The Sunday Scaries Are Tough, but Here’s How to Beat Them
There’s nothing quite like going about your Sunday and suddenly being hit with a feeling of dread. It has a name: the Sunday Scaries. It happens less often for me these days, but I remember the headaches and feeling of impending doom that would emerge on a Sunday afternoon when I knew that tomorrow I had to head into the office.
As months passed, my Sunday Scaries turned into Saturday Scaries — and that’s when I knew I had to make a big career change. Yes, I quit my job — and yes, it was because the mere thought of Monday was so bad it became a chronic stress that weighed on my health.
Despite its lighthearted name, the Sunday Scaries shouldn’t be brushed off lightly. In fact, it represents a type of anxiety, says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a psychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City. “This is known as ‘anticipatory anxiety,’” she says. “It’s when a person thinks things like, ‘What if I don’t meet my deadlines? What if a prospective client doesn’t sign? What if I get fired? What if I mess up my presentation?’” It’s a perfect trifecta for an emotional storm: dreading tasks looming over your head, endless what ifs, and a lack of coping skills to settle down stress, Hafeez explains.
It’s something that affects adults and kids alike — even little ones who you’d think have no cares in the world. My preschooler loves Friday evenings, but the mere mention of “Sunday” in general can send him into a tailspin. He stresses about friends at school and even naptime. (Naptime!) I’m not alone. Mom friends tell me that the question, “How many sleeps until I have to go back to school?” is common in their households, too.
“There is a loss of the freedom and fun of the weekend that affects kids, too,” says Jamie Howard, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to childhood mental health in New York City. Just like with adults, though, it can run deeper than simply feeling bummed out about losing movie nights and pancake breakfasts. In some situations, the Sunday Scaries are a manifestation of problems at school, whether it’s struggling with academics, a learning disability, or bullying, Howard says. While teens might be able to articulate their complaints, “Younger kids often speak through their behavior,” she says. Tip-offs include a drastic change in their behavior or, at an extreme, a refusal to go to school. Little kids might also express anxiety through physical complaints, like talking about stomachaches.
I can relate. I, too, came down with a list of physical symptoms — headaches, GI upset — as the workweek approached. “The Sunday Scaries are all about the degree to which it affects the person.” Hafeez says. “It’s the difference between being ‘bummed out’ that the weekend is over all the way up to being unable to sleep or eat, feeling shaky, having an elevated heart rate, feeling irritable, or sliding into a depression as Monday gets closer.” If you find that that you fall on the more extreme end of the Sunday Scaries, you may need extra help from a professional.
The bright spot is that there are steps you can take to make your weekends and weeks happier and healthier — for you and your family. Here’s what you can do:
Make the transition fun.
If you have a boring meeting on Monday morning, grab a nice latté on your way to work. This helps you pair an onerous task with a pleasurable one, says Howard.
Plan something enjoyable for Monday night.
My husband doesn’t understand my love for The Bachelor franchise, but it’s on Monday —and I look forward to it, even on the weekend. There’s something to the anticipation that something good is headed your way. Hafeez suggests recording your favorite show and saving it for Monday night, purchasing something small (and affordable) online as a reward, or heading to a new yoga class with a friend that evening.
Look at your schedule.
Your week should make room for a mix of fun, downtime, and socialization,” Howard says.
At night, you can try a “wind down” routine, where you sit down as a family and watch a show together, and then follow it up with some quiet reading. “This can be a non-aversive way to queue yourself to transition into the greater structure of the week,” she says.
Do something — anything.
Don’t just sit and spin your wheels on Sunday afternoon. “Activity is the enemy of anxiety,” Hafeez says. “If you’re in motion and action, it makes anxiety harder to thrive,” Get out, take a walk or a run, go to the park, or go for a bike ride.
Rewrite the mental script.
So often, the anticipation is worse than the reality, Hafeez says. Role play with yourself so you can feel more prepared for what’s to come. “Ask yourself, ‘If X happens, what is the worst-case scenario? How likely is it that X will happen? What are my options if X does happen?” she says. That can help take some of the edge off your worries.
Adjust your attitude.
Approaching the end of the weekend with a litany of complaints and stress helps no one. As it turns out, it also affects your kids, even when you think they aren’t paying attention: “You want to be mindful of social referencing,” Howard says. “Kids will pick up on parents’ emotions, and can get the ‘We hate Mondays!’ message through their parents.” Who knows? Maybe this could be one of those fake-it-’til-you-make-it scenarios, and you may even convince yourself that starting fresh on Monday is actually fun.
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