Are you tired of living for the weekend?
While the weekend is often understandably described as the best two days of the week, many working professionals, however, are being robbed of this pleasure by their own anxieties. Some call this phenomenon the Sunday Scaries, and The Atlantic describes it as ”late-weekend malaise.” Some folks find that Sunday is marked by increased pre-work anxiety and a rising sense of dread for the week to come. Unable to participate or fully enjoy weekend activities like being with family and friends or being out in nature is a common side effect of this syndrome as the pressure mounts for Monday.
The workweek bleeds into personal life, tainting what should be an enjoyable and relaxing respite from work. This has been an observable and well known behavior for the entirety of the historical five day workweek however, for some, the painfully debilitating Sunday Scaries is worse than ever since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020.
In a recent LinkedIn survey of nearly 3,000 Americans, over 30% of male professionals said they had never experienced this phenomenon before the pandemic and now struggle with the “Scaries” and 41% of women and men said it either caused or worsened their pre-work anxieties. Among Millennials and Gen Z, almost four out of five endure similar torment.
We need weekends. We need time away from work and frequent decompression. A Stanford study suggested that anxiety greatly affects work performance. Productivity plummets after 50 hours or so of work a week, the study finds. Clearly even a full time 60 hour workweek is already a bit of a stretch and it’s no secret that the time we spend relaxing is valuable time our brains need for recharging –– gearing up to be the most productive we can be. Most folks want to maximize their time and spending all of Sunday lost in worry for Monday is hardly in service of that. So how can we take what we know about the phenomenon of the Sunday Scaries to vanquish them once and for all, and start enjoying our weekends again? Here are a few ideas.
Take a Break From the News
The newscycle these days is fast, and scrolling between endless stories can be an incredible mental strain. If you’re like me, you grew up reading the Sunday paper. Harmless enough. Many families still start each morning gathered around the breakfast table with hot coffee and the morning paper in true Norman Rockwell fashion, but many more have evolved to scrolling while relaxing in bed and perusing the latest news online. Except, it’s not really relaxing, is it? And bed is supposed to be a sacred space of serenity. According to the CDC a whopping 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping as it is, and chances are, this might already include you.
In a Good Morning America segment on Sunday Scaries, writer and mother Sara Baker admits to tracking the threat of COVID-19 in her community and worrying whether her husband or children had enough personal protection equipment for Monday. She wasn’t alone in this, many worried people obsessively checked the news over the course of the pandemic for a myriad of reasons, especially as things progressed so rapidly from day to day. Sara was understandably scared, but I can’t imagine her worrying helped her overall anxiety levels, sleep habits or mental health.
The Pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, unfortunately, and neither are any of the other majorly concerning news headlines we may read. It is imperative for our peace of mind to accept that there are some things beyond our control and to live the richest life possible despite. If this is something you’re struggling with, consider starting the day by reading a novel or a nonfiction book that has nothing to do with your job. I recommend the print versions –– it makes it harder to check your email.
A break from technology can be a useful tool to reduce stress levels and perhaps the dreaded work related anxiety. Set guidelines for your screen time, after 8pm on weeknights, set your phone on silent or pick a weekend day and turn it off completely while you enjoy getting outside and spending time with people you love.
Throw Your Good Habits Away
Discipline and routine can be an amazing and transformational tool for getting productive and organized. One habit I love is making lists to keep track of my to-do’s, dreams and priorities. I do this at the start of the day as part of my positive morning routine. I wholly understand however, that sometimes routine can feel like a ball and chain. On the weekends, give yourself the freedom to release some of these routines to allow yourself to fully unwind.
Different people respond to different stimuli and if meal prepping doesn’t soothe your soul and instead sends you spiraling in thought about the week to come – kick it to the curb. Perhaps making to-do lists on Sunday creates space for work to creep into your day off. Can it wait until Monday morning? Maybe these things used to bring you joy, but all of a sudden have soured. Don’t be afraid to change your routine or nix to-do items that no longer serve you. Leave an intentional place in your life where you’re allowed to break routine, and quit worrying about the future, if even just for a day.
Be Your Own Friend
This point ties into the last in that sometimes your routine get’s a little futzed. We’ve established, it’s allowed! Maybe you had big plans for Saturday, but overslept instead. It’s okay. Maybe you have chores stacking up and absolutely no motivation to do them. That is also okay.
I always advocate having compassion for yourself, but consider being extra kind on Sundays. Don’t let the Sunday Scaries come between you and yourself. Still practice building a positive relationship with yourself by forgiving all weekend discretions. There will always be time to do the things that must be done, and a moment spent worrying is one less you can spend recharging for when that time comes.
Make Sunday Special
You may have noticed, I know I have, that some days in quarantine blended together, each day the same as before. Monotony has been found to negatively affect things as severe as mood and memory. On a broadcast for ABC Radio, Dr Celia Harris, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience from the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University says, “our memory relies on changes in the physical environment,” so in order to help our brains distinguish time better we can try, “to make events distinct from each other in terms of their physical context,” such as where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing.
So, yes, it may be fun and seemingly relaxing to watch sports or binge Bridgerton, but lying around all day may actually have a negative impact long term. If this is something you have noticed in yourself, I recommend switching it up. Maybe take the family for a hike. Walk your dog. Go outside and change your environment as frequently as possible. Play tennis with friends. If COVID-19 allows, see new people. Shake up as many physical factors as you can including who you see and what you do.
Sunday Funday may just be a phrase we hear on Instagram –– but really, making each weekend a treat stimulates the part of the brain responsible for making and storing new memories. Doing this makes it so you won’t feel like your time is just flying right by and hurtling toward the next week. If that’s too much for you right now, I also fully endorse “Self-care Sundays.”
Make Monday Special Too
So you’ve heard of Friday Happy Hours, but have you heard of Monday Madness? Well… you caught me. I just coined this term in efforts to make Mondays special. Plan something to look forward to at the beginning of your workweek. That alone may liberate you from at least some of the Sunday night dread, and turn it to excitement. Even from the comfort of home, you can plan something special like a zoom with friends or a tasty meal.
In other blog posts I frequently mention tackling your most challenging project early in the day, but if thinking about Monday morning’s project is affecting your Sunday night, you’re putting in free labor and setting your whole week up for stress. Consider saving those tasks for later in the day or later in the week if your schedule allows. Wellness comes with boundaries. Instead of having a Sunday night headache, plan ahead to do your favorite task first thing on Monday. It may also help to remind you of your favorite things about your job, and why you do what you do.
Unless, of course, you don’t love what you do. If you find that you’re also fighting the Terrible Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and… it may be that your “Scaries” have less to do with the day of the week and more to do with the job itself. I have plenty of advice for you if that’s the case, and resources to help you get started on making the most of your career. Just maybe wait until Monday to take a peek.