus less on the future and more on the here and now.
Here’s how: when we step away from the worrying mind, as we learn to do when we practice meditation, we may start to feel a reprieve from any anticipatory anxiety associated with the upcoming week of work. Instead of fixating on the unknowns, what-ifs, and to-dos, we can turn our attention to the people, things, and situations around us in the present time. On a Sunday, this might look like embracing downtime without judgment, savoring each bite and smell of an evening meal at a table, or making time to catch up with friends and family without distractions.
Of course, understanding how to be fully present is often easier said than done — especially when our fight or flight mode is triggered and ruminating thoughts, fears, and storylines intensify. But the more we meditate, the more we train the mind to stay in the moment. So when we’re going about our Sunday and the “scaries” kick in, we are then equipped to acknowledge worrying thoughts and feelings clearly and calmly, without getting caught up in them. We see what the mind is doing, and we step away from those thoughts — and this awareness we bring to the moment is mindfulness. We learn to not be so lost in thought — so lasered in on the looming workday — and are able to allow ourselves to enjoy whatever time we have left of our time off.
For those of us who experience the Sunday Scaries, we might try weaving these mindfulness practices into a Sunday routine to help us step into each week with a calmer, clearer mind:
Meditation is a scientifically proven way to keep the mind focused on the present — not to mention proven to help with feelings associated with the Sunday Scaries. After using the Headspace app for 10 days, one study found that participants experienced a 14% reduction in stress and a 16% increase in positive feelings. Another case study found that after 8 weeks, participants saw a 31% decrease in symptoms of anxiety (amongst those not diagnosed with anxiety disorder). A simple 10-minute guided meditation has been proven to be enough to provide these results after 8 weeks of practice, but we can also use Headspace to take a more tailored approach.
As cliché as it may sound, caring for our personal well-being in some way on Sundays can lay the groundwork for a better end of the week and beginning of the next. Of course, meditation is one form of self-care. And for some, sitting down to meditate every Sunday may be the perfect Sunday self-care routine. But outside of meditation, we might also think about the things that bring us joy and make a point to schedule those activities on Sundays. We could do a baking project, go out for a hike, or schedule a regular Sunday dinner with a loved one. If we can connect with the things that make us feel good with this day, we can begin to rewire any anxiety-inducing associations and ultimately reshape Sunday into a day we cherish and look forward to.
One 2020 survey shows that, out of all the days of the work week, Monday is the one people dread the most. This may be because many of us tend to jump into Monday in a full sprint, immediately trying to get things done as quickly as possible so we can check them off our list. But when we go from 0 to 100, it will inevitably feel stressful and overwhelming. Instead, rather than rushing into the week, what if we made a point to start a bit slower? That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be less productive. If we learn how to manage our energy and take the time to gain a better understanding of what is expected of us in the week ahead, we can gain a steadier, gentler awareness that gives a feeling of stability throughout the week.
At some point on Sunday, we might sit down for a moment to decide what our intention is for the upcoming week. Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe says, “Ideally, it needs to be something that’s within our control. Perhaps it’s the intention to listen to others a little more. Maybe it’s to not get so caught up or overwhelmed by our thinking. Maybe it’s to be a little more patient. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you can commit to, something you can choose to do, and something that feels practical. The clearer your intention, the more likely it is to happen and the more likely you are to experience the benefits.” If we start to create a more intentional outlook for the week ahead and prepare ourselves for that intention, we may just start to enjoy Sundays — and even Mondays, too.
Looking to stay in the moment and not worry about the upcoming work week? The Headspace app offers subscribers meditations for Sunday Scaries, including:
Self-care video. Take time to prepare for the week ahead.
Setting Intention video. Get clear on what you want from your week.
Focus Your Attention video. Find space from your thoughts and refocus.
Learn to Identify video. Break the cycle of anxious feelings.
Easing Into Work video. Make a calm transition into your week.
Bring Yourself Back video. Come back to the present moment.
Mindful Walk video. Tap into the mind-body connection with a guided walk.
Reflecting video. Find more confidence for the week ahead.
With meditation and some (or all) of these mindful weekend routines in practice, Sunday may actually begin to feel like a day of rest and relaxation — a day that’s fully about enjoying time away from work and less about stressing over a return to it.