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How To Manage The Sunday Scaries, According To A Therapist

Whether you’re in high school, college, or working a 9-to-5 job, chances are, you’ve encountered the “Sunday scaries” at some point. Sunday night arrives and suddenly you’re stressed and anxious about everything under the sun. What am I wearing tomorrow? Is the subway going to be crowded in the morning? You remember that one bill you forgot to pay and the friend you forgot to text after you said you’d get coffee. Maybe you were supposed to clean the house, do laundry, grocery shop, or meal prep for the week. Now, you’re in bed staring at the ceiling, dreading Monday. Sunday doesn’t feel like ‘Funday’ anymore.

According to a 2018 study conducted by LinkedIn, if the transition from Sunday to Monday makes you nervous, you’re part of the 80% of Americans who experience the “Sunday scaries.” Often, the scaries involve trouble falling or staying asleep, intensely dreading your workweek, or general malaise, according to Oprah Daily. A 2020 report published in The Atlantic reports that the Sunday scaries are usually amplified by the intense grind of American work culture — which can lead to discomfort, mental health challenges, and more.

Why do you get the sunday scaries?

As the name suggests, people typically experience the “scaries” on Sunday afternoons and evenings as the start of the workweek approaches. But according to therapist Carly Harris, LMFT, a primary therapist at Newport Healthcare in Southern California, you can experience them anytime; and the feeling is all-too-common for college students.

“[‘Sunday scaries’] sounds kind of cutesy or silly with the alliteration, but it is a very real thing,” Harris tells Her Campus. She describes the Sunday scaries as a feeling of “intense dread” and “anticipatory anxiety” about the week ahead — which can be all-consuming for students whose identities are easily tied up with achievement and accomplishment.

“I think that’s why there’s so much dread on Sundays,” Harris says. “We know that [pressure] lies ahead, and it taps into our core beliefs about our self-worth.”

“We know that pressure lies ahead, and it taps into our core beliefs about our self-worth.”

According to the 2020 Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), more than one-third of Gen Z participants felt more stressed than the year before — by far the highest of any generation in the survey. Burnout rates are also on the rise, and the APA says that social media, lack of sleep, and social and school pressure can all exacerbate the issue.

If you’ve experienced the scaries before, you know that it’s not a fun feeling. So, is there a way out of the Sunday scaries club? Or is everyone doomed to dread Mondays for all of eternity? Luckily, the short answer is “yes” — there is a way to overcome the Sunday blues. It’ll take some work and planning, but with a few intentional lifestyle adjustments, you can transform the Sunday scaries into your personal “Sunday sanctuary.”

Remember: You are more than your academic and professional life. 

According to Harris, a helpful way to navigate the Sunday scaries is by remembering that your identity is more than how you perform in school or at work. “Our worth doesn’t rest upon our accomplishments…we can deal with the Sunday Scaries by tapping into other parts of our identity,” she says, and cites hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and enjoying the outdoors as popular ways to unwind. 

Make your Sunday mornings special.

Whether rain is falling or not, kick it Maroon 5 style and keep your “Sunday Morning” sacred. Reserve half of your day for a fun, non-homework-related activity. Brunch may be the classic Sunday morning activity, but you can also head to a museum or window shop around town. By starting your day off on a positive note, you might find that Sunday isn’t such a scary day, after all.

plan something for sunday night, too.

Another way to avoid the Sunday scaries? Go out to dinner on Sunday night! Thursday through Saturday might be considered your typical “going-out” nights, but why should they have all the fun? As long as you’re back by a reasonable-enough hour to get enough sleep, leaving your dorm or apartment on Sunday night might actually be a great distraction from the week ahead.

Another tip for beating the scaries is to pick a TV show or movie to watch every Sunday night so you have something consistent to look forward to. (When Downton Abbey was airing, I used to try to get all my homework done because I knew the show would premiere at 8 pm. After that, I would sit with my mom, watch the tea get *spilled* and not worry about having more work after!) Pour some actual tea (I love peppermint), get in bed with your laptop and a cozy blanket, and you’ll feel less nervous in no time.

“We can deal with the Sunday scaries by tapping into other parts of our identity.”

Start a “Sunday Challenge” with a friend or partner. 

