How to Cope with the Sunday ScariesReading Time: 5 minutes
You may not know it has a name, but you’ve probably experienced it—that creeping sense of dread that comes over you on Sunday night, as the prospect of going back to school or work looms closer. It’s called the Sunday scaries, and new research shows that the pandemic has made it even worse, particularly for young adults.
The stress of keeping themselves and others safe and staying on top of constantly changing COVID guidelines—while still trying to do their best, whether at college or in the workplace—is taking a toll on young people. For some, working or studying remotely is especially challenging; for others, being in the office or a classroom is more frightening. Either way, arriving at the end of the weekend magnifies these feelings of anxiety.
What Are the Sunday Scaries and Who Gets Them?
Also known as “Sunday blues,” “Sunday syndrome” and “Sunday evening feeling,” the term “Sunday scaries” was first mentioned in 2009 on the Urban Dictionary website. Its definition there includes “typically characterized by laying in bed all day and both regretting past decisions and questioning your seemingly non-existent future.”
Mental health experts define the Sunday scaries a bit differently. They describe it as anxiety caused by negative anticipation of the week ahead, which puts people into a fight-or-flight state that prevents them from enjoying the last few hours of their weekend. A 2020 survey of 2,000 people pinpointed the actual time of day when the Sunday scaries kick in: 3:58 pm.
Young people are the ones struggling most with this phenomenon right now. A new LinkedIn survey with 3,000 respondents shows that 78 percent of millennials and Gen Z report feeling Sunday scaries symptoms, compared to about two-thirds of all adults. (An earlier LinkedIn survey put that number at 90 percent for young people.) In addition, 40 percent of respondents said the pandemic had caused or exacerbated their Sunday scaries, and 30 percent of men said they’d experienced the scaries for the first time because of the pandemic.
What Causes Sunday Scaries Symptoms?
While there’s nothing new about dreading Monday morning, the pandemic has boosted the intensity of Sunday scaries anxiety. After months of on-and-off social distancing, young adults who spend their week in an office or in-person classes are more likely to experience social anxiety associated with re-entry. They may also feel more anxiety about catching or spreading the virus.
Furthermore, the pandemic has catalyzed a rise in so-called “change fatigue” and “decision fatigue”—the stress of ongoing uncertainty and the mental overload resulting from constantly having to make difficult choices. These issues contribute to the burnout many young adults experience at work, as well as the mental health toll of academic pressure—increasing that Sunday afternoon feeling of doom.
Moreover, young adults are at a stage of life when they are still shaping their identity, honing their skills, and developing self-worth and self-confidence. Therefore, accomplishments and approval at work or in school take on greater importance. Young people often have an extreme fear of failure, believing that their success or lack of it says something fundamental about who they are and what their future will look like. With all that on the line, it’s no wonder that young adults are more vulnerable to the Sunday scaries than any other age group.
7 Strategies for Coping with the Sunday Scaries
If you’re finding yourself dreading Monday morning on a weekly basis, try these therapist-approved approaches for dealing with Sunday scaries anxiety.
Make plans for Sunday evening and for Monday morning. To avoid falling into Sunday scaries mode, schedule a fun self-care activity in the late afternoon or early evening on Sunday—a yoga or meditation class, a run or hike, a visit to a museum, or dinner with friends. If possible, also add something to your Monday morning schedule that you can look forward to—like coffee with a colleague or classmate, a brainstorming or group study session, a walking meeting, or at the very least, a 15-minute break to go outside and get some fresh air.
Get a good night’s sleep. But in case you wake up in the night dreading Monday, keep a notebook beside your bed so you can write down any random to-dos or priorities that pop into your head. Or journal about the Sunday scaries that are keeping you up. Writing down your fears and worries can help you get some perspective on what’s real versus what you’ve exaggerated.
Consider what you can change. If your Sunday scaries anxiety is based on actual threats you face at work or in school, versus imagined threats or fear of what might happen, explore what you may be able to change in order to address the issues that are causing you stress. Could you talk to your supervisor or academic advisor about shifting your schedule, environment, or workload? Sometimes we get so used to being anxious that we forget the fact that even small changes can make a big difference to quality of life at work or in school.
Remember why you’re there. What do you value and appreciate about your job or academic pursuits? Why did you choose this path in the first place? What are you learning that will help you accomplish your next goal? Once you’ve revisited those positives, write yourself a note or create a shorthand phrase that you can easily bring to mind when you’re feeling Sunday stress.
Unplug over the weekend. Especially if you’re working remotely, you might feel tempted to stay on top of things by glancing at emails or doing a few catch-up tasks. But checking out entirely will help you revitalize and rebuild energy for the work week. You might even find that you’re looking forward to getting back to a project once you step away from it for a while.
Limit your alcohol and drug use. Partying over the weekend can make Sunday scaries symptoms worse by diminishing your physical and emotional stress resilience. If you spend most of Sunday getting over a hangover, you’ve not only lost half your weekend, you’re also less likely to feel ready to face work or classes on Monday morning—not to mention the other negative effects of substance abuse.
Connect with others who don’t like Mondays. Since so many young people struggle with dreading Monday, chances are you’ll find a few of them in your friend group. Maybe you can create a Sunday scaries support group that gets together to do Sunday afternoon activities or share anxiety-relieving tips. You could even start a Monday morning text chain filled with encouragement for each other. Knowing that you’re not alone makes the Sunday scaries, like everything else, easier to bear.
Are You Just Dreading Mondays? Or Is it an Anxiety Disorder?
Dreading Mondays is a common experience. Even when you feel great about work or school, it can still be hard to leave the freedom of the weekend behind—especially when it’s over too soon because you’ve spent most of it catching up on rest, laundry, grocery shopping, and all the other tasks that come with “adulting.”
However, it’s important to recognize when the Sunday blues are actually a symptom of an anxiety disorder or another mental health issue. It’s essential to seek help if:
- The scaries persist beyond Sundays
- Feelings of anxiety have become more severe
- You’re unable to function well at work or in school
- You are relying on alcohol or drugs to cope with the anxiety
- Work or academic projects that you used to enjoy no longer give you satisfaction or enjoyment.
Treating What’s Underneath the Sunday Scaries
Newport Institute’s specialized treatment for young adults addresses the trauma, attachment issues, and lack of self-worth at the root of mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, social anxiety, and depression. We use modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to help young people examine their behavior and thought patterns, and create healthier ways of seeing themselves and their lives.
As they build connections with themselves, their loved ones, and their larger community, young adults also reconnect with motivation, inspiration, and a sense of meaning and purpose that will guide their path forward. Contact us today to learn more about Newport Institute’s clinical model of care.