Feeling anxious about Monday morning the night before? It may be the Sunday Scaries. Here’s what they are and what to do about them.
If you’ve ever felt a sense of work-related anxiety and dread on Sunday, you’re not along. The “Sunday Scaries” is a term that refers to the dread or angst that many people get on Sunday nights because they’re anxious about returning to work on Monday morning.
A 2021 Monster poll conducted among workers found that two-thirds (66%) of respondents experience Sunday Scaries every week. More than two-thirds (67%) also admitted that Sunday Scaries ruin the end of their weekends. It can impact work productivity, too. In Monster’s Work Productivity Poll Results, released March 2023,15% admit to having done a “Bare Minimum Monday,” putting in minimal effort in their first day back on the job after the weekend.
Education and psychology instructor, author and resiliency expert Robyne Hanley-Dafoe notes that the Sunday Scaries can impact anyone, from entry-level employees to the top executives and CEOs of organizations. In a 2022 survey by HR software provider Ciphr, findings revealed that nearly 1 in 2 senior managers experienced the Sunday Scaries multiple times during the past year.
“I asked a group of high performers, in a hyper-competitive industry, what Sundays are like when thinking about the upcoming work week,” Hanley-Dafoe says. “Words like dread, fear, and exhaustion were candidly shared – and interestingly, when asked if they thought their peers felt that way too, many didn’t believe so.”
Monster career expert Vicki Salemi points out that sometimes the Sunday Scaries aren’t limited to just Sunday.
“They may start creeping in on Saturday, too as you know Sunday isn’t completely relaxing since Monday is right around the corner,” Salemi says. She adds that sometimes the feelings go beyond doom and gloom of returning to work, and can present themselves physically, too.
Why Do People Experience the Sunday Scaries?
Worrying about workload, balancing personal and professional to-dos, and thinking about unfinished tasks from the previous week are some top causes of the Sunday Scaries, according to Hanley-Dafoe. Salemi explains that people experience the Sunday Scaries because their job may be toxic, boring, lackluster, unfulfilling, underpaid or any and all of the above.
“They may have a toxic boss, so they dread going to work,” Salemi says. “They may not be recognized for their work – perhaps they’re underpaid and underrecognized. They may have an upcoming stressful week or perhaps a Monday meeting they dread attending. They also may be underemployed – not using all of their skills to their potential or over-employed – not challenged because they’re overqualified for their job and not able to get promoted yet.”
Salemi believes that the underlying meaning behind the Sunday Scaries is that it’s a sign to start looking for a new job.
How to Beat the Sunday Scaries
Hanley-Dafoe emphasizes that the Sunday scaries are real, and the key is to listen to what your dread and anxiety are trying to tell you. “Sometimes we can identify the single cause of our stress, like a long to-do list waiting for us on Monday, an upcoming presentation, a performance review or a difficult conversation we know we will need to have,” she says. “Yet other times, it’s a combination of many complex factors.”
To get curious about your Sunday Scaries, she suggests reflecting on these questions:
- Are the work requirements within reasonable human limits?
- Are there enough areas of your work and how you do your work within your control?
- Are you acknowledged and compensated for your work?
- Are there opportunities within the work for community and collaboration?
- Are the domains of equity, inclusion and diversity recognized and supported?
- Are you able to work in alignment with your personal values?
To beat the Sunday Scaries, Salemi agrees with Hanley-Dafoe that you first identify why you’re experiencing them in the first place.
“Is it because of a strenuous commute? Toxic boss? Work that no longer brings you joy? Work that no longer challenges you? Or an insurmountable workload that leads to burnout?” she asks. “These are just some examples, as there are others, so identify first what your underlying reasons are.”
Also, it’s rare for the Sunday Scaries to be a one-off situation where you feel it one Sunday and never again; it’s more likely to be a recurring weekly pattern, according to Salemi.
“Usually, it’s a persistent, nagging type of anxiety/dread that you feel every time Sunday rolls around,” she says. “So, if you realized the Sunday Scaries is due to a toxic boss, then that’s your number-one driver for a job search: to find a healthy boss and environment.”
Salemi adds that if the Sunday Scaries are due to an intense and exhausting commute, you might ask if you can work remotely or at least hybrid. If the answer’s no, then look for a job with an easier commute or completely remote job.
Salemi’s second tip is to take care of yourself. “This may mean meditating on Sundays, trying to get to bed earlier for a restful sleep, exercising etc – doing what you need to do to take care of yourself,” she says. “Stress can lead to illness, so it’s important to take care of your mental, physical and spiritual health as best you can.”
Third, Salemi suggests that you “acknowledge the feeling and befriend it” rather than fight it. Acknowledge that the scaries are happening.
“You shouldn’t not enjoy your weekend – just realize that for now, this temporary feeling, is that you’ll have the Sunday Scaries,” Salemi says. “Remind yourself that it’s temporary and that you’re taking action steps to diminish it and hopefully remove it from your life altogether once your work situation improves. This usually means getting a new job.”
A fourth tip involves setting up your Monday for success. “Perhaps some of the Sunday night Scaries involves preparing to toggle back to an intense work mode,” Salemi says. “Do what you can to automate for Monday so you can go into autopilot. Can you prepare your lunch ahead of time, outfit that you’ll wear, etc.? This way, on Monday morning when you get ready for work you can zone out and listen to uplifting music or a podcast and focus on energizing, empowering things.”
She adds that you may also want to create a Monday to-do list for work on Friday afternoon when you wrap up the work week, so you can hit the ground running on Monday without having to think about work on the weekend.
Finally, try setting up boundaries. “If your boss messages you on weekends, etc. that’s certainly one way to feel the Sunday Scaries as work stress will continue to Monday morning,” Salemi notes. “Tell your boss that you’re not checking emails on weekends – unless something is urgent, they should text you.”
Salemi concludes that if you feel like you absolutely have to be connected to work on Sundays – or even the whole weekend – and you’re afraid you’ll lose your job if you don’t, then it’s time to look for a new job.