Sunday scaries, Sunday night blues ... they're just different names for the same feeling of dread that many of us experience before heading back to world after a weekend away. The term “Sunday scaries,” although not scientific, describes a common feeling of anxiety that builds up over the course of Sunday afternoon and evening. According to a survey conducted by job site Monster, up to 76% of Americans self-reported having “really bad” Sunday night anxiety, compared to just 47% of people around the world.
What is it that gets us so down about going back to work?
Dr. Susanne Cooperman, neuropsychologist and a psychoanalyst at NYU Langone Health, says the Sunday scaries, or blues, can be the byproduct of the anticipation of the week ahead. “This is an anticipatory anxiety —not the stress in the moment, but the anticipation of what will come puts people in this fight or flight mode,” says Dr. Cooperman, adding that there’s a physiological component as well. “The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and they release adrenaline and cortisol,” she explains. “They flood the system and you have a real stress reaction and it feels like real anxiety.”
76% of Americans self-reported having “really bad” Sunday night anxiety
Andrea Petersen, author of On Edge, a memoir about her own struggles with anxiety, identifies with work-related anxiety, and its affect on her. “Work is one of our major stressors,” Petersen says. “Anxiety, to define it, is the anticipation of pain. If you’re talking about anxiety in the workplace, it could be the anticipation that you’re not going to be able to accomplish everything that week, or that you’re gonna mess up somehow.”
So, how can we outsmart our own hormones and get back to a relaxing Sunday night? Here are five tips to combat those blues, and how to know when it’s time to seek more help.
1. SLEEP IS KEY
Dr. Cooperman explains that the hormonal reaction to this anticipatory stress is totally normal, but can have real consequences on people: “It can be quite incapacitating, and then people don’t sleep well on Sunday which exacerbates the problem.”
And Petersen says she’s felt the burden of workplace anxiety affect her sleep as well. “I’m very prone to having difficulty falling asleep before a big workday because I’m afraid I’m going to forget something that I need to do,” she says.
Petersen’s favorite way to put her racing mind at ease? Keeping a journal by her bedside. “I have this notebook that I carry around with me everywhere,” she describes. “It’s a combination of a to-do list and also I jot down ideas, so I don’t have that nagging worry in the back of my head that I am going to forget something that’s important. It sounds like a simple thing, and it is a very simple thing, but to me it’s helped me manage my anxiety about the next work day and the week week ahead.”
2. SHUT OFF PHONES AND DEVICES
Dr. Cooperman attributes Sunday anxiety, in part, to the advent of smartphones and our accessibility outside the physical workplace. “I think this is happening more recently is because people are expected to be available 24/7,” she explains. “People really used to relax and go back to their baseline and regroup over the weekend. And now, very often, they have to check in, or they're being texted so the stress already is dialed up.”
She recommends a periodic “digital vacation” to keep that anxiety at bay. “Turn everything off, like no cell phones or social media on Sunday, and it can be very recuperative," Cooperman explains.
3. CREATE A WIND-DOWN ROUTINE
Cooperman sees exercise and easy social interaction helps her patients, too. “Exercise definitely helps, so try to do a yoga class on Sunday night,” but she cautions against drinking or partying too hard. “Hanging out with friends, going to listen to music or something is great but maybe stay with sparking water.” Alcohol is a depressant and interrupts restful sleep.
4. FIND YOUR TRIBE AT IN THE OFFICE
Petersen takes great comfort in her close coworkers, and relies on them in trying moments. “Having a friend or two that I can really open up with about my worries is really helpful,” she says. “There was someone at the office, who knew about my panic attacks, who I could go for walk with or get a cup of coffee.”
Petersen explains that even when she wasn’t having a panic attack, she always sought a coworker who understood her situation. “I would always have someone who understood my anxiety and could talk me down from the ledge."
5. STAY GROUNDED IN THE PRESENT
Dr. Cooperman cautions that there’s a line between the Sunday scaries and more serious forms of anxiety that need to be treated professionally. “If you just feel a little anxious on Sunday nights, that’s fine. But if it really encroaches on other nights — if you have what’s called anhedonia, where you start to not enjoy things anymore and nothing gives you pleasure — that’s part of depression and you should really address that and treat that,” Cooperman explains.
Petersen has employed many tactics herself to manage anxiety and stay in the present. “Because anxiety is a future-oriented state, do anything you can — and it’s best to make this a practice —to ground you in the present moment. I try to do a little bit every day, because anything that grounds you in the moment, is sort of the antithesis of anxiety,” explains Petersen.
For staying in the moment, Petersen says you have to find what works for you. “You can be really creative in terms of what gives you a little bit of respite from the worry.”
Baking has been her way to relax. “There’s something about sort of mindlessly following a recipe, the tactile nature of it, the instant gratification — I know that if I put these together, something’s gonna come out,” she says. “And who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies?”