Sunday scaries - Dr. Axe

If you find your anxiety soaring on Sunday afternoons most weeks, you’re not alone. “Sunday scaries” are a common form of work anxiety that many adults deal with — especially those who have demanding, high-stress jobs.

Given that many working adults now deal with long commutes, hours spent sitting inside staring at computers each day and expectations that they’ll be available nearly around the clock, it’s not surprising that work stress is a legitimate problem.

How can you cope with that uneasy feeling that arises on Sunday afternoons or for some people on Monday morning? Solutions, as explained more below, include taking pressure off of yourself to have a packed schedule on the weekends, implementing natural stress relievers such as exercise into your routine and talking to your employer about potential work-life-balance options.

What Are the Sunday Scaries?

Sunday scaries describes late-weekend uneasiness and anxiety.

Why is it called “Sunday scaries?” It typically kicks in when the weekend is ending and the standard workweek is about to begin.

Some surveys have found that people tend to experience an increase in anxiety around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on Sundays, although for some it starts later, like Monday morning, or not at all.

This “Sunday dread” phenomenon (also called the Sunday blues) seems to be a growing concern among both younger and older adults. As one article published in The Atlantic put it:

The end of a weekend has always been unpleasant, but there is something distinctly modern about the anxiety many people feel on the eve of a workweek… A 2018 survey commissioned by LinkedIn found that 80 percent of working American adults worry about the upcoming workweek on Sundays.

Might you be dealing with “Sunday evening feeling” or “Sunday syndrome” (two other names used to describe this type of work anxiety)? Here are some signs and symptoms often caused by Sunday scaries:

  • Feeling dread and a loss of freedom
  • Experiencing increased stress and anxiety symptoms, including changes in appetite, focus and digestion; increased heart rate; and insomnia
  • Moodiness
  • Shutting down emotionally
  • Being tempted to drink alcohol or engage in other other numbing activities

Causes

Certain types of professions and job schedules are more likely to contribute to Sunday afternoon anxiety than others. Causes and risk factors for experiencing Sunday scaries, which can also be described as “burnout,” can include:

  • Having a long commute
  • Working long hours, especially if this includes waking up very early and working very late
  • Not frequently having paid time off/vacation days
  • Not having social support during the weekends/during time off
  • Not enjoying our jobs
  • Failing to get along with co-workers
  • Worrying about having a heavy workload and thinking about the tasks you didn’t finish last week that will be carried over
  • Having an overly packed work-life schedule most days of the week (including on Sundays/the weekends), such as child care, household tasks, etc.
  • Needing to work on weekends and at night from home
  • Dealing with hangovers and caffeine withdrawal over the weekend, which makes us feel irritable and unwell

Researchers believe that one reason more people may be dealing with this issue is because their week lacks balance overall. Decades ago it was common for Sundays to be about relaxing, spending time with family and perhaps attending religious services. Today, more adults are packing responsibilities into their busy Sundays — such as chores, socializing, exercising, shopping, meal planning, cleaning and child care — which may not leave enough time to simply unwind.

How They Affect Mental Health

Psychologically speaking, feeling anxiety before the workweek starts is a response to the perception of some sort of threat. Even though most of our jobs don’t actually put us in any immediate danger, it can feel this way if we don’t believe we have the ability to cope with what’s demanded of us.

When our workweek responsibilities feel overwhelming, this triggers a “fight or flight” stress response, which can have many physiological effects on our bodies and minds. Our adrenal glands release more adrenaline and cortisol than usual, also known as “stress hormones,” which puts a damper on our immune systems, energy and moods.

Do you ask yourself: “Why can’t I ever fall asleep on Sunday nights?” Then you may be dealing with one major symptom tied to Sunday scaries: insomnia due to stress, fear or worrying.

Other ways that work anxiety can affect our mental health include:

  • Decreasing our ability to focus, learn and remember information at work
  • Making us feel very pressured to both perform at work and to “relax enough” over the weekend
  • Increasing depression symptoms and insecurities if we feel like we’re “missing out,” failing to make the most of our time off
  • Leading us to withdraw from others if we feel tired and overwhelmed
  • Contributing to fatigue and low motivation at work

Ways to Overcome Them

Ready to tackle the Sunday scaries (or other forms of work anxiety that can hit at different points in the week)? Here are tips for getting a handle on this common type of stress:

  • Try to strike a balance between rest and play. Don’t pressure yourself to fill every minute of your weekend with activities, since this may lead to burnout and exhaustion. Carve out enough time to simply rest, sleep and relax.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. What are the “scaries after drinking”? They are a form of anxiety that is triggered by alcohol withdrawal, aka a hangover. If you spend your Sunday hungover and wiped, you’re even more likely to feel distressed.
  • Stick to a regular sleep-wake cycle. This helps regulate your “internal clock,” also called your circadian rhythm, which plays a role in regulating your energy and mood. Try to stick to a routine even on the weekends instead of staying up very late and getting up hours later than usual.
  • Try a digital detox, also called unplugging. Put away your phone and computer for the day, and stay off of social media, instead spending more time outdoors or reading.
  • Build in time for exercise. Exercise is a natural stress reliever since it causes us to produce endorphins that lift our mood.
  • Find a “Sunday funday” activity that you enjoy. Some people find that planning something fun for Sunday afternoons helps “extend the feeling of the weekend.” Some ideas include barbecuing with friends, seeing a movie, going to a concert or museum, walking in the park, reading a book on the beach, getting a massage, etc.
  • Find things about the workweek to be grateful for. For most of us, the weekdays are more productive and scheduled, which can actually be rewarding since we tend to get a lot done. To focus on feeling more proud of your accomplishments, try journaling about your goals, strengths, accomplishments and things you feel grateful for.
  • Stay organized to avoid feeling frazzled. Make to-do lists throughout the week to keep you on track. Try not to leave all household responsibilities for the weekend, such as shopping and laundry, so your weekend feels a bit lighter.
  • Practice cognitive behavioral therapy on your own. You can certainly work with a CBT therapist to change unhelpful thoughts you’re dealing with if you’re feeling very anxious, but journaling on your own, reading and listening to podcasts can also really help.
  • Speak to your employer about work-life balance options. If your schedule is downright exhausting, discuss whether options like working from home one to two times per week or having a four-day workweek may be possibilities.

Conclusion

  • What are “Sunday scaries”? Also called the Sunday blues, they this term describes work anxiety that usually kicks in Sunday afternoons and nights.
  • Symptoms can include increased stress, moodiness, trouble sleeping, depression, higher likelihood of drinking/substance use and others.
  •  To cope, taking good enough care of yourself is important, such as by getting enough sleep, giving yourself downtime, exercising and doing other relaxing activities. Other ways people reduce this type of anxiety include by setting up “Sunday funday” plans, journaling to improve gratitude and blow off steam, and speaking with their employers about their schedules to create more work-life balance.