I came across a term that perfectly encapsulated what I have dealt with most of my life. They called it “The Sunday Scaries.” You might also know it as The Sunday Blues. For me, it was most definitely the Sunday Scaries.
My typical modus operandi was to be emotionally jacked up on Sundays and dread the upcoming week. I would try to ignore the feeling and stay in a Sunday state of mind. But this bothersome feeling was always at the back of my mind, keeping me keyed up and unsettled.
Sunday scaries refer to anxiety or dread about returning to work on Monday. According to Headspace, a LinkedIn survey showed that 80 percent of professionals say they experience the Sunday Scaries, with over 90 percent of Millennials and Gen Z reporting they feel it as well. And the boundary between work and home became even more transparent once work-from-home became a reality during the Covid lockdown.
It did not matter how fun or relaxing my weekend would be; the feeling of dread would start rising on Sunday like the tide coming in. I would mourn the loss of my peaceful weekend off. My brain would start the negative chatter around all sorts of things, such as what will I wear, packing lunch, and the upcoming long commute. I was especially perturbed about the earlier wakeup time after a lovely leisurely weekend of sleeping late. And so much dismay about the week’s work duties since I associated work with boredom and stress. My early jobs were mundane paper-pushing work that felt uninspiring and numbing to my ADHD brain. Truthfully, my jobs early on would have been anemic to any type of brain, but hey, I had to eat and pay the bills.
I wanted to enjoy the last bits of the waning of the weekend, but in the back of my mind was a creeping sense of doom. But no matter what I tried to psych myself with, my agitation and resentment were building. I unconsciously started associating Sunday with my insecurity over the coming work week, which would trigger my fight-or-flight brain into threat mode. Actually, just thinking about anything related to work would kick off the response, and then my brain’s chatter kicked in to send me off to overestimating all the possible adverse outcomes and fueling anxiety and depression.
Because we tend to create habits out of this behavior, this is a response loop we can get entangled in without realizing we are doing it like any other habit.
So what would my older, wiser self tell that younger stressed-out self?
- Understand it’s not just your quirky thing: This is a real thing, and had you discussed it with your friends or workmates, you would have heard how many others were experiencing the same sorts of worries. Give yourself grace. Once you know more, you can do better.
- Handle negative self-talk and catastrophizing: Get a handle on the mental chatter that’s not serving you and is overestimating the adverse outcomes and underestimating your ability to manage potential threats. I was substantially throwing lots of fuel on a small fire while pretending to be preparing for all possible outcomes. My brain was on high alert before the week had started. Investing in a therapist would have clipped that cognitive distortion off and given me a better perspective on my overblown thinking.
- Practice meditation to catch the anxiety further upstream: Unfortunately, meditation was not as prominent when I joined the workforce as it is now. If I had known then what I know now about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, I could have started a daily routine to effectively manage my thoughts, stay more in the present, and not worry so far ahead. Building awareness of our thoughts makes it easier to notice what our mind is doing and choose to let it go.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule: My work week would be irregular hours of sleep and wake times since I would try to steal time from my rest to chill. I would stay up late reading or watching cable television. Nowadays, it’s called “revenge bedtime procrastination.” My grandmother would have called it “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” In both scenarios, I overreacted to my loss of free time, and it hurt me. I had no firm plan for sleep; therefore, my sleep cycle was dysregulated. A sleep-deprived brain is more susceptible to anxious thoughts and is less able to regulate, so a vicious cycle or loop was created.
- Build movement and activity into Sundays: I could have been active and outside instead of doing mindless things like flopping on the bean bag chair. Or engaged in one of my many hobbies. That would have kept my brain engaged enough to distract me from rumination and catastrophizing thoughts.
- Schedule time for a Brain Dump: Our brains don’t like uncompleted stuff, and it keeps bumping that task around in our heads like a pinball in an arcade game. Since there are typically many undone things, I would have scores of balls bouncing at any given time. A brain dump would have been fabulous because it would have alleviated the worries of what I might forget. Capturing those worries into an actionable list or calendar is the cure for pinball thoughts. The concerns in my head seemed much more significant than when I actually spilled them onto paper.
- Turn off work notifications: How about strengthening the boundary between work and home by turning off notifications and not checking email? You may be so used to being on-demand that this is a huge thing to do. If so, allot a defined time to review your notifications for urgencies. Do not set the expectation to others that you are always reachable unless that’s built into your work contract. Remember, we train people how to treat us, so consider not responding to emails when they are not urgent. Google email now allows us to schedule when our emails are sent, so if I want to respond and get that task off my brain, I can prepare it beforehand but schedule it to send during my regular work hours.
- Create each week’s plan: When you plan your time, you are less likely to miss the things that are important to you. Everyone else decides what is essential when you don’t have a plan. Sure, something that will demand your time will pop up, but you get to decide which ones deserve a place in your schedule. And be sure to plan your self-care and time for things that deposit to your energy bucket instead of withdrawing from it. When your needs are met, you are less likely to steal from the required sleep hours needed to be fully functional and alert.
Here is your opportunity to change how you perceive the upcoming week and regulate your emotional compass, learn better ways to deal with annoying negative thoughts, and feel less stressed while you are off the clock. Then you can truly appreciate your marvelous Sunday knowing that Monday is managed, and you are prepared for launch.
Owner, Founder | ADHD & Executive Functions Coach