In the spirit of making Sundays more enjoyable, pick one new thing to try each Sunday for a period of four weeks or so, and actually do it. Maybe one Sunday you learn how to make sushi, paper maché, or even plan a scavenger hunt that ends at your favorite restaurant. Four weeks of fun (especially in the winter) are bound to stave the scaries off for a little while – you might even find your Sunday mentality reframed after the month is over.

Make your Mondays more fun.

Often, the hidden culprit of the Sunday scaries is — you guessed it — Monday madness. Harris explains that reframing your Mondays can be a helpful way to ward off your nerves.

“Monday is a new week, a fresh start,” Harris says. “If you build some fun into your Mondays — like going out to dinner or doing something you might normally do on a weekend — you can make your Monday feel less like a Monday, and that can ease Sunday night anxiety.” Try getting ice cream or fro-yo on Mondays after work, or get dressed up and go out to a restaurant (you don’t need a reason — it’s called self-care). Having something to look forward to can make getting through the day that much easier.

Organize your calendar, set boundaries, & plan ahead so you aren’t stressed on Monday.

If you’re not prepared for school or the workweek, the Sunday scaries could get even scarier. To help, Harris recommends organizing yourself over the weekend and actively planning ahead.

“Build this routine into your Sunday schedule, so it feels manageable, whether it’s through a to-do list or a calendar.” To save yourself time in the morning, check your schedule and class syllabus, plan your homework and reading for the week, or try a few productivity hacks like schedule-sending emails for Monday at 8 am. If you’d rather rest on Sundays, try organizing yourself on Saturdays instead. Setting boundaries with your time can also help prevent the scaries, so be mindful of what you’re devoting your time and attention to.

Spend time outdoors whenever possible.

Get out into nature if you can, even if it’s a simple walk in your local park. According to the APA, spending time in nature has a variety of benefits, including “improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” The APA also reports that it doesn’t matter how much time you spend in nature — the benefits will outlast the time you’re outside! 

Carve out time for self-care (whatever that looks like for you). 

Practicing a regular self-care routine can easily bring you from anxious to calm, which just might help manage your Sunday scaries. “I think [management] starts with building some self-care into your Sunday and making it an enjoyable day where you engage in some pampering — like a hot shower or maybe meal prepping for the week ahead,” Harris says. Try a DIY face mask that helps your skin glow, try a mindfulness exercise, or otherwise, and create a self-care routine you’ll actually look forward to.

Take a break from screen time and social media. 

If you’re struggling with the Sunday scaries, turn off your screens after dinner and try to avoid TikTok and Instagram. According to the Cleveland Health Clinic, “doomscrolling,” — AKA continuously scrolling through social media for hours on end — can become a “mindless habit” and even increase your “fear, stress, anxiety, and sadness.” If you’re having anxious thoughts, instead of scrolling all night, give yourself a few hours of peaceful reading time, taking a bath, or relaxing. Starting your week on a calm note can help you feel well-rested — plus you’ll be more productive and need less coffee on Monday morning.

Get a good night’s rest.

Even if Sunday insomnia has you in its grip, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. Why? Cortisol — the body’s main stress hormone — is directly related to sleep, according to Banner Health. They report: “Getting more rest can significantly decrease cortisol levels and restore balance to the body’s systems.

To improve your sleep hygiene, Harris recommends “avoiding anything that’ll inhibit sleep like caffeine after a certain time of day, or alcohol use.” You should also stick to a regular sleep schedule, keep your space clean and comforting, and avoid TV and social media before bed, according to the American Sleep Association.

Journaling and seeking a therapist can also help.

If you’re anxious about the upcoming week, Harris suggests making a “worry list” to get your intrusive thoughts onto paper. “Write down everything that you’re worried about for the upcoming week, and keep that in a notebook in your nightstand drawer so that you can put it away after you externalize all of your thoughts,” she says. “And know that you can visit [the list] at another time.” 

If you’ve tried all of the above and you still find yourself lying awake at night dreading the week ahead, give yourself some grace. After all, 80% of the country is experiencing the Sunday scaries alongside you. And of course, if you’re experiencing severe anxiety or you feel stuck in a loop of catastrophic thinking, it might be time to seek mental health care or therapy

In all, remember to be kind to yourself. The Sunday scaries aren’t your fault; they happen to everyone! With a little bit of planning and forethought, you can get rid of the scaries. After all, it’s still *technically* the weekend. Here’s your sign to go make this Sunday a fun day.

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